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What Would You Say You Do Here?

Sister Libby Osgood

 Photo: With Sr Kathleen Deignan

When I started this blog, I promised to share what life as a novice was like. Now that I have been at the novitiate for a few months, I have settled into a comfortable pattern and can better describe ‘a day in the life’. It should be noted that each religious order has their own way of forming novices, and even within the CNDs (my order: Congregation of Notre Dame), I have come to realize that each experience of the novitiate was different for each sister, so this is my experience, as of now.

Nun lingo clarification: ‘formation’ – this is another word for study, preparation, training, but is specifically used in the religious life context and though it applies especially to this time as a novice (nun boot camp), formation is ongoing through temporary vows and into professed life. In my former life, I would refer to it as ‘lifelong learning’ or ‘professional development’, with much broader topics to develop personally and spiritually.

I start the day with an hour of personal prayer, to orient myself towards the divine and set a desired course of peace and presence. This often includes the daily scripture, morning divine office, and meditation/contemplation. My favorite mantra as of late is the Jesus prayer – Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. Then I have to remember to put on my cross. Most days I am almost out of the room before I remember.

I go to mass each day, something I thought I would struggle with. However, I have found the daily mass is wonderful – shorter, to the point, and provides a regular reminder to bring Christ out into the world. Plus, I go to a different church each day giving me the chance to explore: the church, neighborhoods, and people. Often I will walk as there are 6 churches within a 45-minute walk throughout the day. Breakfast and lunch are eaten whenever it is convenient, and we come together as a house of 5 to share supper and afterwards, communal prayer. We each cook one night a week, and it’s been fun to stretch my culinary muscle when it had atrophied so greatly over my last 6 years living alone. Similarly, I lead prayer about one night a week. Communal prayer almost always includes a song and the evening divine office, though last week we had a special service for Dia De Los Muertos and set an alter for our loved ones who have passed. The person leading prayer sets the agenda and each night is different but special. On Sundays, we engage in faith sharing and come to know each other on a deeper level. What I find most powerful when we pray together is that each night, there is some time for quiet contemplation, and the energy of the silence of 5 people is potent and charged. I am already a night person, but after this surge of energy, I am recharged and up for hours.

Mondays and Wednesdays I meet with my novitiate director and I learn about religious life, CND training, novitiate-specific information, and opportunities for personal growth. The weeks are themed (which I love), often involve reading articles and books (which I love more), and I have ‘homework’ in the form of a short reflection for each one (I think my novitiate director would love it if I wrote less…but I once told her it takes me two paragraphs to sneeze, so she’s stuck with long essays).

I get a solid 7 hours of sleep – more than I used to get. I contribute to cleaning though most of my efforts are in the upkeep of the house – fixing sinks, installing things, building shelves, etc. I get time to learn a few instruments, enjoy the solitude of my room when my inner introvert is overwhelmed by the ‘together-ness’. There are many things I am leaving out – such as trips into the city to check out a museum, visits with friends who are in town, provincial community meetings, CND Associate gatherings, lectures on poverty or ecological activism, and celebrating sisters' lives at funerals (a few so far).On Thursdays I meet with a group of novices and their formators (novitiate director, handler, etc) and we all learn together. We travel to the different houses so we get to see each others’ personal space, traveling as far as Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Topics have included: Catholic social teachings, prayer, theological reflection, and psycho-social development. An array to say the least. This group of novices is part of a larger group that meets six weekends a year of people in formation – candidates (like I was last year), novices, newly professed (in ministry with jobs and promise to stay for another year or two until there are ready for final vows), and our formators. Last year, I got to fly from PEI to NY to meet with this group seven different times, so I already had a circle of friends when I arrived. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I attend class. One is a graduate course at Fordham University in the Old Testament. This is amazing and has shifted the way I hear the readings at mass, providing context, culture, and history to the stories. The other is an undergraduate course at Iona College on the Cosmology of the Universe and how the stars and spirituality are intertwined (obviously amazing). This class is taught by one of the sisters – Kathleen Deignan, and it has been inspirational to hear her mysticism and wisdom. Next semester is New Testament and Teilhard (*I hope!!). 

Fridays are a ‘Camino Day’ or ‘Desert Day’, where I try to integrate the week’s learning very intentionally, in silence as much as possible. This is almost a retreat day each week and reminder to not be too busy. I get to read, blog, go on 8 hour walks, or really anything that the spirit moves, but with the goal of doing so intentionally. 

As a community – we have game night once a week and play cards (at my request), watch TV together some evenings (currently obsessed with the Good Place and Project Runway), sneak over to the dark church in the middle of the night to pray (ssshhhhh don’t tell!), cook together, go on walks, and even a broadway show (we had 5 free tickets!!). It’s a pretty special experience. 

I think those are the highlights. A busy schedule for sure, and I wonder where the days have gone, how 11 weeks could possibly have passed already! I am filled with gratitude for the people I live with, treasure the lessons I have already learned, and already dread when the two years will be over.


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