Novices deepen relationship with Congregation, God

When Novice Sister Bela Mis volunteered for a mission involving visiting inactive Catholic families in her Guatemala City parish inviting them to return to church, she couldn’t have known that was the beginning of her call to religious life. It turns out, that was the nudge.

Through the mission she met Precious Blood Sister Marifé Hellman, who was her partner in the parish ministry. She was also introduced to Sisters of the Precious Blood Terry Walter and Margo Young. Through them, Sister Bela learned more about women religious and life as a Sister.

Meanwhile, her work in the parish mission was also playing a role.

“It was a really neat experience to meet with families and share with them our faith,” Sister Bela said. “To see families come back to the church and trying to live their faith and change their lives, I believe, was an impact in my life. I feel this was part of my call.  The love of God needs to be proclaimed and each of us is called to do it. There are a lot of needs in our world.”

Sister Bela became better acquainted with the Sisters and eventually moved in with Sisters Marifé and Terry. She watched Sister Terry and Margo work with the poor and listened as Sister Marifé planned her dream of establishing a school for Mayan women in Guatemala. She saw the joy the Sisters had for their work and their ministries were appealing.

She attended the first Come and See retreat the Precious Blood Sisters held in Guatemala and continued discerning religious life. She was also working during the week and taking classes on weekends. Sister Bela graduated with a degree in social work.

Her plan was to use the social work degree to help women and children, but also knew she needed to seriously discern her call. She continued to discern in Guatemala for another year and in late 2013 came to Dayton to study English and further discern her vocation. She entered the novitiate in January 2016.

“For me to think about religious life was something I never really had in mind,” she said. “When I was working in this mission in my parish and then to meet the Sisters and to live with them and see that their lives weren’t so different, makes me think that this is something God is showing me.”

Arriving in the United States, where she experienced a new language and culture, helped Sister Bela identify with early Sisters of the Precious Blood who left Switzerland to minister in a developing country.

“That really gives me a lot of inspiration and makes me see how God is working in each of us,” she said. “The first Sisters had God in their hearts, trying to do what God was asking of them.”

Like those pioneers, Sister Bela has experienced challenges in moving to the United States, especially the cold winters, but knows God will provide the resources she needs to persevere.

Now entering a year of ministry in the two-year novitiate, Sister Bela will volunteer at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland with Sister Mary Ann Mozser and will later minister at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago. There will also be a visit to home.

As Sister Bela continues to build community, she and Novice Sisters LaKesha Church and Mumbi Kigutha encourage each other in the novitiate. She appreciates that the novitiate is multi-cultural as Sister LaKesha is from Lorain, Ohio, and Sister Mumbi is from Kenya.

“I love that part because I always believe that sharing with others is something that enriches your life and I hope to enrich the lives of them, too,” she said. “I think we learn from each other. It’s a blessing with the opportunity we have right now.”

 

When it comes to serving those on the margins, Novice Sister Mumbi Kigutha works the front lines.

You won’t likely find her setting policy or ministering in administration. She prefers walking hand-in-hand and one-on-one.

“I think that’s where I can be most creative,” she said. “Every day is different and you get to see the results faster, and it’s the smiles on people’s faces when you do something for them. It’s the conversations you have. It’s them ministering to me.”

A native of Kenya, Mumbi entered the Sisters of the Precious Blood novitiate in September. Though her first novitiate year will mainly be spent in study, she works one day a week with newly resettled refugees in Dayton. Many of the recent arrivals are from eastern Congo, with whom she shares a common language, Swahili.

She does everything from helping them acclimate to life in the United States through cultural orientation to finding their favorite African foods. Through it all her passion for ministry shines.

When she encounters people in need, Mumbi seeks to bring hope, unconditional love and a listening presence. Be they refugees, prisoners, those engaged in prostitution or the poor, she tries to help them see that God is in control and won’t leave them, despite trying times.

“That is what is key about my being a religious,” she said. “I have been privileged to be able to grow in my awareness of the love of God that I need to spread this message. Evangelization is key in whatever we do, but I believe it’s not about the preaching. It’s how you witness in the way you live your life and what you do for people that will bring the most change in the world.”

Mumbi grew up in the Anglican Church, but went to a Catholic high school in Kenya. She converted to Catholicism while still in school. An aunt was a religious, which sparked Mumbi’s interest in religious life.

Even so, Mumbi graduated and began a career doing qualitative business research. She eventually earned a bachelor’s and an MBA in marketing. The corporate world was exciting and constantly changing, but it wasn’t entirely fulfilling.

“I didn’t feel I was touching the lives of people directly,” Mumbi said. “It’s very commercial and I’ve never been driven by the commercial or corporate side of life.”

So, she joined a religious community in Kenya and was there for nine years, including six years as a temporary professed. Before making final vows, Mumbi opted to leave the community and spent a little more than a year working for the United Nations at the organization’s headquarters in Kenya. It was a year that helped her realize even more fully her desire to be a religious.

She had met the Sisters of the Precious Blood through her former religious community and had gotten to know several Sisters, particularly Sister Donna Liette, who also works directly with the marginalized.

After leaving the UN position and moving to Dayton to discern with the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Mumbi has found comfort. The spirituality is similar to that of her previous community. She finds motivation in Eucharistic adoration, the center of the C.PP.S. spirituality.

“I couldn’t make it without the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration,” she said. “These are what compel me and strengthen me every day.”

She also likes that Precious Blood Sisters are free to explore different ministries, and that members’ gifts and personal talents are celebrated and encouraged to grow. She appreciates that the size of the Sisters of the Precious Blood makes it a very fluid Congregation, which leads to faster decision-making and quicker implementation of ideas.

“I remain an individual within a collective,” Mumbi said. “I feel that I will always be seen and celebrated as Mumbi.”

 

As a Baptist growing up in Lorain, Ohio, LaKesha Church struggled with either remaining unmarried and taking care of family and friends or becoming a nun.

She settled on staying single because she wasn’t Catholic and she didn’t know much about women religious.

But God kept after her.

“I just kept hearing that nag that you haven’t looked at the other side,” LaKesha said. “I think if you want to be true to your options and what you are called to do you need to look at both sides. I wanted to look at both sides to really believe why I wasn’t going to become that nun. So I did.”

Though LaKesha was a “happy Baptist,” that denomination doesn’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but LaKesha did.

“To be Baptist and to believe in the real presence was unique,” she said. “It didn’t make me feel bad, but it was unique.”

Before entering the church, LaKesha had begun the process of contacting religious communities through vocationsmatch.com. After a wonderful conversation with a vocation director who said, “Well, LaKesha, if you want to become a nun then you have to become Catholic.” The wheels were set into motion.

After becoming Catholic, LaKesha researched various women’s religious communities and ended up connecting with Sister Mary Lou Schmersal.

About the same time, LaKesha left for her volunteer service commitment to the Peace Corps. She was stationed in Botswana as a District Community Liaison between the District AIDS Coordinating office (a government office), and local non-governmental organizations. She continued to discern religious life during her time in Botswana and stayed in contact with Sister Mary Lou.

After finishing her commitment to the Peace Corps. LaKesha met with Sisters Mary Lou and Pat Gist. She attended a Come and See, and began to feel comfortable with the Sisters of the Precious Blood. The congregation’s sense of Community was appealing. She entered the community as a novice last September.

“It’s good to be a novice,” she said. “It’s exciting in this place to be learning and to have this time to be quiet with God and to just be blessed.”

Though her background is in health care, LaKesha enjoys church ministry. Her family has always been active in the Baptist church. Her grandfather is a senior deacon while she has participated in the choir and hospitality ministry. She feels drawn to the church ministry as it helps her deepen a relationship with God.

“You’re supposed to be always growing in faith and having a movement toward God or you become stagnant,” she said. “You should always be transcending.”

 

Sister Ann Clark, Director of Novices

What role do you play in the formation process?
I am the Director of Novices. The novitiate is a very intense time of preparation. The novices learn more about religious life, discern more about what they might be called to religious life, and learn whether they are being called. My purpose is to help them in that time. The first year of novitiate is called the canonical year. It’s mandated by the church. We are part of an Intercommunity Novitiate program (ICN) with other congregations in the area who have novices. As part of that ICN program they attend classes. They are also expected to spend more time in prayer, getting to know themselves, getting to know God. They also do one day of volunteer ministry per week. The second year is spent in ministry or education in preparation for ministry. During the novitiate I attend classes with the novices in the ICN program. I also introduce them to the Sisters of the Precious Blood, our history and charism, and Precious Blood Spirituality. During the canonical year I meet with the novices weekly to talk about how they are doing with community, prayer, their ministry, the classes, etc. I love the classes we have together on Precious Blood Spirituality and our community history. It is great to see their enthusiasm for these things and their desire to learn more about C.PP.S.

What is the intercommunity novitiate?
We have joined with novices from the Cincinnati, Ohio area to study such topics as Scripture, Vatican II, Church History, Women in Christianity, Medical Ethics, Liturgy and Sacraments, to name a few. We have also attended ICN programs in St. Louis, Mo. and in Villa Maria, Penn. The programs in themselves are good, and the novices are making connections with others in formation.

What is the purpose of formation?
It is a time of discovering who you are as a person and the gifts you have to offer to the Church and the world, and discovering more about the congregation. It is a time of learning and training in theology, etc. It is also a time of discernment. Those in formation continue to discern if they are being called to religious life and especially to a specific congregation. The congregation also discerns if the person is a good fit with them.

How do you find formation ministry fulfilling?
I am constantly amazed how God works in people’s lives. I also am privileged to get to know the novices and to see them grow. It also affirms my own call to life as a Sister of the Precious Blood.

 

Sister Joyce Langhals, Director of Initial Formation

What are your responsibilities as Director of Initial Formation for the Sisters of the Precious Blood?
My responsibility as Director of Initial Formation is to coordinate the discernment and formation process of a woman interested in entering the Congregation, from the time of initial discernment through final vows. I adapt the process as necessary while trying to assure that a woman fulfills the criteria of each phase of the process. Mentor Sisters are also involved primarily in the discernment phase of formation in order to help familiarize the individual with C.PP.S. and by meeting and discussing Stepping Stones: a Discerner’s Journal as well as by participating in a study group.

 Describe the formation process and what role the Director of Initial Formation plays.
I respond to referrals from the coordinator of vocation ministry by contacting the woman and determining her suitability for further engagement in the discernment process. Then there is an assessment of the readiness of the woman to live in the Discernment House with the Amherst community. The next step is determining her readiness to begin the candidacy/pre-novitiate process. This is done through regular meetings. During this time I assist the candidate in preparing all of the paperwork for application to the novitiate. This application is submitted to the president, who with the consultative vote of her council, gives permission to the individual to enter the novitiate. During the time of novitiate there is a novice director who is directly involved in that stage of formation.

What are the specific steps in formation?
INQUIRER:
The coordinator of vocation ministry and/or a mentor Sister meet regularly with the individual to ascertain her interest in religious life.

DISCERNER: The director of initial formation walks with the individual as she continues to discern whether her vocation is to our Congregation of the Sisters of the Precious Blood (C.PP.S.). During this time she becomes more acquainted with our Precious Blood Spirituality and the responsibilities of the vowed life.

CANDIDATE: The director of initial formation assists the individual in her growth and discernment regarding becoming a Sister of the Precious Blood.

NOVICE: The novice director is primarily responsible for this two-year formal beginning of religious life as a C.PP.S. During the first year or Canonical Year, the novice participates in classes on religious life, spirituality, vows, prayer, liturgy, scripture, etc. The second year is devoted to various ministerial experiences.

TEMPORARY PROFESSED: The director of initial formation again relates directly with the newly professed Sister. During this time, which is ordinarily for a period of five years, the temporary professed Sister lives her commitment as a C.PP.S. as she continues in mutual discernment with the Congregation whether to make her final profession of vows, that is, a life commitment as a Sister of the Precious Blood.

What role does Canon Law have in the formation process?
The requirements of Canon Law are specifically addressed in Our Way of Life (Constitution of the Sisters of the Precious Blood). Primarily the requirements regulate acceptance into the Congregation (Novitiate, Temporary Profession, Final Profession) by the type of vote required by the President and her Council. In general, Canon Law makes various references to the novitiate and temporary and final profession of vows.

How did you get involved in formation ministry?
From 1977-82 I served as vocation/candidate director for the Congregation. In 2012, I was invited to serve as director of initial formation which now has a much broader scope.

What about this ministry do you find fulfilling?
I feel it is a special privilege to walk alongside a woman who is sincerely trying to discern God’s call in her life. Each individual has her own special journey to come to know God and how she might be effective in serving God’s people.  If I can contribute in any small way to that effort it is all worth it. Also it is meaningful and rewarding to work as a team in various ways with Sisters Patty Kremer and Ann Clark.

In what ministries have you previously served and what skills from those ministries transfer to formation ministry?
I’ve had a varied ministerial background and some would say an unlikely journey to where I currently find myself.  Initially I worked as a high school teacher in Celina, Ohio and Flint, Mich. and then as assistant principal at Regina High School in Norwood, Ohio. It was after Regina closed when I was invited to serve as vocation/candidate director. I then went to the University of Dayton School of Law, passed the bar and worked as an attorney with Huffman, Landis & Weaks, LLC. After that I was elected vice-president and then President of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. After serving in congregational administration for 12 years, I worked as executive director of Low-Income Senior Housing in Dayton, for seven years. I then moved to Denver, Colorado and volunteered at St. Joseph Hospital. With counseling as the emphasis for my master’s degree, with openness and flexibility being a requisite part of every ministry, and with a genuine appreciation of our Congregation, it doesn’t seem so improbable to me that I am currently in this ministry.

 

Sister Patty Kremer, Coordinator of Vocation Ministry

I am more than likely the first Sister that a woman would communicate with after making an inquiry either by email, phone call or other means. Typically, I send them an introductory letter with a packet of information about the congregation. The letter offers to connect them with one of our Sisters on the Vocation Team. We currently have four vocation team members located in different regions of the U.S. and one in Guatemala. In addition to responding to inquirers, I am also available for school visits, vocation fairs or other events.

Once an inquirer’s name has been passed on to a Vocation Team member, that Sister begins a monthly communication with the individual. This communication includes a letter and a reflection pertinent to that month. The reflection typically will reflect our Charism of Precious Blood Spirituality. I have engaged in conversation with individual women via phone, email, personal visits, and most recently through web conferencing.

Inquirers are encouraged to join us for a Come and See Weekend. These retreats are rooted in Precious Blood Spirituality and how it is manifested through our prayer for and ministry to God’s people. Inquirers also hear about our history and some of our dreams for the future. The sharing and conversation at a Come and See are led by different Sisters, representing different backgrounds, ministries and age groups. The sharing typically includes the telling of each Sisters personal call to religious life. This piece is usually of special interest to the inquirers.

Women who attend a Come and See often comment on the welcoming and joyful spirit that they encounter at Salem Heights. They like the willingness of the Sisters to share their story. Women also comment on the fact that having Precious Blood Spirituality as our charism and not a specific ministry, frees us to respond to a wide range of needs through a variety of ministries.

I have enjoyed getting to know religious from other congregations. There is a great spirit of collaboration among vocation ministers, a real sense that we are all in this together. I feel that I am being stretched personally and spiritually by this ministry. It has been an invitation for me to reconnect with aspects of my faith journey that have been on the back burner for a while.

Being in full time ministry, even if it is not far from the heart of the community, there is a tendency to get lost in your own little world. Over the years, I connected with community through cluster meetings, Spirit Days, Jubilee celebrations and other gatherings. Being called to serve my community in this capacity has been a total immersion. Over the past year and a half I have learned a lot about myself, about the Sisters of the Precious Blood and about why I was called to be a Sister of the Precious Blood. I have always had a sense of pride about being a member of this congregation. This ministry has called me to a deeper level of ownership for my own vocation as a woman religious and a deeper commitment to living that vocation as a Sister of the Precious Blood. I have been truly graced and inspired by the conversations I have had with my Sisters. This year and a half has been and continues to be pure gift from God.

Story by Dave Eck