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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Community Spotlight: St Cecilia's Abbey, Isle of Wight

I decided to start a new section called 'Community Spotlight'. We have these huge lists of communities but I want to give individual communities a chance to shine. My plan is to select a variety of charisms, apostolates and locations so that everywhere gets a fair chance to be selected. Honestly though, a lot of my information is naturally going to come from the community's website so if that doesn't have much then I can't give you much either.

Order: Benedictine
Gender: Women
Charism: Contemplative/monastic
Eligibility: Women up to 40 years old
Formation: Approx. 9 months postulancy, 2 year novitiate, 3 years temporary vows, solemn vows
Vows: Stability, Obedience, Conversion of Life
Practices: The community prays the Divine Office in Latin and also has the Mass in the Latin Ordinary Form. They practice Lectio Divina and they have a particular focus on the Gregorian Chant, a mark of their heritage as part of the Solesmes Congregation.

History:  The community is dedicated to the Peace of the Heart of Jesus (Pax Cordis Jesu) and was originally at Ventnor as a foundation of a Belgian community. The nuns of Sainte-Cecile in Solesmes were exiled to England from France due to anti-religious laws in France at the time and they and the exiled Solesmes monks developed a close relationship with the Ventnor nuns, who had already been in England for some years. The new abbey in Ryde was named after the abbey that the nuns left in Solesmes and modelled on it. The Solesmes nuns were eventually able to return to their motherhouse in France and the nuns of Pax Cordis Jesu took over the abbey. The community was aggregated to the Solesmes Congregation in 1950.

The Spirit of Solesmes - Sr Mary David Totah (Available on Amazon here)
Sister Mary David is the current Novice Mistress and an absolutely wonderful woman. I have read some of this book during my various visits, sadly not all. The book is mostly extracts from the writings of the three great founders of Solesmes: Dom Prosper Guéranger, Madame Cécile Bruyère and Dom Paul Delatte.

Other books about them are available via the abbey here. Of particular focus on the abbey are "A Day in the Cloister" and "In The Heart of Christ". I have read "In The Heart of Christ" and it is amazing, the history of the community and the troubles it has faced are quite incredible.

The abbey also sells CDs and and cassette tapes of their Gregorian Chant. You can listen to it on the website here and it is truly hauntingly beautiful. You can purchase the CDs or cassettes here.

Website of the Solesmes Congregation: here.

As of August 2012, I have spent a few weeks on a live-in with this community. They are a truly outstanding community and I strongly encourage anyone interested in Benedictine life to contact them. I can say sincerely that I think St. Benedict himself would be proud of the way these sisters live out his Rule. They accept international applicants.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A Father's Story

I have already shared with you the story of the mother of a sister in the Nashville Dominicans. This is relating to the same sister but is by her father. It is a truly beautiful reflection and is very moving. 

Original Story

Forever will the moment be etched in my memory. My wife and I were waiting outside the Cincinnati airport for our daughter's arrival back home so we could swap cars and leave on a trip of our own. It was springtime 1998 and she had been on a retreat.

There was no way to prepare ourselves for what we were to hear when she jumped into the back seat, although she had dropped some broad hints of what might be in store.

"I think I have a vocation. I'm going to join the Nashville Dominicans," she told us in a brief, tear-filled conversation. My fumbling response was based more on faith in her good sense than in any deep insight of my own. Because all that we really ever wanted for our children was for them to be happy in whatever they undertook, I told her we would support her decision to the utmost of our ability if that is what she chose. But I had to admit to some trepidation.

Like so many others, we had little experience with women's religious life. What we did know, given the convulsions of post-Vatican experience in so many communities, hardly engendered confidence. Was our assent casting to the wolves this wonderful little dark-haired girl of ours who was blossoming into the fine woman of our dreams?

But based on our scant knowledge, these Nashville Dominicans did seem different. As soon as we were back from our trip, my wife was on the phone doing the best kind of research, the person-to-person collection of candid opinion from other mothers who had been through the same wrenching decisions. To a person, they were nothing but reassuring about the course our daughter had chosen. The more we learned, the more reassured we became and the more our daughter's judgment was confirmed.

First off, we were convinced that this was an order that respected the freedom of its members. It was obviously not a place for brain washing. The order seemed to take pains to make sure the decision to enter was voluntary.

One sister we met later made it quite clear: "If a young woman decides to stay only a short time, that is part of her discernment. Not everyone is destined for religious life. But the time spent here will prove valuable to her."

When August rolled around and our daughter joined the other 17 postulants in her "class," it was obvious that she was putting down roots with a vibrant, joyful community. These were bright, holy women who - in the business terms of my world - had their strategic plan in sharp focus and were succeeding almost beyond imagination. Certainly what they were accomplishing flew in the face of conventional wisdom.

On that day when Catherine entered, the mother superior erased what ever doubts may have remained. "You parents," she said, "will find that you, too, are accepting the vocation and will be changed by what you daughter is doing."

How the past three years have proved her prediction accurate! Everyone in our family has indeed been changed - uplifted spiritually, disciplined and made accepting of God's will in our lives in ways we could hardly have glimpsed.

We have not lost a daughter but have gained a host of other "daughters." Today we look upon the community of St. Cecilia as part of our own extended family. Each visit to Nashville makes more evident the joy and commitment that animates this remarkable group of women. In a literal sense, they stand as beacons on the hill, serving as reminders to the rest of us in the Church and in the world that a new springtime has arrived in Catholicism.

Our daughter has found a happiness that parents could only dream of for their children. Her vocation has, if anything, brought to even fuller flowering the person we love so much. I confess that I am still awed by her decision and am frankly at a loss to fathom the mysterious marriage that she has made with her Lord. But I now know beyond any doubt, based on the peace and happiness she has found, that she made the right choice. In doing so, she has given the rest of her family a gift of inestimable value.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Mother's Story

For a while I've wanted to post a vocation story on here. With my obsession with all things nun, I have a near endless collection to choose from. But I could never quite find what I was looking for to share with you. They're all beautiful stories and would all be worthwhile and I probably will share them with you at some point but then I came across this story and knew this was it. This is not the story of a sister but of her mother. It comes from the Nashville Dominicans, and it the story of the mother of Sister Anne Catherine. There is also a beautiful reflection written by her father which I will also share with you in another post.

Original Story

The eighth-graders fled up to the altar to be confirmed. After receiving the sacrament, each child was sent forth with an exhortation composed by the teacher to befit each one. "Catherine Burleigh," said Mrs. Kennevan, "go forth to teach the Gospel to all the world." Hearing those words, I felt a small electric shock race down my spine. I should have known, but I did not. 

When Gerard Manley Hopkins was the subject of Catherine's junior poet project at the University of Dallas, I should have known, but I did not. When three fourteenth-century English mystics were the subject of her master's thesis at the University of St. Andrews, I should have known, but still I did not because, as Catherine and her father and I knew without a doubt, she was destined to marry and have children. The mystery was not which vocation she would enter but which young man would show up to become her husband.

Mothers, however, have superhuman radar. Catherine was back from graduate school, teaching at a struggling but stalwart little Catholic school that had just opened its doors. A few months at the school confirmed that although teaching may be the hardest work in the world, it also is one of the noblest. Catherine discovered that teaching was to be part of her vocation. 

Watching how Catherine fit into this milieu like a hand in a glove, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe a religious vocation for her might be in bud. The very thought threw me into a panic, and so I doused it with silence on the subject. As a convert many years ago from Protestantism, I did not grow up being educated by sisters and so had very little knowledge of religious vocations for women. My assumption was that, with the exception of a good friend, most women religious had abandoned their foundational charisms and had left their dwindling orders. Such a life could not attract our daughter.

Nonetheless, our family did know something of a thriving order, the Nashville Dominicans who taught at a school in Cincinnati. We also knew of two or three University of Dallas alumnae who had become Nashville Dominicans, one of whom had been our Catherine's college roommate. "I really ought to visit the Nashville convent," said Catherine, "just to say that I did. I know I don't have a religious vocation, and a visit will prove it." Yes, I thought, a visit will indeed confirm that marriage is Catherine's true vocation.

The visit came and went. "It's really nice down here", Catherine's voice reported on the car phone, "but I know I don't have a vocation. I know I'm supposed to marry and have children." My heart rate returned to normal. Good, I thought. That's behind us.

I should have known, but I did not. A few months later Catherine made another visit. A few months more and she made yet another visit. By this time I was all ears to hear some revealing remark. And I heard. When Catherine spoke the words, "I think I may have a religious vocation," it was nothing but grace that allowed me to answer that we wanted her to follow wherever the Lord might lead her.

It would not be too much to say that the day of her entry into the Dominican convent of St. Cecilia, August 17, 1999, was the most emotional day my husband and I, and even Catherine's brother and sister, had ever experienced. That day, though, was a day of which I was absolutely sure. I had no doubts then and have never had doubts that Catherine was doing exactly what she ought to do in becoming Sr. Anne Catherine, O.P.

Her choice of a vocation as a sister of St. Cecilia came gradually over a year and a half, if not longer; it came quietly, surely, and in total freedom. She wanted to give more; she wanted to give all. It was as simple as that. I knew she was right. I just did not know what to expect.

What we have found is something astonishing. Mysteriously, delicately, Sr. Anne Catherine's vocation has become our family vocation. Her falling in love with the Lord and with her community has become our falling in love the Lord and with her Dominican family, which is now our family. Any fears that she would be wooed away from us were blown away in our first visit to the convent, where we were assured from the outset that the sisters love their families, from whence come their vocations in the first place.

It has been our experience that each visit to the Motherhouse is better than the last, and with each visit we, as well as Sr. Anne Catherine, are more welcomed and loved by the sisters. When we see our daughter becoming not less but more of the lovely young woman she always has been, we rejoice with her. She has a blessed life, filled with grace.

Yet our biggest surprise has been that the grace of her vocation is not reserved to her. It spills over to us and makes us beneficiaries with her. The blessings that have come our way since her entrance into the religious life are too enormous for us not to believe and rejoice in that mercy. If Sr. Anne Catherine is chosen, so, mysteriously, are we.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

YouTube Playlist

On my YouTube channel I've been making a Vocation playlist. I've got another on Professions and a brand new one on Religious Communities. They're all pretty self explanatory, does what it says on the tin. I'm quite picky about what I put on there and I don't add anything I haven't watched all the way through myself so there aren't a huge number of videos on there but they're all worth watching.

God Bless
Emily Ann Francis

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

For Communities that we do not have ONLINE details for...

For Communities that we do not have online details for, I have listed them under the appropriate headings in the sections on the pages, but then linked it to email our email address. Should you wish to get the contact details of these communities, please email us by clicking the link from the community name and put the

message as : (your name/what you would like to be referred to as) and all the religious communities you would like details for, and specify if you would like us to pass on your name to the communities.

God Bless,

Monday, 20 February 2012

Contact Us

If you want to contact us, Kim has set us up an email address:

Feel free to message us with any additions you have to the blog or if you just want a chat with one of us. We're always happy to help!

God Bless
Emily Ann Francis

Welcome from Kim: The Vocation Operation

As Emily said, we have been compiling our discernment resources for a while, so we decided to start this blog together. Here is a little about me:

My name is Kim, I'm 17, in my final year of A levels and have been exploring vocation for the last four(ish) years now. Emily has already mentioned my blog, Religious Callings, but I also write a monthly newsletter called Faith Basket.

I am putting together a catalogue with the contact details of lots of religious communities, for now, I am focusing on the women's communities, but once I have done that, I will work on the men's as well.

I am also setting up an email address that you can email both me and Emily at, so watch this space as I will put it up as soon as I have fixed it.

God Bless and Peace in Christ,
Know you already have my prayers,
Keeping you always in my prayer,
Kim :)

Welcome: The Vocation Operation

Hello and welcome to The Vocation Operation!

My name is Emily. For a while now both me and my friend Kim have been compiling resources on religious vocations separately on our own blogs - her blog is called Religious Callings. We came to the realisation that our resources would be so much more helpful if we put them all together. So now that's what The Vocation Operation is about, bringing together as many resources as we can to help discerners.

A little about me. As I said, my name is Emily. I'm 20 years old, I'm a student and discerning a religious vocation. I have a blog called Emily Ann's Corner. I will leave Kim to post her own introduction.

Anyway, there's not much on right now but keep an eye on the blog and we will keep expanding and updating it. If you have any suggestions of religious communities or general resources feel free to message either me or Kim and we will add them to our resources.

So welcome to The Vocation Operation!

God Bless
Emily Ann Francis