After attending a National Religious Vocation Conference, I was asked to write an article on healthy religious communities and have it published. Thinking about the topic, I realized that throughout my religious life, I have experienced a vast diversity of sisters living in community. I have seen healthy practices. I have also witnessed behaviors that inhibit growth. Some sisters I know say they live intentionally in community together. I am happy to hear their desire to actively live out our charism and mission in an intentional manner and hope that we can strive to make the intentional community a healthy space for building relationships and growing in the love of a good and gracious God.
A healthy community is open and aware of what makes each member a blessing (gifts) and what each member struggles with (areas of growth). The community understands and reconciles different ways of doing community tasks and invites others to new ways of doing things. During my first year living in community, a sister asked me why I completed a task in a certain way. This sister invited me to move beyond the status quo. Other experiences come from cultural differences in customs and language. During my novitiate experience, I lived with sisters from other countries. These sisters brought new ways of praying, new foods to try, and expanded my view of the world. I was able to grow in a healthy manner by being open and aware.
It is essential that members of a community treat each other as adults regardless of formation status. There were times I felt dismissed. I found it hard if things went to my mentor or leadership without the direct community first addressing the concern. This was difficult at times, but eventually, I was able to see these struggles as a blessing in order to learn that healthy communication in the community fosters dialogue and respectful listening.
Another aspect of a healthy community is living out a balance of encouragement and challenge for each member of the community. Sometimes I found that the focus of formation was on areas of growth rather than gifts. Some sisters gently challenged me while also acknowledging my worth in the community. This helped me experience a balanced dose of constructive feedback to further support me in living out religious life.
I am encouraged by the idea of living in healthy intentional communities. It gives me hope that God is calling women and men to live religious life in community.
Sister Sarah Cieplinski, SNDdeN
Published in Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur eNewsletter, December 2020, Vol. 11 No. 10