GREENVILLE, S.C. — Two Bishop England High School graduates have entered the religious life. On Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, Katie Vaughan and Katherine Melton were received into the novitiate of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. In the ceremony, 16 postulants received the Dominican habit and new religious names in the motherhouse chapel in Nashville, Tenn.
“It was a wonderful day for us,” said Sister Mary Emily Knapp, vocations director for the congregation. “Our congregation is humbled to see the generosity of these young women, who with their habit symbolize their witness of Christ in the world.”
Vaughan is now Sister Maris Stella; Melton’s religious name is Sister Marie Chrysostom. The novices now enter a yearlong period of formation, according to Sister Mary Emily. Their college work is temporarily put on hold, and they concentrate on learning the practice of their new vocation. The novitiates study the Dominican constitution, the Rule of St. Augustine, the Church documents on religious life and the true meaning of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They prepare intellectually and spiritually for their future life as Dominican religious.
“They live quietly in the novitiate,” the vocations director said. “We call it their cloister year. All of this is a process, during which the Church gives them time to prepare for their vows. It really is an important year for the sisters – one that is meant to form a strong foundation for their religious life.
At the end of the first year (officially known as their canonical year), the novices take their first vows and resume their studies in the world-at-large for a career in Catholic education.
The order is, perhaps, one of the more successful ones in the United States. The average age of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia is only 36. The sisters dress in distinctive habits, so there is no mistaking their purpose in life, and they adhere to traditional Catholicism. The constitution of the 145-year-old congregation calls for respect for the priesthood and the magisterium of the Catholic Church, claims fidelity to the faith and reveres Mary as both mother and model.
The Dominican website calls the order of St. Cecilia a teaching order with a contemplative dimension. The nuns live in cells, eat most meals in silence, chant the Liturgy of the Hours three times every day – as well as compline and vespers – and their prayer life revolves around the Eucharist.
Sister Mary Emily cited that authentic Catholicism as the reason for the congregation’s appeal.
“Young women want to be authentic witnesses,” she said. “They are responding to God’s call and are very generous in giving their lives for what they believe.”
The vocations director called them the John Paul II generation and said that the late pope challenged them to live countercultural lives in the service of the faith. Jeffrey F. Kirby, a seminarian for the Diocese of Charleston, first introduced the Charleston novices to the countercultural Dominicans of St. Cecilia. Kirby was one of their teachers at Bishop England, the diocesan high school of the Lowcountry. He is a third-year theology graduate student at the North American College in Rome who hopes to be ordained a priest in 2007.
When he went off to the seminary after the girls’ junior year at Bishop England High School, he referred them to their pastor for continuing counseling and further discernment of possible vocations. But he kept in touch.
When the girls had become women and felt a real call to a consecrated life, Kirby talked to them about the different charisms and apostolates available in the Catholic Church.
“I suggested they look around and try to find ‘their place,’ ” he said. “One possible place I brought up was Nashville. For Katie, it was an immediate fit.”
Melton, who converted to the Catholic faith from Greek Orthodoxy during her senior year at Bishop England, looked around some more but determined God was calling her to the St. Cecilia Dominicans also. Both novice nuns told their friend that they sensed their call because of the spirituality of the Dominicans, the real community of the convent and the apostolate of Catholic teaching. They both like the idea of wearing a distinctive habit.
Sisters Maris Stella and Marie Chrysostom are supported in their calling by their parents, Carol and John Vaughan and Toby Melton and Eugenia Kolkas, respectively. Both were parishioners of Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island.