"Trusting in God's care, we take every next step”
In the recent past, many religious communities have needed to consolidate provinces, branches and/or reduce their ministry activities due diminishing numbers and to a lack of new recruits.
These issues also concern the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Oakford/Natal. In recent years, they have handed over some of their facilities in Germany, South Africa, USA and England to secular communities and organisations.
Oakford Dominican Sisters have been working on the process of change for some time
"With every facility that we hand over, it feels like we also lose a piece of ourselves," says Sr Paula-Mary van der Walt OP, Prioress of the Oakford Dominican Sisters. Together with her team, she has been working on the process of change for some time.
"When I joined the Dominican Sisters in 1974, we were a lot of Sisters," she recalls. They worked in the mission, each had their apostolate in the schools, the clinics and all the facilities that the Oakford Dominicans built up and expanded bit by bit. And there were several of them in Southern Africa, in Germany, England, USA and Argentina.
Over time it became clear that less and less women wanted to join religious life
Over time, however, it became clear that less and less women wanted to join religious life and the ageing process naturally does not stand still for the Sisters. Over the years, the Sisters were no longer able to run their facilities the way they would have liked to. "We needed help," says Sr Paula-Mary. Lay people got involved, supported the Sisters and facilities were handed over to other communities, organisations, or sponsors.
Today, 74 Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of Oakford, live in Germany, South Africa, the USA and England - and it seems there may not be any more joining us. Since the beginning of 2012, the Sisters have been reflecting on the development of their congregation and considering "What does our path into the future look like?"
"We have a future! God is our future, no matter what happens"
Sr Paula-Mary knows that the Dominican Sisters of Oakford are not the only religious Congregation or community in such a situation. "It's a process," she says. "God gave us a mind to think and reflect. We try to use our minds and hearts to find out what God wants of us, what new plan has God for us."
She does not see a lack of prospects for the future. "We have a future! God is our future, no matter what happens" she explains. She doesn't see a depressed mood either. "We feel that we are very much alive, open to engage with what is happening around us and our Sisters are as committed as each one of us can be."
Domenican Sisters get involved and live out their vocation
The Sisters, who moved from the St. Josef convent in Neustadt to the Senior Citizens' Residence Kist, Wurzburg (Germany) in January of 2023, show how it's done, adapting their religious life to the new space, place and ministry needs. Whether it's offering conversation or accompanying other residents, the Sisters get involved and live out their vocation. Each one as she is able.
An important aspect of Dominican life is to bring light and joy into life and to people. "We are all on paths that only emerge as we walk - no one knows exactly where the path will lead. But our advantage as a community is that we are on the path together," says the Congregation Prioress.
"Together with our Sisters we continue to search for what the future holds for the Congregation"
Sr Paula-Mary and her team ensure that the Sisters are well looked after and can live and exercise their ministries in a good environment until God calls them home. "Our Leadership term serves until 2028, and together with our Sisters we continue to search for what the future holds for the Congregation," explains Sr Paula-Mary, who was born in South Africa, joined the Dominicans there in Oakford and is firmly anchored as Congregational Prioress in the Generalate in Johannesburg (South Africa).
The Dominican Sisters set out many years ago to pass on the legacy of Jesus in the Gospel and service. "We ask the Sisters what we will leave behind for the world when the last Sister has died," says the Congregation Prioress. "Dominican Sisters are democratic, every Sister has a voice."
"We will continue to grow older and shrink, that's for sure," knows Sr Paula-Mary, "but we will still be able to lead a meaningful religious life, in relationship with God and connected to people. Trusting in God's care, we will be able to see and take every next step. And the rest is God’s own business. Ours is a personal and community response to an invitation of our faith journey, which we had not imagined when we professed our Vows.”
Text and Photo Martina Schneider