We would like to congratulate ATW member Sarah Rudolph, IBVM, who professed her Final Vows with the Loretto Sisters on December 9, 2023. Below is a reflection that Sarah wrote for the Vocations Canada Newsletter.
On December 9, 2023, I will make my final profession of vows in the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters), a journey that has been more than nine years in the making. Nine years of initial formation, over two years of discernment prior to entering, and a lifetime of listening to God’s call and growing in my ability to discern and respond.
Originally from Calgary, I was living in Ottawa when I first began to discern a call to religious life. Although the seed was planted when I was about 25 years old, it took me until I was 32 before I was able to actively commit to discernment and respond to the call. At the time I was working in the federal public service as a policy analyst on files related to children’s rights, youth engagement, and maternal and child health. With a background in international relations, it was a career that I deeply enjoyed. I found the issues meaningful and important, and I loved the policy work. And yet, I found myself yearning for something more that I couldn’t quite grasp in my day-to-day life. I was an active member of my local parish for several years and felt a longing to somehow integrate more deeply the religious/ spiritual with what I was pursuing as a career and to give my life in service to God.
When I encountered the Loretto Sisters through their website, the pieces seemed to fall into place. I was attracted to the international dimension of the Institute – our network of Sisters working across the world for peace and justice in myriad ways – and as I learned more about our founder, Mary Ward, and about Ignatian spirituality, I found my spiritual home as well. It seemed to be a place where I could be my full self and continue to grow into the woman God has created me to be.
Despite feeling at home, it was a risky decision to request to enter, and a risky response for the Congregation to say yes to welcoming me. The reality is that the Congregation in Canada is moving towards completion. We now have only five sisters under the age of 75. When I entered in 2014, we were over 70 sisters; now we are fewer than 40. Of course, when I entered in 2014, I was naïve and didn’t have a sense of what this might mean. Over nine years, I have learned much about what this reality means and have grown to accept a new vision for religious life. Some of my earlier dreams have been broken and new dreams are growing in their place.
One implication of this reality is that I have grown in my understanding of belonging to an international Institute. This has been fostered over the many international experiences I have been gifted with during my formation. I spent the canonical year of my novitiate in Manila, Philippines in an international formation community of Sisters from Australia, India, and Vietnam. In my second year of novitiate, I spent three months in New York City completing an immersion program at our NGO at the United Nations, where I was exposed to the incredible work of our global Institute responding to the needs of the most vulnerable and how we, as women of faith, can influence global policy. My UN experience was a great treasure to me. It allowed me to directly use the policy skills of my professional background from a faith-based perspective. Throughout my three months at the UN, I felt aflame with God’s love for the world.
In 2019, I was blessed to attend the Mary Ward Summer School in York, UK, a regularly offered program for Sisters and our friends and Colleagues, to deepen our understanding of our founder’s life and spiritual foundation. We studied her letters and other historical documents and visited places of significance to her life in Yorkshire. And just last year, I provided communications support at our General Congregation in Manresa, Spain. Not only was it profoundly inspiring and enlivening to be present in a place so sacred to Ignatius of Loyola, but I met and made connections with dozens of Sisters, deepening my appreciation for the international dimension of the Institute. And most recently, I spent the month of September in our Eastern Africa province preparing for final vows with three other Sisters preparing for vows. It was a delight to experience the Eastern Africa province, which is growing and expanding, and to witness the commitment to our charism and mission lived in a different cultural setting. It took me beyond the confines of what I know in Canada and made me realize that other futures are possible.
This global web of connection is reflected in my local experience of religious life. As I reflect on making lifetime commitment as a religious, I find hope in this larger network. Not only as a member of a global Institute, but as a member of a ‘community of communities’. I have been blessed with friendships with other men and women religious from across Canada through our participation in the annual Around the Well retreats. The retreat is a space where we can come together to share the reality of our lives as religious in a changing world and amid changing demographics. We learn about each other’s charism and are enriched by our diverse expressions of spirituality and mission. We also dream about living, one day, in community together, and engaging in joint ministry. For me, the religious life of the future will be a living out in concrete ways the deep interconnectedness of humanity and creation through shared community life and ministry, and mutual commitment to the evangelical counsels. This offers me great hope.
Formation that fosters these interconnections is essential. As individuals we find a home in our respective Congregations with their charism, mission, and spiritual expression, but together, we as religious, live vibrantly and more fully our shared charism of religious life. I live in the present and look to the future with joy, knowing that I am part of an interconnected group of men and women religious striving to live lives of generous love in service to God and to God’s people.
Sarah Rudolph, IBVM (centre, in blue) is pictured with other members of the Around the Well Group at the reception for her Final Vows on December 9, 2023.