Monday, March 17, 2008

One of our Girls gets Top of the World.

Virginie receiving her Top of the World award

We had a great thrill this month when we were notified that one of our pupils had come Top of the World in the Cambridge IGCSE Examinations. This was Virginie Mathey who came top in French. Virginie is originally from New Caledonia but she must have done well in all aspects of the examination to gain this top place with 99% over the various components of the Examination. Her mother says that her French is very rusty after being out of French schools since Virginie was ten – but we think it cannot be too bad!

Father Laisney receiving the “ Top School ” award.

Virginie and her mother and father, and S.M.Madeleine, her French teacher, and Father Laisney, the Principal, went to Auckland for an awards ceremony. Virginie went up and received her prize, and Father Laisney was also called up to receive a “ Top School ” award. We thought this a fitting reward for all the time and effort he puts into our school!

Mr and Mrs Mathey with Virginie, Sister Mary Madeleine O.P and Father Laisney

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Form 6 Trip to Wellington

On 25 February S.M.Madeleine and Mother Micaela took the Form 6 girls to Wellington for a cultural excursion. In the morning we visited the Alliance Francaise for a French experience, then we went to the beach for lunch which we had purchased at a French Bakery. In the afternoon we visited the birthplace of Katherine Mansfield, a New Zealand writer who revolutionized the short story.

Lunch at the beach

Birthplace of Katherine Mansfield

Form 7: Trip to the Museum.

Recently the Form 7 senior girls went to the Wanganui Museum to study background for the book they are reading for their Cambridge “A” Level Coursework. The book is set in early New Zealand before and during the Maori Wars. The Museum Educator had arranged an interesting experience for the girls. They were able to re-enact scenes from the book using Maori weapons and wearing Maori cloaks.

They were also able to dress up in replica colonial costumes, including fashionable women’s restrictive garments of the period and as British Soldiers.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Novitiate

“Beati qui habitant in domo tua, Domine: in saecula saeculorum laudabunt te.”

Whenever we novices meet up with our old friends, they always invariably ask us: “so, Sister, what do you do all day?”
This question always provokes a grin, partly because of the honest incredulity behind it, (after all, it seems such an uneventful life) and partly because of its naivety. To the average person outside the Convent, it would seem that nuns really have no worries – and they are always praying!

- Well, what does a little Dominican novice do all day?

Certainly our lives are not as they would be in the world – after all, we do not have the same freedom as a young lady of the world, who is able to attend parties and movies and basically use her time and money however she wants to. We novices fill our lives in higher ways… our TV is the Blessed Sacrament, and we mint our money by winning graces for souls by our prayers and everything that we do. We live our lives for God alone - and we regret nothing, because we learn that it is His world we live in (no matter how everyone else seems to forget it) and we can lose nothing by doing precisely what He created us to do – spend our lives in loving and serving Him alone.

How do we do this?

The first bell of the morning sounds at 5:20am when the novice rises and offers her day to God with all “our thoughts, words and works”. Then the bell rings the Angelus, that joyful first greeting of the day to the Queen of Heaven imploring her protection and blessing. We are given twenty five minutes to don our holy Habit (at first it is not very easy – there are all sorts of things to worry about, from putting your scapular on inside-out to walking out your room door happily oblivious to the fact that you forgot to pin on your headdress!) and hurry to the Chapel, eager to sing the praises of God. There is something profoundly beautiful in arising so early – even before the sun has a chance to rise. To offer the first fruits of the day to Jesus Christ our Spouse: such is the beginning of a day that is to be wholly lived for Him, that is to be a whole-burnt offering for Him – a day that is one among years of a life consecrated entirely to His love. This is the summary of the life of a religious, and it is also the core and heart of the life of a novice, studying in the school of perfection. We know that we thus win many graces for souls and we glorify God.

The Office of Lauds with the rest of the community at 5:45am calls us to say “Good Morning” to God – we thank him for having looked after us during the night, and we dedicate ourselves to glorify him in all that we are about to do in the day. Prime is the office during which we ask God’s protection over us, that we may keep from offending Him by sin. To encourage our efforts, there is a little reading from the Martyrology everyday. Then, we make our half-hour Meditation, which is the immediate preparation for Mass. It is our great chance to think solely and undisturbed about the things of God, take a step back, and reflect, before advancing again to the spiritual combat against the world, the flesh and the devil. ( - Which combat the professed teaching sisters would say consisted entirely of school meetings, the ever-fun-loving children, and the never-ending marking!!) Mass at 7:00am and Holy Communion are the infinite sources of weaponry that we need to engage in this daily battle. Following our Thanksgiving after Mass we sing Terce, imploring the sanctifying action of the Holy Ghost upon all our work.

A very welcome breakfast comes next, after which we do our house duty, (for example, a Sister may be in charge of sweeping the staircase) and then follows the first class of the day for the novices at 8:30am taken by Mother Mary Catherine, our sub-mistress. Our mornings are usually filled with lectures and study, (naturally, being Dominicans, we “contemplate in order to pass to others the fruits of our contemplation”) during which we determine why we have entered the religious life, study what it means to be in the religious state, and the great graces that are attached to it. In short, we are given our two years in the novitiate to “feel our way around”, to decide whether it is really God’s will for us that we be religious, and in order to make a good decision we learn all about the vows that religious take, and we are gradually initiated into the life. The first year of the novitiate is a year given solely to contemplation – this means that we avoid unnecessary intercourse with the world, and it is for this reason that we do not teach. We do teach however, a little in the second and final year of our novitiate, as well as study, as a kind of gentle introduction to the life of a teaching Dominican sister.

The Divine Office of Sext is chanted at 12:55pm, when we have the chance to examine whether we have lived the morning for God, and we renew our fervour if we have been negligent in this respect. We renew our offering of ourselves, and we beg God to protect us especially at this time of the day, when temptations and distractions flood us and try to draw us away from Him. After Sext we have a simple lunch, and then follow classes, interspersed with free time when we either catch up on our duties, or we are left with the opportunity to go for walks to catch the last of the fine summer weather, a time very useful for catching up on saying our Rosaries – for, as Dominican novices, we must say a full Rosary every day; that is, fifteen decades. This is something we love dearly, of course, as it was to our holy Father Saint Dominic that the Blessed Mother of God gave the Rosary; and what better path to contemplation than this beautiful arrangement of Aves - a heavenly bouquet of roses to give to our Queen in reflecting upon the mysteries of her life and that of her Divine Son!

None is chanted at 4:10pm, after which the cook of the day prepares the main dinner. Vespers takes place at 5:00pm, when we thank God for all the graces so far received. The Rosary with the community is then said, and then when she is ready, the cook rings the bell for the dinner. After this, the Sisters chant Matins in anticipation of the next day, (as it would be rather cheeky to ask the teaching sisters to get up at unearthly hours of the morning to fulfil this very beautiful Office) and then make an evening Meditation of fifteen minutes. Sometimes we attend Benediction, or the Stations of the Cross at the Church, and this takes the place of the evening Meditation leaving us some free time – which we novices are very prompt to use for saying our Rosaries!

Recreation takes place at 7:45pm, just before Compline. Although we are, in the Novitiate, separated from the Professed, we still manage to have plenty of fun with our two postulants! Activities range from indoor board games to walking, roller-blading and playing tennis with Mother Mary Catherine. I am quite sure that if “externs” were to see us at recreation they would be dumbstruck: who would have thought that nuns could have so much fun! We laugh at everything and the air is pervaded with an overall atmosphere of happiness and a deep joy. Our Lord certainly never meant His spouses to be dismal! (and it is extremely funny to watch your very dear tennis-expert postulant patiently hitting the ball straight to you, and you with all the good will in the world powerfully batting the ball back straight – to her Guardian Angel! And meanwhile the poor Sister on roller-blades just can’t help wondering if you’re really aiming the hits at her or not…)

The Bell rings for Compline at 8:30pm, and we make our way to the Chapel to thank God for the graces of the day, to beg His pardon for any faults committed, and to beg His blessing and protection on the rest we must take in order to serve Him well on the morrow. The Salve Regina is sung, and the procession to the altar of Our Lady, led by the two Novices acting as acolytes and holding candles. The singing of the O Lumen to Saint Dominic marks the end of Compline, and then we have approximately forty minutes in which to prepare for bed.

When lights are turned off at 9:45pm, and we are drifting off on the gentle waves of sleep, we commend ourselves to Our Spouse as a child that lies secure in the arms of its mother, and we rest content, knowing that as we have lived solely for Him by His grace, so we will die.

Benedicamus Mariae!

Our clothing ceremony

In the still dark of January 5th 2008 the seconds seemed to quiver as they slowly passed. Did we even sleep at all that long night, the night before our clothing in the habbit of the Dominican sisters of Wanganui. Questions darted through our minds in an unceasing train of if’s…buts….and oh dears… the strange realisation that we would never spend another night as Antonia Rose Marie Gregory and Philomena Maria Theresa Ockerse.

The feast of the Epiphany of the child Jesus -finally we thought, wrapping ourselves for the last time in our long silky dresses; one of shimmery gold the other of moonlit forest green, surrounded in soft blue of our children of Mary capes which reassured us that our Virgin mother would lead us before her dear child whose gifts we are. On entering the church our thoughts followed the hymn “Crown Him with many crowns” yes, here we were to offer Him our own garlands of love, prayer and sacrifice in exchange for one from which all the roses had been taken –A crown of thorns.

After the ‘Asperges Me’ with Father Laisney seated in the centre of the sanctuary, Fr Loschi and Fr Cranshaw on our lady’s side; the sanctuary gates wide open like the arms of our waiting spouse, the Master of ceremonies Andre Ockerse escorted us as we processed through to be presented at the altar steps.
“What do you ask?” A prompt like an angel whispering, “ask and you shall receive” -
“Gods mercy and yours father” surged from the bottom of our hearts.
There at His feet Mother Mary beside, all doubts fled.

Retuning from the sanctuary Mother Micaela laid the holy habbit in our arms and clasping our future we left the church to put on our white robe and black cappa, symbolic of innocence and penance; our only garment for the rest of our lives. Returning as glowing brides of Christ we walked down the isle singing the Salve Regina.

First Antonia then Philomena we bowed our heads towards father and the strange almost awful sound of sharp quick scissors filled our ears. As the blades rampaged through our quantities of hair we knew it was symbolic of our choice - to tear ourselves from the life of the world with definity that as His brides we must remove all earthly adornments for spiritual pearls of the hidden life.

We knelt before mother Micaela to exchange our mantillas for the Dominican veil. First the cap then guimp, band and finally the white veil enclose gently about our faces and save for the slight apprehension as mother brandished pins, followed by a few finishing tugs from sister Madeline, we were clothed. Tremors of happiness made one feel like bursting into laughter or song but all I could do was smile!

Once more we knelt on the sanctuary steps as Father blessed the dark rosewood rosaries and taking it we girded ourselves with the sword of our spiritual life. Then came our small St Benedict crucifixes, one gold, one silver, to be laid in time upon our written vows. In imitation of the choice our Lord gave to St Catherine of Sienna, Father held before us two crowns but the red blossoms and green leaves in a mist of gypsopfela held no charm beside the long sharp thorns entwined into the semblance of a crown. And we accepted this mystical invitation, “I choose the crown of thorns”

We left the sanctuary for the outstretched arms of Mother Micaela who embraced tenderly her two new daughters in the kiss of peace, smiling and speaking softly
“ holy perseverance” to each. Along the length of our community we walked each sister whispering a secret to help us on the journey we began on that beautiful day.