Monday, March 18, 2013

CONVENT & SIGNADOU, Wanganui, New Zealand

2013 took on a new apostolic twist for the Dominican Sisters of Wanganui. The beginning of our very own Girls Boarding School! After a lovely sojourn in Melbourne, Australia “with all the family” and a few visitors, January saw us back in NZ as busy as bees. Within the timeframe of a few weeks, there was the convent to move, rooms to organise for the boarders, a pile of paperwork to finish, classes to prepare for, cleaning to be done, the survival of Teachers week and Professional Development sessions, and of course, time for the Good Lord.
I don’t know who was the more nervous about our first meeting. Sisters or Boarders? But the 1st of February finally came and it was on a warm Friday night at around 10:30pm that we heard a car pull up carrying within it our first boarders, one from Malaysia, two from Singapore and one from Auckland, NZ. Allow me now to introduce them to you.

First to step out of the car was Maria Lim all the way over from Kualar Lumpar. Talented in many areas, she is a wonderful Tupperware organiser and photographer, very respectful, studious and obedient, plays the piano beautifully and always has a beautiful smile for you whenever you pass her.
Next were two shy little cousins, from Singapore, although it turns out they are not so shy after all. Anne Rosa Loo and Gertrude Yeo. Anne Rosa will have you in stitches as she tells you a story which really is quite serious but her mannerisms and accent make it so enjoyable you can’t help but laugh. Gertrude turned out to have a sweet nature, lady-like ways and a soft spot for anything in a habit and veil. Both girls, we found out, also love to sing. Sometimes we come in from our refectory to hear dishes being turned into a live musical like that of a scene in Beauty and the Beast, particularly when a musical Sister is on boarding duty. Naturally we have a rule that once we come in for Matins, this has to stop otherwise their voices reverberate to the chapel.
Finally there was the docile and ever ready to please Monica Bennett sitting quietly in the back seat.  A lover of song and dance also, Monica is a lively addition to the dishes choir and has made remarkable progress since her entrance. Coming from a home-schooling background, she has tackled the idea of different subjects and homework with sincerity, and has not let a broken arm, sprained ankle or fall off a horse stand in the way of success.
And what of the Sisters? Well, nervous at the prospect of a boarding house at first, we have found that it is actually a very fruitful and enjoyable apostolate. Day by day we see the fruits of our work. It is well worth it when you hear one of the girls say “I sin less here” or ask to sing Compline with us when it is not the day for it or hear them mention they want to be a religious when they grow up and fight over religious names. Our boarders are a delight and have become part of the family, filling the hole, literally and metaphorically, that was left earlier last year when our Novitiate House left for Australia. On Sunday, when boarders do attend Compline, old and young voices blend their voices together to sing the praises of the Lord. Normally it would be the novices that would break out into laughter if an honest mistake happened; now it is stifled giggles from the girls.  At rosary time, it seems that every time you look up from your contemplation to check on the boarders, pairs of eyes are checking YOU, watching your every move. May we be good examples and bearers of the truth and the light.
So what, might you ask, is boarding school like at Signadou? Like the Dominican spirit, it is balanced - contemplation and action – Love of God and of neighbour –a balance of prayer, study, domestic activities and play.
During the week the girls rise at 6:30am every morning for Daily Mass, then follow the school schedule, after which there is a little recreation and afternoon tea, followed by study hall. To rosary they go, then it is dinner, the dishes choir, then time for their own music practice or free time, followed by recreation with one of the Sisters, and finally bed time with the many stuffed animals that seem to dominate the bed – pigs, penguins, monkeys, dogs, you name it, we have it. Even a pink dinosaur was smuggled into the country and recently we were able to acquire lambs, a cat and bears.
Saturday morning is dedicated to cleaning duties, learning the art of grocery shopping, as well as time for study, finishing off homework or writing letters. Duties are assessed and points awarded accordingly: if you get a gold star for your efforts you are sure to be in the running for a little reward. A green sticker on the other hand will mean you are marched back up to tidy your room or spend more time on your cleaning duty. At present, in the afternoon, girls don their frilly aprons and the house is filled with mouth-watering aromas as they learn the art of baking and taste testing. Needless to say it is quite a torture, particularly during Lent, as we go about our occupations with noses in the air and tongues safely locked away, unless of course you are a boarder and you get to taste some of your wares at afternoon tea time. Last week we learnt that one must NOT overmix the muffin mixture. After this little exercise there is physical recreation or choir practice for those who are members of St Dominic’s School Choir, free time, rosary, dinner, recreation and then off to bed a little later.

Sunday, the day for Our Lord, is prayerful, restful and recreative. The morning is spent resting and attending the Sung High Mass. Girls are allowed to talk at breakfast, other days they do not. Then it is usually a special Sunday Dinner followed by activities in the afternoon. They can range from a trip to a local beauty spot, swimming, playing sports, visiting, recreating with the Sisters etc. The day ends with Benediction of the most Blessed Sacrament, supper, recreation, free time then Dominican Compline, complete with profound inclinations and processions.

Feast days are always something special, particularly when God sends you something special. This year the day before the Feast of the transferral of the body of St Catherine of Siena, we received a beautiful big statue of the Saint that we are hoping will one day go in our very own proper chapel. St Thomas Aquinas, our Dominican brother, brought us our very own Tenebrae Stand, for use during Holy Week. Dominican Rite of course. It was constructed by Brother Dominic/Mr Guy Legrega, who is a member of the Third Order of Penance here in Wanganui and who was celebrating his first anniversary of Profession on this great Feast.

NB: Naturally we got the hint from our Lady and gave the statues a dust before veiling them for Passion Week.
May God continue to bless this apostolate and grant us many holy religious vocations.
Uh.......Religious vocations!

 Deo Gratias