Sr Eileen O’Connell is a Junior Professed Novice with the Dominican Sisters. In her vocation story, she captures her reasons for searching out the Dominicans.
I don’t think I ever wanted to be a sister or a nun, at least not that I can remember! My sense of call came suddenly and, to my mind, at least at the time, seemingly out of the blue. Looking back, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me. Given that I had chosen, a Dominican, St. Catherine of Siena, as my confirmation saint, and that I had unwittingly been in the cathedral in Carcassonne where St. Dominic preached, it would seem God had been gently drawing me to this way. It certainly wasn’t surprising news to anyone else!
While I always had a sense of God’s presence, the desire to know God better became increasingly strong, almost urgent, a number of years ago. During a life-changing trip to the Holy Land in 2010, I had an experience that left me feeling God wanted more from me. I had no idea what that more might be so sought the advice of a good friend. He suggested I commit to remaining open and advised that for the next year I say ‘yes’ to whatever I was asked – in as far as it was practical – as a way to become aware of what God might want of me. Having always been a thinker, I began to go now with my instincts, deciding on, or saying yes to, things without thinking them to death! Never having done an Alpha course, I agreed to be on the team of one held in my parish. I applied to do a Certificate in Holistic Spiritualty in Ennismore Retreat Centre, Cork, not knowing what the course entailed, but because I knew I had to do it.
The small group discussions in Alpha are where God really works and I found these incredibly exciting and life giving. Courses on Scripture and the programme in Ennismore had a similar effect on me. It felt as if my desire for God and ‘God stuff’ was becoming greater and greater and my hunger for knowing God seemed insatiable. It was during my time in Ennismore that I realised very clearly that I had fallen in love with God and that I was no longer satisfied with a life that wasn’t very full of God. Then, I began to really spend time asking God to show me in some very obvious way what to do. It seems God answered quite quickly.
One evening, the crazy notion that I had to ‘check out the Dominicans’ came into my head. At the time, I didn’t really know of female Dominicans. I knew of a South African group, founded from Germany, but was aware only of the Friars in Ireland. Although I tried to ignore it, the idea wouldn’t let me go. It was so strong and unrelenting that soon afterwards I contacted the vocations coordinator, Kathleen Fitzsimons, and subsequently arranged to meet her on 20 March 2011. That afternoon, I returned home knowing that I needed to meet her again. Everything about the Dominicans seemed to make sense to me in some way that made no sense and I felt I needed to continue exploring. By July, I had sought acceptance to the pre-novitiate programme, which began on 16 September. During the next 15 months, I attended assemblies, a Congregation Course, visited various houses and stayed with several communities. Every time, I was struck by how at ease and at home I felt. The sense that this might be right for me grew stronger and surer so that the decision to ask to enter novitiate became inevitable. While I knew leaving my family and my home would be difficult, I knew also that I had to try, that if I didn’t I couldn’t be at peace. I moved into Bancroft Park, the novitiate house, on January 6th 2013, with little idea of what was ahead, but with a firm trust that whatever it was, God would be with me in it.
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See Sr. Eileen O’Connell’s article on her ministry in Matt Talbot Community Trust in Ballyfermot.