Sr Sandra looks at past 25 years of religious life

Sr Sandra Francisca Xavier from the parish of St Joseph entered the Religious Life as a postulant with the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena on Saturday, August 27, 1983. She made her first profession on June 6, 986 and five years later made her Final Profession on June 1, 1991.

On Saturday, June 11, the Dominican Sisters, Sr Sandra’s family, a number of priests and Religious and many well-wishers gathered at the St Joseph RC Church to celebrate her 25th anniversary of Religious Profession with Mass at which Archbishop Gilbert presided.

In an interview with Sr Renee Hall OP, Sr Sandra reflects on her journey thus far.

Why did you enter Religious Life? (RL)

I entered because I wanted to serve in the Church and to live in community. I did not quite grasp or fully understand all the dynamics of RL but there was a very profound desire within me to choose RL. When I left home I was convinced that I was embarking upon a life-long journey with the Lord in the Dominican Order.

What has sustained you thus far on your journey?

My deep faith in God and my personal moments of prayer. From young I always trusted God. Prayer has always been my deepest and most enlightening source of strength. Community has helped me to keep my focus. As a consecrated woman I am ever more conscious of the prophetic mission entrusted to me by the Church and our Congregation. I am blessed with life-long friends and a supportive family all of whom help to sustain my vocation.

Please share the various apostolates in which you are involved.

I have been in the teaching profession for about 25 years and presently teach at Nelson Street Girls’ RC School in Port-of-Spain. I was teaching there before I went to Training College. Because I enjoyed my years there I requested a transfer back to Nelson Street. I believe that my mission as a teacher is vitally important to the Church and our Congregation because while I educate I also evangelise.

During my free time I work with a group of young boys, “Tomorrow’s Vibrant Youths” in the parish of St Joseph. I also dedicate some of my time to the Catholic Youth Commission where I assist in the planning of programmes for the youth of the archdiocese. During the crunch months of CXC and CSEC exams I assist students with English, Integrated Science and History.

I am also responsible for the aspirants of our Congregation. Once a month I meet with the young women who are interested in RL or searching to discover their vocation. I expose them to the history of the Congregation and various spiritual exercises. Lastly, three times a year I plan activities for the senior sisters of the Congregation.

Would you like to share your achievement(s)?

As a teacher I am exposed to many courses in various areas of education and I try to keep abreast with current trends in education. I attained a Master in Education. However, I must mention that I also attended the Bible School in Caroni and the experience there was just what I needed for my journey in life. It helped to strengthen my faith and it allowed me the opportunity to explore and savour the sweetness of the word of the Lord. These have been my most outstanding achievements.

What do you do in your spare time, your hobbies?

I enjoy reading, sewing, cooking, craft and hiking.

Photos: Jubilee celebration, Reception at St. Joseph Community Centre

What do you think has been the role of Consecrated Women in the Church ?

I believe that RL enriches the Church. It adds a particular charism to the Catholic Church. My life is entirely dedicated to God and the Church through the public profession of my vows. The specificity of my consecrated life is the sign that Jesus is still present in the world. I consider my Foundress – Mother St Dominic of the Cross – a prophetic pioneer of her time. I believe that consecrated women are called to be prophetic pioneers. Like our founders we must be deeply anchored in prayer and have a keen sense of what is happening in our world if we are to effectively proclaim the message of Christ. It is not a mere trifle but an emphatic and serious mandate.

Do you think that societal changes have impacted on RL?

In a culture that increasingly tends to trivialise human love and respect for mankind I would say, yes. New technology is virtually competing with traditional culture, values and religious symbols. It has spawned numerous institutional changes, reshaped our thinking and how we view the world and it will continue to grow in complexity. In the light of these changes we are called to be proactive and I think that the dynamics of how we evangelise and witness must change.

Twenty-eight years ago when I decided to enter RL, life was simpler and there were much less distractions. Today, the digital age has made the farthest reaches of the earth more accessible. Technology is accelerating social changes worldwide and this is impacting on Congregations. The dearth of religious vocations and the challenges of modernism fires me like our Father, St Dominic, to want to set the world on fire for Christ.

Is there anything you wished you could have done and have not, so far?

I have always had a desire to travel to India, Spain, China and Africa. I think this desire stems from the fact that I am interested in culture and various art forms.

Is there any piece of scripture that you use as a point of reference?

I hold four words before me, “YOUR WILL BE DONE”. This is my motto. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary she responded, “Let what you have said be done to me.” Also, when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane he said, “If this cup cannot pass by without my drinking it, your will be done!”

Do you have any unforgettable experience that you would like to share?

I recall three sisters died within three months and the following year another sister died. Two of these sisters died young. Even though they lived under the shadow of death (battling with cancer) and they became immobile they continued to witness to the faith they professed because their greatest comforter was prayer. These deaths had a significant impact on my life. I became ever more convinced that it is in this life that we are called to walk by faith. I know nothing of tomorrow!

Is there anything or any person that has had an impact on you?

As a teenager I used to participate in many weekend retreats under the direction of Fr John Theodore CSSp. and Sr Therese Dookeran OP. These retreats facilitated reflection in solitude, spiritual guidance and self-discovery. They also brought into sharp focus the teachings of the Catholic Church.

What would you advise a young person considering RL now?

I believe a young person entering RL must have a commitment to prayer and reflection. It is vitally important to set aside time each day to meditate on the Word of God and to listen to His voice. Make Christ the main focus of your life and build the edifice of your existence on Him.

Also, active witness is very important, therefore, one should possess boundless energy for service. Some young women continue to question themselves and they are finding it difficult to make a commitment. I think that the element of risk is always present when you have to make any commitment. Once you trust God you will be able to take the risk. Risk taking can be positive. Put aside all anxious thoughts and God will guide you and give you unfailing strength. If you want to know the best time to serve the Lord, begin now. It is the present time, the now moment. Offer yourself with fervour and diligence and don’t worry about tomorrow

If you are still confused seek spiritual guidance from your priest or a Religious Sister. It is also good to find out about all the Congregations. For example, the charism of the orders and the various apostolates that the orders are engaged in both in Trinidad and Tobago and abroad.

Sr Sandra ended with the prayer that anyone considering RL now would be like St Catherine of Siena compelled and emboldened to preach the gospel wherever they may find themselves!

(This interview first appeared in the Catholic News of June 19)

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