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Interview with Sr. Maria Gemma, OP: Year of Consecrated Life

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Welcome to the 11th installment of our series for the Year of Consecrated Life. While I know everyone’s focus is starting to turn to the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I hope we don’t forget that it is overlapping with the Year of Consecrated Life. This time around I’m happy to introduce Sr. Maria Gemma Martek, OP, from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. I’m not going to say much more, because she has shared a lot about her life in this short interview. So keep reading to learn more about Sr. Maria Gemma and her amazing community. Enjoy!

Sr-Maria-GemmaWhat is your name?

Sister Maria Gemma, OP

What is the name of your order and what is your order’s particular charism?

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

Our community embraces the traditional Dominican charism of preaching and teaching the truths of our Faith and lives this charism in the spirit of the New Evangelization. Our apostolic outreach flows from a contemplative core, embodied in our vowed consecration with Mary as our model and nourished daily by the Holy Eucharist in Mass and a Eucharistic Holy Hour. We each make the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary {de Montfort formula}. Our primary apostolate is Catholic education. We operate the Spiritus Sanctus Academies in Ann Arbor, Michigan {private Catholic PK-8 schools committed to fostering excellence in human, spiritual and intellectual formation in a truly Catholic environment} and have Sisters serving as administrators and teachers in elementary and secondary schools in nine additional US dioceses and a house in Rome.  

We have also broadened our apostolic efforts in the spirit of the New Evangelization by developing and appearing on programs for EWTN ~ a catechetical children’s series called Truth in the Heart and Catechesis: Communion with Jesus Christ to provide groundwork and inspiration for those teaching the Faith. We yearly host three large vocation discernment retreats for young women and one non-discernment retreat for moms and other women in Ann Arbor. The Sisters also participate in giving retreats in other dioceses, conduct VBS-type summer catechesis programs in parishes and travel to give spiritual and vocation talks. We have Sisters helping with campus ministry during graduate studies at the Catholic University of America and have recorded two CDs over the past two years:  Mater Eucharistiae  {sacred music} and  The Rosary:  Meditations and Music. We also have developed Disciple of Christ- Education in Virtue™  ~ a Christian curriculum focusing on the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit structured around the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas to encourage students to embrace a life of happiness by striving for holiness.      

How did you know God was calling you to this life?

I took an interesting route into the convent via college, graduate school, and studies in Moscow, working in International Business for a company conducting business in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and resettling Russian refugees to Denver. I enjoyed lay life and packed it comfortably full with “good works,” striving to give Him glory with my daily witness. I had great friends, believed I was helping others with my work, and was very involved in my parish and other volunteer organizations. I began attending daily Mass and when our parish instituted perpetual Eucharistic adoration, I committed to a weekly holy hour ~ my “date night” with Jesus. I soon found myself frequently dropping into the adoration chapel on lunch hours or after work. I had always loved my faith, and looked forward to marriage and mothering a strong Catholic family. I prayed that the Lord would bless me with all the graces I would need to be a good wife and mother; He certainly answered my prayer, but not in the way I anticipated! I began to sense that maybe what I was comfortable giving the Lord was perhaps not everything He desired. I came to realize through much prayer and wise counsel from a holy priest that the Lord had created me to be His bride as a consecrated Religious Sister and a spiritual mother to many.

I learned about our community on the Internet and when I came to visit I sensed this was “home” ~ not in any ostensible dramatic sign, but with a quiet surety in my heart and soul. I entered our community in the Jubilee Year of 2000 and professed my first vows in 2003 and perpetual vows in 2008. I am eternally grateful for my religious vocation and for my beloved community of Sisters who edify, encourage and challenge me on my path to holiness as a member of the Dominican family.

Tell us a bit about what your day-to-day life is like.

Jam-packed with graces, prayer and activity!  People are surprised to hear that convent life is not boring or monotonous at all ~ in fact, I’m never sure when I get out of bed in the morning what surprises the Lord has in store. We do have a basic structure to our day (called an horarium), which is the daily framework of prayer and monastic traditions; however, there is always something happening that keeps us on our toes. Let me see if I can narrate a bit of the ordinary, as the extraordinary changes constantly.  

Dominican Sisters--Ann Arbor

Sisters at the University of Michigan Arboretum Peony Garden

On school days we rise at 5:00 am and are in the chapel at 5:30 am for our Eucharistic Holy Hour, meditation, and Morning Prayer chanted choir to choir, Dominican-style. We assist at Holy Mass, eat a quick breakfast, and the principals, teaching Sisters, and college student Sisters head off in carpools to their various schools by 7:20 am. The novitiate Sisters spend their days in formation classes and helping care for the convent, cooking, doing laundry, and spending additional periods devoted to prayer and study. They also have a period of active recreation in the afternoon during which they take walks and play active games like soccer, Frisbee, softball, basketball or floor hockey, depending on the weather. While we are all trained as teachers, it is necessary to have a few professed Sisters assigned to take care of administrative responsibilities.

I presently serve as the local superior for the Motherhouse and fulfill other administrative duties for the community, so I spend a good portion of my workday in my office. At noon all those home gather in the chapel to chant Midday Prayer and then have lunch. After school the Sisters all reconvene to chant Vespers and the Holy Rosary, then process to dinner in our monastic refectory. We typically eat our meals in silence, listening to a Sister read from Scripture and a spiritual book. On solemnities and on Sisters’ feast days we talk at the table ~ conversations are lively! We spend time each evening in community recreation, chatting and sharing the stories of the day, playing board games or cards, knitting or embroidering; essentially relaxing and enjoying family time with one another. We also periodically engage in community study periods. We end our day in the chapel to pray Compline, followed by a Dominican-style procession to Our Lady’s altar while chanting the ancient version of the Salve Regina, giving her everything from the day, beseeching her to watch over the Dominican order and to entrust the souls of all who will die that night into her hands. Following Compline the Sisters are free to study, prepare for their classes, or spend time in personal prayer. Lights are out at 10:00 pm.  

What advice would you give to someone considering a consecrated religious life?

Listen to the Lord, ask Him what His will is for your life, open your heart wide and make sure you are ready for the answer, because it might just surprise you! Ask our Blessed Mother to wrap you in her mantle and guide you ~ she will only ever lead us to Jesus and His Holy Will. God works mysteriously and differently with each soul to make His amazing invitation known. His voice is often soft, though, so spending time in quiet prayer and meditating on sacred scripture will help you to hear Him. This is good advice for everyone, though!    

If you feel like He might be calling you to consecrated life, just pondering it isn’t enough ~ eventually you have to act on the inspiration by either making contact with communities, attending vocation discernment retreats {ours are well-attended by women from all over the country and beyond}, visiting a community you’re attracted to, and perhaps taking the leap of faith and entering the community to give religious life a try.  

When a woman truly wants to know what the Lord’s will is for her life and gives it her all, the Lord is never outdone in generosity and will let her know. The Church as a wise mother gives young women considering religious consecration who enter a religious community a precious gift: the time of novitiate. In this time she gradually deepens her response to Him, learns about the life and the community, and, only after an extended time of formation, study, and prayer, makes vows. The young woman is free to leave if she discerns that religious consecrated life is not her vocation before vows, or at the expiration of temporary vows. The young men and women I’ve known who have entered seminary or religious life and departed after discerning it was not the vocation God had created them for have been immensely grateful for the opportunity to live the life, receive the formation and have the graces to know that God’s amazing plan for their life was elsewhere.  

What does it mean to you that Pope Francis has dedicated this year (Nov. 30, 2014-February 2, 2016) as a Year of Consecrated Life?

It has been a beautiful gift to reflect on the beauty of the gift of consecrated life and the special and vital role it fulfills in the heart of Holy Mother Church, to meditate on the immensity of the gift and nourish the mind, heart, and soul by taking time to reread and study the beautiful Church documents that have been given to us regarding religious life. Religious consecration is a tremendous privilege – to live a life lived completely for the Lord, witnessing to the world the life we will each live in the eternal bliss of heaven – and what an incredible gift it is to be able to live it here and now.  

Domicans chapel in Ann Arbor

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist at prayer in our beautiful chapel.

What is your favorite thing to do during your down time/recreation time?

When you enter religious life, you gain a whole big family, and families love to spend time together. We enjoy playing games (favorites are Scrabble, Ticket to Ride, Scattergories, Taboo, Chronology & Pictionary), taking walks, bike riding, cooking, baking, watching movies, laughing, sharing stories, and enjoying one another’s company chatting. I enjoy watching football occasionally when we have a chance. On quiet retreat days I relax by spending extra time in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, being outside, knitting, reading and solving word or logic puzzles. I love to read, write letters to family and friends, and study for fun – especially history, political science, geography and word study. I was given a Russian version of the Catechism and the Bible, and I love reading it to keep my Russian language sharp. My special area of interest is the persecuted Church under Soviet Communism in Russia. I helped a woman translate a book into English about a group of Dominican Sisters in Moscow who ended up in the GULag system between 1923 and the mid 1950s.

Thanks for asking me to tell you a little more about myself and my wonderful community.  Please pray for us and for religious men and women, and for more workers for the Lord’s vineyard.  God bless you and keep you this Advent and always!

Ways to contact the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist:

Our Website:  www.sistersofmary.org

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/dsmme

Disciple of Christ- Education in Virtue™    https://educationinvirtue.com/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/EDUinVIRTUE

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About Kerri Baunach

Kerri Baunach is a Catholic wife and mother of three boys (plus three in heaven). She and her family live in beautiful central Kentucky where she is active in her church, a member of Cursillo, and a Benedictine Oblate. Kerri often writes on her Catholic faith, pregnancy loss, her kids, and pro-life issues. Kerri is a former music librarian (16 years) now stay-at-home mom, was a musician for over 20 years, loves taking her kids to the library (and loves that they love it), is passionately pro-life, can’t cook, and has lived in six states. In additional to writing at Catholic Sistas you can also find Kerri on her own blog at Journal of a Nobody.