General Council January 2010
History of the Institute
Associates and Friends
Servitanisches Säkularinstitut in Deutschland
Istituto Secolare Servitano
Instituto Secular Servita Argentina
Instituto Secular Servita ColombiaThe Servite Order
In perpetual vows
in perpetual vows
In perpetual vows
Hello, my name is Carolyn. My apostolate is at a hospice in Co. Durham in the North of England, working as a nurse aromatherapist and lymphoedema nurse and I love Scripture.
Our Blessed Lord said, "No-one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me." (John 6:44). Our Seven Holy Founders were drawn together by God's inspiration and the special urging of Our Blessed Virgin Mary. Each of the seven men were living separately in their own homes in Florence. They did not know each other, living at they did in different parts of the city. However, the Blessed Virgin was directing them and the intention that they gradually formed made it obvious that they should form some sort of group following the Rule of our Holy Father, St Augustine. It was their perfect friendship and love that finally brought them together.
This was how the Servite Secular Institute was founded. Today we are very privileged indeed to have our foundress with us. In 1979 the SSI was elevated to the status of a Secular Institute of Pontifical Right by decree of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes.
I am now in my second year of vowed life and was drawn to the Institute by God's inspiration and the urging to go wherever Mary takes you. It had to be, as I had never heard of a secular institute, never mind Servite Fathers. Previously I had a short experience of the Rule of St Augustine so this also had further impact.
Formation is fun. It takes as long as it takes. It includes group work, personal study. We live separately in our own homes but knead together by love and friendship. We travel to be in community with our own groups. Mine is in Birmingham. The Servite hospitality is abundant, whether in our own groups, our homes, at retreats, on pilgrimage or on holiday together. There will always be a warm welcome.
Our spiritual life is held together by prayer, unity and friendship. Our apostolate is wherever we are, at work or at home. This is our challenge: to live in the world but not of the world, living a common good in one mind, one heart, one spirit. We are the leaven in the bread, but for the dough to rise we need fire. Can you take the challenge of being that fire to help the dough spread to kindle the Spirit and renew the face of the earth?. We need to do it and experience this challenge. My life has been transformed by in-depth reading, reflection and responding to the inner call of the Holy Spirit within the SSI, parish and the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese to which I belong.
The Lord did not say "Lend me your heart" but "Give me your heart" (Proverbs 23). The more generous we are towards God, the more generous and liberal he will be towards us. To be a Servant of Mary is to imitate Mary's lively faith, her prompt obedience, her deep humility, her selfless intentions, her generous love. Mary is our role model, our pattern of life reflected by "Do whatever he tells you". As Alexander de Rouville so eloquently writes: "Happy the person who imitates the Virgin Mary, for in imitating her we imitate Jesus." In his sermon of John, St Augustine sums up what seems to me our way of life: "O Sacrament of Love, sign of our unity, bond of our fraternity, whoever longs for life has here its very source. Let them come here and believe; unite with you and live."
I pray that we may be drawn closer to God on earth, to his face in Heaven.
I joined the Institute when I was 25, and I am now just turned 70. Over all these years it has been a support, a framework sometimes irksome as all frameworks are, but always keeping me turned towards God, and through Him to others.|
Before being in the Institute I spent five years as a nun, and as it became apparent that that was not to be my permanent way, I began to have a strong sense of being still called to the commitment of a life in vows, but one lived out in ordinary daily living, at home, in the workplace, in my parish, with my friends and family; in short, wherever the circumstances of life led me.
I felt the need to be an ordinary member of society, trying to live the values of the Gospel alongside those who share them and those who don't, and trying to influence the organisations and structures I became part of with those same values.It was not clear how I could do this, and in any case I needed a year or two to readjust to secular living, find and adapt to a new job, get somewhere to live etc.
When I eventually got to know about the Institute and had the opportunity to meet members and attend meetings before committing myself it seemed to me that here was a way of life in which I could respond to my particular calling and not be alone. The Institute has nourished me spiritually through its prayer commitment and the realities of living the vows, and through regular meetings with other members; this gives us a sense of family and the opportunity to pray together and explore, share and deepen our spirituality.
I was a nurse by profession and over the years in the institute I have gone from student to staff nurse, to ward sister, to manger, to nurse teacher, and finally to starting and managing a large hospice home care service and 2 day centres. Each of these settings has thrown up different challenges to my Christian living sometimes ethical, more often in trying never to lose sight of compassion and caring as the core values. In my managerial and teaching roles there was also the opportunity to try to hand on those values to students and staff and to try to create a working environment where caring and respect for each other and our patients was a major feature.
With its shifts, weekend working and night duty nursing can be something of an anti-social profession, so it was only in more recent years that I could participate more fully in parish life; this has included involvement in pastoral advisory councils, the enjoyment of preparing children and young people for the Sacraments, and the formation of catechists. At present there are opportunities for helping to develop the prayer life of the parish, and for working at diocesan level to help to develop support for parish councils, and lay leadership training.
Like everyone else Institute members develop many friendships along the way, both within and outside the Institute, and these are important in sustaining us, as are our family ties. To be able to enjoy these and to respond to the commitment they involve has always been important to me.
Like any other organisation the Institute needs to grow and develop and I have always appreciated the opportunities to use my own gifts and experiences to help with this, while at the same time working to make sure that our roles within the Institute, whether running groups, supporting the Institute world-wide, or providing formation programmes, never absorb so much of the time and energy of members that we cease to be really part of the secular world where our vocation calls us to be.
Our Institute is part of the Servite Order, Servants of Mary. I have always had a strong sense of the supportive and quietly watchful presence of Mary in my life, and before joining the lnstitute I was a little apprehensive that its Marian dimension might be overpowering, and possibly even forgetful of Christ as the centre. In reality I found instead that same sense of strong, quiet, sustaining and watchful presence of Our Lady that I had already experienced in my own life, and an emphasis on her model of service to God and His people totally centred on His Son, following her injunction, "Do whatever he tells you".
I find that the life of the Institute gives me both the flexibility and the support to respond to the different situations and demand made on me and helps to unify all the different facets of my life into "the one thing necessary".
My father was English and my mother Belgian. When I was born, my mother dedicated me to Our Lady and promised in her honour to dress me only in blue and white until I was 7. Even when I went to school at 5, I did not wear the uniform. This did not worry me: I think I was rather proud to be special to Our Lady. My mother took her promise very seriously and sometimes it was difficult as we went to buy shoes!!!|
I wen to a convent school and then to a teacher training college. At 20 I started teaching infants in a Catholic primary school. About this time I questioned whether I had a vocation but decided I would like to give myself to God but not in a convent. As I knew nothing of the existence of secular institutes I did nothing and carried on with my life. I was not interested in marriage, so I suppose God intended that I should dedicate myself in this form of vocation - but not yet.
When I was 36, I was asked to adopt a young girl. She was brought up in a convent with a few other girls and now they were leaving school, they were returning to their parents. But this particular child had no family at all and nowhere to go. Wendy came to live with us (my parents and I) and although I made many mistakes we learnt to love her and she us.
A year after this I came across the Servite Secular Institute. As soon as I heard about it I knew that this was what I always wanted to do. The trouble was that I did not know if the institute would accept me as I had an adopted daughter. Could I live the life while being a parent, for Wendy looked upon me as a mother? I was told there was no problem. You see if you are living a consecrated life in the world you must be able to show that being a secular person living a complete secular life in whatever circumstances God has put you does not prevent you from being completely given over to God following the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. It is possible to be a person of prayer, and it is not necessary to be in a convent to do this.
Now as years have passed, Wendy has a daughter married with three children and a son married with one little girl. I am a grandmother to Wendy's son and daughter and Granny to their children. They all know about the Institute, they know I go to meetings and a retreat, and there is no conflict of interest.
When I retired from teaching, I did various voluntary jobs, I organised the Christian Aid collection in my district, I worked in a hospice for the dying, and I ran a charity shop for the Catholic Children's Society. Now I am 80, I have given these up: I would now be more of a liability than a help. I live in a warden-controlled flat. I go each day at 6am to open my church and prepare for Mass. I do this with another lady. There is not a lot I can do: someone has said that the usefulness of our lives is God's concern, not ours.
I see Wendy and her daughter most weeks - her son only sometimes as he lives further away. The grandchildren I see in the school holidays and this is a great joy to me. I go regularly to institute group meetings where I find support and stimulation and comradeship. Our order, the Servants of Mary, has a particular charism for family and hospitality. I try to follow both these. My two families have given me great love and blessings. I know that in everyone's lives there are heartaches and mistakes and I am no exception. But the love of my adopted family and the love of the members of my Institute family have been a great gift from God and I thank Him for it. The fact that our Institute belongs to Mary brings be back to the day my mother dedicated me to Our Lady and made me wear blue and white and it makes me thing I am in the right place.