Franciscan Footprints

Sister Joy Marie, O.S.F.On August 5th, I was blessed to take the next step in my journey as a religious in the Catholic Church.  Received into the Novitiate of the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis, the private ceremony was held in the chapel at our motherhouse in East Peoria.  I have been given the name of Sister Joy Marie.  After I give you a little background, I’ll tell you how our community navigates this tradition and how I selected my preferred religious name.

Why do some Sisters and Nuns change their names?

What is the reasoning behind a nun or sister choosing a religious name? Where does the significance come from? How is a religious name determined?  These questions are answered very concisely on “A Nun’s Life” Ministry blog.  The second half of another, more scholarly article, from the Proceedings of the Western Society for French History, called Taking the Veil: Clothing and the Transformation of Identity on Names and Transformed Identities, really goes into the history and tradition of why religious change their names.

Sister Mary Fulgentia.  Mother Mary Conegunde.  Sister Hortulana.  Sister Mary Pelagia.  Sister Mary Blondina.  Sister Mary Dominic.  And my favorite, Sister Mary Hilaria.  These are all names of deceased Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis.  May they rest in peace.  But who are their patron saints?  As explained in A Nun’s Life blog, the names could be of a particular favorite or patron saint, or the name of a parent or the patron saint of their parish.  But let’s look at each of these, more unusual, names.  Their patron saints may have been:

Sister Mary Fulgentia - Saint Fulgentius
Mother Mary Cunegunde - Saint Cunegundes (married to Saint Henry) or Saint Cunagunda
Sister Hortulana = Saint Hortulana (mother of Saint Clare and Saint Agnes of Assisi)
Sister Mary Pelagia = Saint Pelagia
Sister Mary Blondina = Saint Blandina
Sister Mary Dominic = Saint Dominic (founder of the Order of Preachers, aka the Dominicans) or Saint Dominic Savio
Sister Mary Hilaria = Saint Hilary of Poitiers

In this community, a Postulant prays about and then ranks their top three name preferences.  If a Postulant wants to keep their baptismal name, they do not need to submit three names, only the request to keep their name.  She submits them to the Formation Director who forwards them to the Major Superior.  The Major Superior then announces your “new name” at the Novitiate Reception ceremony.  Sister Joy Marie was my first choice.

What process did I go through to establish my preferences?

First, I spent a lot of time in chapel, asking Our Lord and the Blessed Mother what they thought and could they give me some sort of sign for what name they would like me to have.  Most of the time, I “heard crickets.”  That means, about this topic, there was complete silence in my heart, except for the sounds of crickets chirping in the background.  So, I started looking at who my patron and/or favorite saints are: Saint Therese of Lisieux, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Faustina, Saint Francis, Saint Martin de Porres, Saint John Paul II, etc.  Then I thought about my parent’s and grandparent’s names, the patrons of this community and started really paying attention to what the Holy Spirit might be suggesting to me through my reading of books and Sacred Scripture, homilies and the conversations I had with other Sisters, priests or people I would meet at various religious functions.  As I went along, I kept a list of my favorites – at one point I had nearly two dozen names on my list.

Continuing to pray, I was able to cross off some names that no longer “fit.”  Some names kept coming up again and again.  A month before I submitted my names, I had it narrowed down to three names but the third name kept changing.  Finally, the names were due in a few days and I still wasn’t certain.   However, I increased my prayers and, finally, it became obvious to me what my first choice should be!  Praise the Lord! The submission was to include my preferred name, my patron saint’s feast day, and the patron saint.  Then, I added a couple bullet points about each name.  Here’s how it turned out:

1. Sister Joy Marie – March 25, The Annunciation
a. The Annunciation is when Mary gives her FIAT to Our Lord – may I always give God my FIAT, too, in my life as a religious
b. The Feast of the Annunciation is the date I renew my consecration to Jesus through Mary
c. This would be a nod to my mother’s name, Joyce Marie
d. May I be filled with gratitude and JOY as Saint Francis was at the knowledge of mankind’s redemption through the Passion of His Son
e. Saint Francis has a beautiful understanding of perfect JOY

2. Sister Mary Elizabeth (a.k.a. Sister Elizabeth) – Nov 17, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
a. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is my confirmation name
b. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is a patron of our community
c. Elizabeth means “House of God”

3. Sister Tracy Ann – Oct 15, Saint Teresa of Avila
a. My legal/baptismal name
b. Tracy is a derivative of “Teresa” and I have devotion to Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

So…. now I am a novice and will spend the next two years in more intense prayer and study, in order to deepen my relationship with Christ and to further discern my vocation.  All in preparation to profess vows of consecrated chastity, poverty and obedience with the Franciscan Sisters.  Please keep me in your prayers!

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