When Dominican Sister of Hope Janice Dionne, OP was discerning becoming a Dominican Sister, she didn’t jump right in. Her older biological sister was a Dominican Sister of Newburgh (now Dominican Sisters of Hope), and her four brothers were fighting overseas in World War Two.
After graduating high school, Sister Janice contacted the vocation office of the Dominican Sisters, but she felt that she was making the decision a little too fast. She held off on going to college (“I thought I would meet somebody and get married, and I didn’t want to get married!” Sister shares). Instead, she worked for three years.
“I lived at home with my parents, and I prayed about entering,” Sister recalls.
As it would turn out, not all of her decisions were made as prudently in the future. Once she entered the convent, Sister Janice quickly learned that saying ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ was not an option. In all matters, she was expected to be obedient.
“When we were asked to do something by a superior, the word ‘no’ was never part of our vocabulary,” Sister Janice says. “When we were asked to do something, we said, ‘Yes, Sister.’”
After entering, Sister Janice taught French at a high school in Gloucester, New Jersey. She got along well with the other sisters with whom she lived, and she enjoyed making costumes for the school plays. As Sister remembers, “it was a happy time.”
However, soon enough, she was presented with an opportunity for discernment. The Mother General asked Sister to change locations and serve as a high-school principal. Upon hearing the request, Sister Janice had her doubts. In addition to not wanting to leave her current mission, she also felt unqualified for the job.
“Well, that was a time I wish I had been able to say ‘no,’” Sister Janice says. “I was familiar with teaching high school, but, when you’re running the show, it’s a lot different than when someone is directing you.”
Sister Janice says that her four-year principalship was not easy. Aspects of the job were fruitful for her, but Sister missed using her talents in the classroom and reporting to someone else outside of it. (As Sister Janice puts it, “The Holy Spirit was overworked.”)
Eventually, Sister Janice did learn how to say ‘no.’ When she was asked to serve as the novice mistress, she immediately knew her answer. She felt that, while she had a good rapport with many sisters, she simply did not have the financial expertise that the job required.
“I knew nothing about money,” Sister Janice shares.
She said ‘no’ to that opportunity, and she never regretted it. Rather than taking on a position in which she knew she would be unhappy, she instead used her energy and talents elsewhere.
Sister Janice quickly knew that she didn’t want to be a principal or a novice mistress, but her feelings on choices weren’t always so clear.
“I wish I had been able to say ‘No.’”
One summer, Sister Janice came across an opportunity to study in France for a few weeks, but she dismissed it too quickly.
“I remember thinking that I couldn’t take it,” Sister recalls. “I had to be back in school that fall. And I thought I would never use the material.”
It wasn’t until she listened to the input from those around her that she began to see what a unique opportunity it really was. Other sisters explained that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and that they felt she would really enjoy it. Although it wasn’t clear when she would use the knowledge, they were sure God would give her a chance to use it sometime.
Finally, Sister Janice agreed to go. She was offered a scholarship for the summer study program.
“I was so glad I went,” Sister Janice says.
As it was, she used her knowledge from that program later when she taught French at Mount Saint Mary College and Continuing Education with adult students.
Regardless of where we are in life, decision- making isn’t easy. Looking back on her decisions, Sister Janice says that you can trust your first instinct sometimes, but not always. She says that she wishes she had prayed about her decisions more and had given herself more time to discern.
“When I was getting ready to come to the convent, I didn’t hop right in. As a young lady, I thought, ‘I need to think about this, and I need to pray about it,’” Sister Janice says. “I should have done the same once I was in the convent, too.”
When it comes to decision-making, a gut reaction can sometimes indicate the right choice. Yet, Sister Janice has an even more valuable lesson to share: don’t jump into anything. Consider your instincts. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’
And, more than anything, don’t rush. Patience really is a virtue, especially when making choices that will have a big impact on your life.
“I should have prayed more and not listened to others’ opinions,” Sister Janice says. When asked what advice she wishes she could give her past self, she knows the answer immediately.
“I would tell myself, ‘Don’t decide right away,’” she shares. “Give it some time.”