Vocation Letters

Vocation Letters: Choosing a Religious Name

Happy feast of the Nativity of Our Lady!  This is the last Vocation Letter from Sr. Melanie as a postulant.  We had hoped to post this letter before her fictional entrance to the novitiate on August 22, the Queenship of Our Lady, but better late than never.  A letter on her vestition will be coming “soon.”

Vocation Letters Cartoon of Sister Melanie pondering many inspiring patron saints to choose from.

Ave + Maria

August 13

Dear Mom, Dad, Zach, Josh, and Tessa,

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!  I promised to write you about how we choose our religious name, so I am trying to squeeze this letter in so that it will reach you before you leave home to come down to Marbury for my vestition.

Sister Mary Magistra told us that the custom of taking a new name has existed in our Dominican Order at least since the 14th century reform movement under Bl. Raymond of Capua (who was St. Catherine of Siena’s confessor and biographer) and Bl. John Dominic.  Taking a new name symbolizes an important change or new start in life–think of Abraham in the Old Testament, and St. Peter and St. Paul in the New.

Each community has its own customs concerning choosing a religious name.  Even in our monastery it has differed over the years.  Some Sisters were given their names by our Foundresses; other Sisters were inspired to request the very same name that the superior had in mind for them!  Usually a Sister chooses her patron and title because that Saint or mystery in the lives of Jesus and Mary has particular significance for her.  We all take the name of Mary first, in honor of our Blessed Lady.  We may also choose a second name and a title, or just a title alone.

Although the Novice Mistress and Prioress approve the name, it is a DEAD SECRET to everyone else until the very end of the Vestition ceremony when the postulant has been clothed in the holy habit of our Order.  Then the Mother Prioress reads out: “In the world, you were known as Miss N. N.; in the Order, you shall be known as Sister Mary N. of N.!”  What suspense!

Please pray for me!  Tonight I begin my private “10 day” retreat in preparation for receiving the habit.  I do so desire to make a good retreat and begin my novitiate well.  And I am looking forward to seeing you soon.

In Our Lady,

Sister Melanie

What is the difference between a postulant and a novice?  Find out here: Stages in Formation. See also Vocations, Vocation Retreats.