Sisters fill former friary with a youthful spirit of learning

Wearing black veils, symbols of their status as professed sisters, Sister Amata Veritas (upper row, far left) and Sister Isaac Marie (upper row, second from left) lead noon prayer on Friday, Sept. 28, at St. Felix Oratory. Photo by Lauren M. Wilson.

Originally published Oct. 8, 2012.

A once-neglected building on the edge of Huntington is now teeming with young life.

Once the home of a long-established religious order for men, the St. Felix Oratory has welcomed members of a 15-year-old religious community of women, all intent on glorifying God.

"Living for Christ is a joyful life," says Sister Kelly.

She is one of 29 members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist who moved to Huntington on Sept. 13.

The young women made the move into the St. Felix Oratory on Hitzfield Street from the order's motherhouse in Ann Arbor, MI, which can no longer accommodate all members of the rapidly growing religious order.

The order was founded in 1997 with only four sisters. Since then, it has grown to more than 115 sisters, 20 of whom joined in August of this year and now live in Huntington.

The women arrived about a year after St. Felix Oratory, and the 30 acres surrounding it, were renovated and reopened last fall.

The compound, which was previously known as St. Felix Friary and was a home for the Capuchin Franciscan community until 1979, was rededicated as St. Felix Oratory on March 3, 2012.

The building was restored by the Fort Wayne-based Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation without any firm plans for its use.

As foundation officials searched for a use for the building, the sisters were searching for a new home. Eventually the two came together, and the sisters accepted the invitation to make St. Felix Oratory their second home.

Sisters in three stages of membership - postulant, novice and professed -now reside at St. Felix.

The 20 postulants are in their first year of association with the order. These women use the title "sister" preceding their baptismal names or names given at birth. They do not wear a veil as the established sisters of the order do.

The postulants will study and live in the order for one year before graduating into the novitiate, at which time they will accept their habit and religious name.

As a noviciate, or novice, the sisters will continue to study for two more years. Currently, six of the sisters living at St. Felix are novices.

Finally, after completing three years of study - or formation into the order - the women will take their final vows, dedicating themselves to the order for life.
These sisters - the professed - have fully accepted the vocations of the order and usually spend their time in the community teaching and spreading the word of God.

Sister Amata Veritas, one of only three professed sisters at St. Felix, says the sisters in Huntington have an average age of about 23.

"Everyone at St. Felix is in formation," says Veritas.

This means the postulants and novices must follow a schedule to best use their time in studying, prayer and meditation.

Every day the sisters rise at 5 a.m., she says, and every minute of their time is scheduled until 10 o'clock each night.

Because of this, the sisters will seldom be seen in the community, says Veritas.

Seldom, though, does not mean never. Over the past few weeks, several of the sisters attended Mass at the local Catholic churches, SS. Peter and Paul and St. Mary, in Huntington.

"We will be active in some events in the diocese," she says.

But the sisters' status as postulants and novitiate will limit the time they have to spend in the community, she adds.

As members of the Dominican order, the young women are trained as educators to aid them in "spreading love of Christ to students," says Veritas.

Once a sister has taken her final vows, she will teach in the community. Until then, Veritas says, they dedicate each day to studying and growing in their love for God.

Although the sisters will spend very little time away from St. Felix, Veritas points out that they are not cloistered nuns.

"We want to spread evangelical witness of our identity as women consecrated to Christ," she concludes.
Sister Kelly, one of the postulants, says she looks forward to growing and learning while living her life for Christ.

Sister Kelly says she felt a joy and peace come over her the moment she decided to join the order.

The former Michigan resident completed a four-year degree at The University of Notre Dame and decided to join the religious community in 2011 after attending a retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary.

After entering the order in August, she says, she felt "certainty."

For the next three years, she will continue her studies at St. Felix.

The order continues to "grow rapidly," says Veritas.

"The move to St. Felix allows the sisters room to form new sisters well."

Complete caption: Wearing black veils, symbols of their status as professed sisters,  Sister Amata Veritas (upper row, far left) and Sister Isaac Marie (upper row, second from left) lead noon prayer  on Friday, Sept. 28, at St. Felix Oratory for the 29 sisters who reside there. The sisters from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, recently took up residence in the former friary.