Below is an interview with Sr Cathy Jones made shortly after she had taken her final vows as a Religious of the Assumption
Looking back, when do you see the first sign of your vocation?
When I was 14 I was very struck by the witness of the very committed Franciscan lay people in the Maltfriscan community in my native Yorkshire with their love for Francis and Clare. I travelled to prayer meetings with them on Friday evenings run by a priest who loved Augustine and Mary and he inspired in me the desire to study theology. When I was 24 I committed myself with another friend to a year of female religious life with the Maltfriscans. I realised very quickly that I was called to something more contemplative but I kept my commitment to see that year through and, looking back, I can see that it was an important stepping stone for me.
So, how did you take things forward after that year?
In my early 20’s I had studied at Heythrop and while there I had worked part-time as a care assistant helping to look after one of the elderly sisters at the Assumption convent here in Kensington. There were some very saintly sisters and the relationship between the elderly Assumption sisters really struck me – I carried that around with me all the time but still felt called to the Franciscans. So, after my year with the Maltfriscans, I continued my theology studies while living in the university chaplaincy in Gower Street in London. I made a list of all the Franciscan communities in the country and visited many of them. But none of them felt right. I tried a few other orders such as the Dominicans but again they didn’t feel right for me. Then I remembered the powerful impression the Assumption sisters had made on me and I thought maybe... I decided to write to them and can remember walking around the block ten times praying my rosary before finally posting the letter!
Do you think there was a value in that time of waiting and searching?
Very much so! I think if I had entered a community before the age of 25 I would soon have left as I just wasn’t mature enough. That time of discernment was very providential and really helped me to understand better God’s will for me.
Can you describe your formation journey with the Religious of the Assumption?
The first three months I spent with our Assumption sisters in Lourdes. Our noviciate is in France so it was a way of getting to know some of the sisters and also of improving my rather poor French! After that there was a year of postulancy in Oxford and then a 2-year noviciate in Paris, where I joined other novices from across Europe. As a postulant you still have a level of freedom but the novitiate really is a time of renunciation – no internet connection, one phone call home a month. The focus is on time and space with God. I also experienced very powerfully, perhaps for the first time in my life, the feeling of being inadequate – my French still wasn’t great and so I really struggled, for example, when asked to lead a catechism class for French children. It was an important lesson – to come to terms with my own limitations and to realise that in all things I had to rely on God.
At the end of this time I felt very clearly that I was called to the Religious of the Assumption and also that I was called to serve in England. I had a very strong sense that England needs young religious – religious life is so beautiful and the Church is lacking without it. I love this country and it just seems so important that the Church and religious life should flourish here. And so, having taken first vows, I returned to England to take my first vows and to join the Assumption convent in London where everything had begun. When we take our first vows we take on a particular name – the name of a mystery such as John of the Cross. I took for my name Sister Cathy Mary of the Holy Spirit because I have always been inspired by the example of Mary filled with the Spirit. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that God is at work in our world and Mary is the supreme example of this.
How did your formation journey continue back in England?
The next six years were a time for me to grow in confidence that this religious congregation was right for me and that I could offer something to the congregation. All of this was lived out in everyday community life, balancing our daily commitment to prayer with the call to active life – in my case, this meant teaching. It takes time to get this balance right – as an order we are called to be both active and contemplative. I think I have found a good balance now – I teach religion and philosophy three days a week at the St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College in Southwark diocese. I love theology and love being able to pass that on to others. I hadn’t been a teacher before but now I love it so I can see that this was another reason why I was meant to join the Religious of the Assumption as teaching is very much part of our charism. In our adoration we pray that God’s kingdom will come in the world and in our teaching we try to make that kingdom come in the time and place where God has placed us. Ultimately our aim is to make Jesus and his Church known and loved.
So it obviously became clear that the Religious of the Assumption were right for you and vice versa...
Yes, we are very much a community based congregation and this is very important for me. I felt very much that God had brought me home so after my six years I wrote the letter asking to make final vows. Actually, writing that letter felt like the biggest act of commitment – the taking of final vows felt like ratifying that which already was. Firstly though, I joined fifteen others from different countries on a three-month programme last summer to prepare us for our final vows. At the heart of this time was an 8-day silent retreat where we were invited to pray with the text from chapter five in Luke: “Put out into the deep”. I felt that I already was out in the deep (!) but it gave me the certainty that an abundance of life would be given and so with confidence and trust I was able to put myself forward to prepare for final vows.
How have the last few months been for you?
I had seen sisters from Vietnam, France and Belgium take final vows but I had ever seen an English incarnation so the time of preparation felt very special indeed. I loved preparing the liturgy, particularly the litany of the saints. And then before I knew it, the day itself had arrived – Saturday 18th December. It was in the middle of all the snow which looked beautiful but was a bit of a practical challenge! I was particularly moved that there were ten or so young sisters from other congregations who had ploughed through the snow to be there – it was so encouraging for us all to be together. My main memory of the day is just the joy if it all – every time I looked around our newly redecorated chapel I was struck by all the beaming faces! My mother and brother both read readings and they shared my joy with me which meant so much. Fr Matt Blake preached beautifully and then the prostration before the altar and the receiving of the ring were very profound moments for me. We choose the inscription for our ring so I chose the words “By the power of the Holy Spirit” from Romans 15:13 as that just seems to say everything. I have never really worn a ring before and with all of the associations of rings in our culture, it just seems such a powerful sign of the commitment I made on that day to “follow Christ until death in the congregation of the Religious of the Assumption.” Those words say it all – this is me and God for ever rooted in this wonderful religious community which is to be home for me here on earth.
And, finally, how do you now see the journey ahead?
In many ways my life will carry on as before. But this is a time of new beginnings for the whole community here at the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington as not only has our chapel been renovated but we are also opening a new house of hospitality so we need to be really open to the guidance of God’s Spirit in all of this. For me personally the challenge now is to learn to live what I have said I will live!
For more information on The Religious of the Assumption see www.assumptionreligious.org