Sister Danielle Peters, STD, presents a unique witness
The Rover recently interviewed Sister Danielle Peters, STD, a member of the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Church Life. Sister Danielle offered some reflections on her unique call and mission to the Schoenstatt Movement, applying her wisdom to ways in which students can better discern their vocation.
Irish Rover: How would you define vocation in a general sense?
Sister Danielle: It comes from the Latin vocare [meaning] to call; it is always God who calls. God invites and calls each and every one of us to a certain state in life. Most people are called to marriage. However, he calls some people to dedicate themselves to a certain mission or apostolate in the Church, as a single person (a vocation that is not enough valued in the Catholic Church), as a consecrated brother or sister, or as a priest. So, a vocation is a call by which God takes the initiative. We believe that if we recognize and follow God’s invitation, we will find happiness. It is not something that is totally weird or totally unfit for our personality.
What do you define as the distinctive charism of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary?
Our charism is to be Mary for the world; therefore, we do not have a specific apostolate like nursing or teaching or social work or whatever. Our calling is to be Mary wherever we are called to serve.
What is your personal vocation story?
I grew up in a parish that was run by a Schoenstatt diocesan priest. We had Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary in our parish, and I joined one of the youth groups. I was very much attracted to the Schoenstatt Movement, and when it came time to discern a vocation, I knew that the Schoenstatt spirituality was important for my spiritual life. I also knew that I could follow it as a married person because the Schoenstatt movement also has branches for married people. I also knew that I could join as a single person or join the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. I ended up deciding to place my entire life at the disposal of the Schoenstatt Work because I believe in its mission to renew family life and society. As a Secular Institute, we are not religious but lay and yet belong to the communities of consecrated life. Without the security of convent walls, a habit, and community life, and with a minimum of bindings, members of Secular Institutes face the constant challenge of what Jesus demands of all his disciples, namely to stake everything for Him in the world so that, in the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI, deep down in our hearts the world becomes consecrated to God. In other words, we are committed to continue the dialogue between Mary, the first consecrated secular, and the Triune God. In virtue of a consecration to Mary, a covenant of love, we are led into her relationships, into her world of values, and called to continue her mission here on earth.
What led you to the Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame?
I got my doctorate in Mariology, and while I was teaching at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton, Ohio, I received a call from Dr. Cavadini, Director of the Institute for Church Life and Professor of Theology, who asked if I would be interested in starting a Marian Initiative at the Institute for Church Life. Shortly afterwards, my community transferred me to the Vatican to work in the Congregation for the Doctrine on the Faith. Soon, I realized that this was not for me, and it turned out that Professor Cavadini was still looking for someone to explore the possibility of what by then was called The Mater Ecclesiae Initiative on Marian Scholarship and Devotion.
You completed your doctorate comparing Saint Pope John Paul II’s and Father Joseph Kentenich’s teachings on Mary, Mother and Educator. What role has Mary played in the discernment of your vocation?
In Schoenstatt, we look at Mary, especially in in light of her spiritual maternity. John Paul II calls her our teacher in the spiritual life on the way to holiness and Father Kentenich [founder of Schoenstatt Movement] conceived of Mary as our educator. You know, in the English, educator could mean a kindergarten teacher, but that is not what I mean in this context. As our Mother in the order of grace, Mary is our model and intercessor on our earthly pilgrimage. Above all, she is concerned with the formation of our heart as the core of our personality. Through our consecration to her she leads us to a vital relationship to her Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Father. Moreover, her motherly solicitude aids us in accepting ourselves as God’s beloved child and in finding fulfillment by offering ourselves as a gift to God and others.
How do you understand your vocation here at Notre Dame as a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Church Life?
My mission is to help bring about a Marian initiative within the Institute for Church Life. Towards this goal, we had a conference here … on Mary on the Eve of Vatican II in 2013. Its proceedings will be published by ND Press in 2016. Presently, I am preparing the second annual crèche exhibit from November 18 to January 31, 2016. The event includes an opening lecture and a crèche Advent pilgrimage. We have also produced an Advent Calendar with an image of Our Lady of Mercy from the chapel in Geddes Hall, which offers a guide to prepare with Mary for Christmas. Next semester, I will teach a course titled “Mary in the Movies,” which will look at how Mary is portrayed in film compared to Scripture and in the Tradition of the Church.
What is the most fulfilling part of your vocation? The most challenging?
I look at myself as an instrument to make Mary better loved, served, and emulated to the glory of God. This takes up a special flavor in light of the upcoming Year of Mercy. From Mary we can learn to accept and acknowledge our smallness and misery. In her Magnificat, she tells us that precisely her humility evokes God’s favor and mercy. We often think that we have to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted. Mary’s example and also that of the prodigal son teach us that our God is not a judge in the first place, but a God of love and mercy, who, in the words of Pope Francis “can do everything! Except for one thing: Sever Himself from us! … It’s impossible for God to not love us! … He is waiting, he is not condemning (us) and he is weeping. Why? Because he loves (us)!”
The most challenging part of my vocation is that Mary is misunderstood and often perceived as just a decoration. Since Mariology is not taught in most seminaries, some priests and deacons struggle with homilies for December 8 or August 15, for example. Likewise, there is very little about the person and mission of Mary in catechetical material. Fortunately we offer two excellent courses on the Blessed Virgin Mary through the STEP program, which promotes Mary’s place within the Church and in our personal lives.
Do you have any advice for young people currently discerning their vocation?
Take out the earplugs and create times for silence, both exterior and interior. Do this on a daily basis. Try to find a place where you are comfortable, go to a chapel here on campus, or place yourself in God’s presence before an image or icon. It is very important to spend some time in prayer every day. If you are discerning a vocation, then I would encourage you to go to daily Mass and frequently receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Don’t hesitate to ask people for advice, like your best friends. Maybe, get a spiritual director or someone else whom you trust and who can help you with discernment.
Alex Slavsky is a junior studying theology and philosophy. He enjoys long conversations, even in the early mornings. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.