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Opening her heart to new learning: Sr. Sisilia Soelistyane

Participant in IRF

February 7, 2013


If history had repeated itself, Sr. Sisilia Soelistyane, SSpS, a newly appointed formator for her province in Indonesia, would have gone to Ghana for training. Instead, Sr. Sisilia was asked to be the first in her local community to train in the United States. She was nervous, but wanted to open her heart to what was being asked of her. Now a student at the Institute of Religious Formation (IRF) in Chicago, Sr. Sisilia’s life is unfolding in whole new ways. “Coming here is like nine months in the womb,” she said. “It’s nine months of learning.”

Sr. Sisilia has a winning smile and her eyes light up when she talks about new learning experiences in the classroom. She is adapting to American culture and to life among the men and women who make up the international IRF community. She laughs as she recounts “starting from zero” in her studies, but a reflective quality emerges often as she talks.

“I am a serious person, and I take self-reflection very seriously,” she said. “When my Superior asked me, just after I made my final vows, to take on this ministry, I thought, ‘Why do they believe in me? I am more used to being a formatee!’” She has come to believe that her capacity for reflection may be why her Superior chose her to be a formator. “Just as the formator accompanies the candidate through a process of self-reflection, the formator must also continue to reflect on her own thoughts and feelings,” she said. “It is a journey for all of us.”

At the Institute of Religious Formation, Sr. Sisilia is perfecting her English and navigating new customs—it is a new and slightly uncomfortable practice for her to address professors or older classmates by a first name rather than a title, and living in community with men is also a new experience. But these cultural adjustments give her insight into how she can help formation candidates as they settle into their vocation and a life which will likely include ministry in a foreign country.

As a student at IRF, Sr. Sisilia may choose to explore topics that are rich and varied, ranging from social media and ministry, to contemporary ecclesiology, to emotional intelligence. The use of social media and the internet as formation tools are of particular interest to her; Sisilia feels it is increasingly difficult to separate technology from ministry in the modern world. “For example, some of our sisters recently created a video about our order, and we want to have an active website so that people can learn more about our ministries. In my ministry, a cell phone is a valuable – sometimes the only – way to communicate with interested candidates. We are becoming more flexible,” she said.

Sr. Sisilia feels that here in the States, at IRF, she is learning to open up and enjoy life more. “My friend said, ‘Sisilia, please, life is not a punishment!’ When I open up, I learn from other people and can be of help to them, too,” she said.  “Yes, I am serious, but learning how to appreciate life is also a gift from God, and I believe it will help me in my ministry with young people, too. Now I thank God that I was sent here to study.”

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