This past Memorial Day weekend was historic for the precandidacy in Wakefield, Rhode Island. Our last class of 14 graduated on May 26th, just before Pentecost, and former precandidates from everywhere to celebrate the fruits of twenty years of dedication to the needs of high school girls who feel called by Christ.
The precandidacy is relocating to Oxford, Michigan, and its students will attend Everest Academy. Having worked here in Wakefield for 12 years as a teacher, I want to express just a little of what the precandidacy means to me.
The precandidacy is living ‘à l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur’, to borrow a phrase from French writer Marcel Proust. It is to live “in the shadow of young girls in a garden.” It is pure enchantment. Every day I am surrounded by living reminders of what it means to give everything to the Lord, of what it means to live trust. These girls trust me and I trust them because we know that we are unconditionally loved by God, and we know what a precious gift this is. Here the freshness of girlhood is never lost and can even be regained. So many former students came through here over the weekend. No matter what happens, they know in their hearts that they can always return, that they are always loved. It is a very powerful lesson: no matter what age we are, no matter what experiences we live through, we are always the beloved children of God. We are always His daughters. The gift of the precandidacy has definitely kept me young inside.
To live in the precandidacy is to be surrounded by innocence and joy, by young girls who open their hearts like blossoming flowers before Jesus in the Tabernacle, who breathes in their fragrance with a mysterious smile.
The precandidacy is its gardens. There are roses, rhododendrons, lilies, laurel, holly trees, dogwood, daffodils, tulips, forsythia…all manner of flowering trees and shrubs. In April and May there is always something blooming. The precandidacy itself is a garden full of all kinds of flowers, all different kinds of personalities that grow and bloom to their full potential because they know they are loved. Every plant, and especially every person, grows better with love.
The precandidacy is a place of prayer but also of intense activity, a place full of laughter that rings out like bells, where little gusts of wind escape from open doors and windows. The sunlight dapples the walls while the shadows of tree leaves and branches shake with joy. It is a place where Challenge girls come for meetings, where we entertain parish priests, where we hold concerts and plays, where music and good humor fill every room. It is the birthplace of Ancora conventions, where love for the Holy Father and vocations is fostered. It is a place where the Church is alive, where everyone strives to become a better apostle humanly, intellectually and spiritually.
The precandidacy is, in the words of one mother, “a place where girls go to the chapel to really pray, but then go out into the hallways to laugh and joke and spazz out like normal girls.” This is a place where all are simply invited to live out the common human vocation to love, whether in married life or consecrated life, whatever path God has marked out for them. We as consecrated members do our best to instill principles, and all are left free to choose. There is always the danger for any of us to make bad decisions. But that is the risk that Christ took first in giving us our freedom, so that we could choose to love him truly. There is nothing he refuses to forgive.
I know there are some who say that the precandidacy has had its moment and should perhaps fade away. But why should something so beautiful just wither and die without any effort to preserve it? The precandidacy, as God means it to be, is a treasure for the Church in all times and places.
I think there is nothing more beautiful than a young soul that has experienced the love of Christ in a special way, a soul who chooses to give her time and her high school years to the only thing that is worth real time and effort on this earth. What is more important than a relationship with Christ? Is it ‘maturity’? Greater exposure to everything in the world? Better career opportunities to make money? Are these things more important than the life of grace, than reaching heaven?
These girls have taught me more than I could ever teach them. They have, by the witness of their lives, taught me what is most important in this life and the next. Most high school experiences are fraught with peer pressure, drugs, sex, and desperate academic competition. To have been here for twelve years has shown me that there is hope. This is a place where young girls realize their special dignity, strength and power as women, where they discover and learn to use their feminine genius and place all their talents at the service of the Church.
The precandidacy is a place where teenage girls can really prepare to discern their vocation; they are given the tools. In more ecclesial language, it is ‘preparing the subject for discernment.’ It is tilling the soil, planting the seeds, watering the roots, warming the leaves with the light of the sun. It takes a lot of patience and time, but it is worth the effort. It is a very special flowering of grace. It is the love of Christ who calls souls at a young age, a love that cannot wait. This love longs for an unspoiled fragrance, something fresh and always new. Yet this love also depends on our collaboration, because it will remain hidden, buried, unknown, unless there is an environment in which the soul can blossom.
I will always love the precandidacy and the incredible gift and privilege it has been for me to work here for such a long time. Now that this garden is being transplanted, I will be offering many prayers and sacrifices for its continued growth and flourishing.