A New Shoot: Bernice Daratha reflects on her transition to the Secular Institute of the Company of St. Ursula

“On Dec. 1, 2019 the three-year transition period required by the Vatican to transfer from a Religious Congregation to a Secular Institute concluded.”

By Bernice Daratha

In 2011, I had the opportunity to attend a short ministry program in San Antonio, Texas.  I remember that we had a bit of snow and a frost in January.  The city came to a standstill. The trees really took a ‘hit’.  The dead branches were cut off and I thought that it was the end of this tree.  But to my surprise, within a short time, it sent out a new shoot!

I took a photo (above) because this event spoke to me of new life coming from what had appeared to be dead.  It was an inspiration to me at a time when I was searching to know the future of the Ursuline charism.

Time moved on. During Feb. 2015, I spent a retreat day at Queen’s House of Retreats in Saskatoon. I found myself “stewing again” about the future of our Congregation, the Ursulines of Prelate. “Asking, seeking and knocking” aptly described my experience during the previous 20 years. St. Angela’s original way of living consecrated life in the world, the Secular Institute of the Company of St. Ursula, which dates back to 1535, came to mind once again. I experienced an inner sense of peace and a sense of wholeness as I sat with this thought during this time of solitude. I even shared publicly that “I have an energy for the Secular Institute” with our Ursuline community during our last convention in April 2015.

The “kairos” time to more seriously pursue this way of life came when I was free of my duties to care for the elderly – the Sisters and my Dad (RIP), during January 2016.  In July 2016, I visited one of the Companies in Canada – the Toronto area group (there’s also a group in Quebec and over 45 companies in about 25 countries with approximately 900 members worldwide.)  I felt a kinship with this multicultural group of women living their consecrated life in the world with the support of one another. After much reflection, consultation and prayer, I decided to transfer to this Company (sounds like a business but in this situation it is a religious association with a long history).

What would this mean? I would continue to live in Saskatoon, but be connected with the Company of Toronto.  The Company of Canada was begun in the 1960’s by Jacqueline Morin, a former Quebec Ursuline. Marcella Hinz, a former Bruno Ursuline, played a leading role with the Company in Toronto in the late 1970s. Kathleen Hallinan, a Roman Union Ursuline of the Western US Province, and Mary Cabrini Durkin, a member of the Cincinnati Ursulines, began the Company of St. Ursula in the United States in 2000.  I seemed to be led or pushed in a similar direction as these women, and women who came before them.

Bernice Daratha has transitioned from the Order of St. Ursula to the Secular Institute of the Company of St. Ursula. (Submitted photo)

I am grateful for the 40 years of “Serving the Church” (my original inspiration) as a member of the Ursulines of  Prelate, and for the formation and education which has helped me to take this step into the future. After sharing about my transfer with many of our Sisters, I found that their discerning questions and encouraging words of blessing sent me forth with an increased strength of spirit.  Some of them acknowledged that maybe a new shoot is springing from the mother tree.

On Dec. 1, 2019 the three-year transition period required by the Vatican to transfer from a Religious Congregation to a Secular Institute concluded.  The Company of St. Ursula in Toronto has welcomed me with open arms. During a Eucharistic celebration on Aug. 15, 2020 in Toronto, I will renew my Consecration to God, according to the Constitutions of the Company of St. Ursula.

Someone asked if I will still be called “Sister”.  The answer is “no”, because Secular Institutes are like “salt or leaven” in the world and are not recognized by any exterior signs, symbols or letters after their name.

I continue to experience energy, joy and freedom as I live with this decision in my heart. I believe that it offers hope and promise as one way of living the charism of St. Angela into the future.

For example, if a Filipino woman sensed a call to dedicate her life to Christ, she could join the Company and be supported by a group of like-minded women who also commit to the evangelical counsels according to the Constitutions of the Company.  If she financially supports people in the Philippines, that could continue, because she is responsible for her financial decisions. She would live where she is happy, maybe with her family, some friends or by herself.

Just in case you want to know more about this Secular Institute, here is an informative site: companyofstursula.org . The international site includes the global Ursuline family of both Religious Congregations and Secular Institutes: http://angelamerici.it   On this site, look for “Federation Companies” in the Ursuline network circle.

If it is the will of God, a group may begin in western Canada.  If you are moved to be a ‘midwife’ (gender inclusive term) for the future of the Ursuline charism, feel free to make this form of consecrated life known.

Thanks be to God!