When Stephanie Dowell met her first woman religious, she thought it was just another job that someone did, not realizing at the time that it was a whole other way of life.
The first encounter occurred when Dowell was in 5th grade at Incarnation Catholic School. The next encounter took place after eighth grade when she attended a summer Steubenville youth conference in Orlando. There were religious women from many different communities, and Stephanie was able to see them and be surrounded by them during that weekend.
“During the Saturday night Adoration – where they have the monstrance with the Holy Eucharist go around to every person there – it was such a powerful experience for me, and I really felt God talking to me… That this was what He was calling me to do. He wanted to call me deeper into a relationship with Him.”
Once the seed was planted, Dowell began to research various religious communities and went on several retreats, including with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It was during those weekends with the Dominican sisters that Dowell realized she had found a home, fully understanding the order’s mission which is to seek to share God’s message of faith and the joy of religious life with the modern world through various outreaches including education, vocations, and culture.
The rest is history, as Dowell, 18, is now becoming a postulant with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She travelled to Michigan on Aug. 22, 2023, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, and was welcomed by the order alongside five other young ladies for a pre-postulancy week. The order stated on the occasion: “As we recall our Lady’s ‘fiat’ in response to God’s call to her, we praise God for the ‘yes’ each of these young ladies has given to the Father’s invitation.”
Stephanie’s formal entrance will take place on Aug. 28, with her parents and siblings (an older sister and two younger brothers) present.
Prior to her departure, she spoke during Mass at Incarnation Parish the weekend of Aug. 12-13, sharing her vocation story and thanking the parishioners for their support and prayer through years.
“Everyone was congratulating me and asking for prayers. Everyone was so excited. (A woman answering a call to a religious life) is not something super common anymore and they were glad that it is still alive. I just hope I don’t let them down,” Dowell said. “A lot of people are very happy for me and I feel very blessed.”
Father Eric Scanlan, Incarnation Pastor, expressed his joy about a vocation coming from the Parish, from a graduate of the Catholic school and altar server through the years.
“Every vocation is a gift from God, whether to marriage, religious life, priesthood, or serving the Lord as a single man or woman,” Father Scanlan wrote in a note to the faithful about Dowell’s choice of vocation. “Yet, it is always a special joy to see someone respond to the call to give their life in service to God… We are so very excited and proud to support you with our prayers in the years to come, that God willing, you may complete your time of preparation and formation, and so give your life completely to Him. May God bless you, guide you, and lead you more deeply into greater union with Him.”
Dowell said she first attended Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota for two years before transferring to the State College of Florida Collegiate School in Venice. Due to scheduling, it allowed her more time to work on her prayer life.
When she first told her parents about a possible vocation to a religious life while still in middle school, Dowell said they initially thought she was joking but realized quickly how serious she was. Then, when her parents saw her upon a return from a retreat with the Dominicans in Ann Arbor, “they saw how peaceful and joyful I felt. I think that kind of eased them into thinking ‘This is okay for our daughter to do.’ God bless them, they are very accepting of this.”
Her older sister and two younger brothers are also each accepting, having been very supportive through her discernment process.
The retreats included joining in prayer with the sisters, learning about what community life was like, talks on the charism of the community, studying saints of the community, as well as a visit to the Blessed Solanus Casey Center in Detroit, which served as an added inspiration.
Officially entering as a postulant, Dowell will wear a blue vest and blue skirt with a white button-down shirt for the first year. During this time, the postulant will learn community life, the rules of the community, what’s expected of a sister and begin her formal education. This is followed by two years of novitiate, in which she will wear a habit with a white veil. This two-year period consists of learning more about the community and themselves, as well as what God is calling for them in their vows. Then, she will take first vows and receive a black veil. These first vows are renewed after three years. It is approximately two years later when she would take her final vows. The entire process before final vows takes about eight years.
While a postulant, Dowell’s contact with the outside will be limited as her life will be structured within the framework of the community. For example, she will be able to write letters to her family twice a month, and one letter to two friends once a month. Then she will have four visiting days a year and will be able to come home for a week in the spring.
Fully aware of the commitment, Dowell read some books ahead of her entering religious life, such as about the lives of the saints, specifically on Dominican saints, Church history, and key Church documents. “I am a little nervous, but feel my heart is filled with the love of God.”
When asked about what advice she would give to other young women or men about how to be open to the Lord, she said: “The Lord will come to you, whether you are ready or not. It’s just you have to be willing to listen, even if you are not ready at that time. He’s going to always want the best for you, and what you are called to, what He has planned for you, is what you will have the most joy and peace in.”
Please pray for Stephanie Dowell as she begins her journey with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.