Mother Mary Assumpta Long, O.P., is the Foundress and Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Mich. She served as the College’s Commencement Speaker  this past spring, at which time she granted the following interview.
Q: We are so grateful to you for coming to our campus for Commencement, for the reflections you shared with us in your Commencement Address, and for your exhortations to our graduating seniors. We were all also affected by the sight of you in your beautiful habit. Can you speak about why it is important to you and your sisters that you wear the Dominican habit, and what effects the wearing of it has?
A: We learn from canon law that the religious habit is a witness to our poverty in our consecrated life. In reading the documents of the Church, we learn that we should have an identifiable sign so that people will know that we are religious. It is not worn for personal glory; rather, it is the greatest witness we have that we belong to the Lord. It is also a way to help to make Him known and loved, particularly to young women who might be willing to give their lives to the Lord.
As far as its being a witness to poverty, it is poverty, when you think about it, that we are not concerned about what we are going to wear. I think it is a great relief: I can go to the slums of Calcutta or the slums of the United States, or I could go to the White House, and wear the same thing.
Q: Have you been to the White House?
A: I have. I had the privilege when Pope Benedict XVI was here. President Bush had a dinner in his honor, and I was invited to attend. I have been privileged. And I have never had to worry about what I am going to wear.
The religious habit is such a positive thing. Just yesterday when I was traveling, I was approached by someone who wanted to speak with a religious, someone who would maybe listen to them and understand. In a habit, you represent more than yourself. You represent, I think, the Church; you represent someone who is dedicated to the Lord and who maybe has an open ear, an understanding heart, and advice.
Q: At the time of the founding of your congregation, you had just four sisters, and now there are well over 100. That’s remarkable growth in 15 years. What accounts for it?
A: One thing is that we have a marvelous vocations directress. Not only does she travel to give talks at colleges and universities and other gatherings, but she walks the walk with these young women, helping to show them what God’s will is for them. She will tell some, ‘You ought to get married,’ or ‘You ought to look at another community.’ We are not in it for us; all we want is for a young woman to do God’s will, in whatever that is. We will be the first to say you need to get married, or you need to look at the Missionaries of Charity, for instance, or another community.
Q: What are the qualities you look for in young women? What makes them suited to the life of your congregation?
A: First of all it is important that they are living a spiritual life. The culture makes it challenging, and there are young ladies who may have had experiences which would impact their ability to enter religious life. It is essential for a young woman to be able to live the life in freedom and happily, and unfortunately there are some wounds which may be an impediment. We certainly listen and work with them to assist them in their discernment. We also look for those who would be able to live in a community, those who have a lot of give and take, who have a spirit of the vows, who understand the vows. We have an excellent formation program, where they study the vows, Church documents, Catechism, and Scripture.
Q: What goes into your sisters’ formation, and how many years of formation do they receive before their final profession?
A: Before final vows there are eight years in community life. There are typically three years of formation when they first enter, and then they go to the university to get a teaching degree. At the same time they are still being formed, because it takes years. The truth is that formation never ends; we are in formation the rest of our lives.
Q: What is the charism of the Dominican Sisters of Mary?
A: Since we are Dominicans, we imbibe the charism of the Order, which is grounded in Truth and teaching and preaching of the Truth.
Flowing from the Dominican charism is an emphasis on Marian devotion and the Eucharist. St. Louis de Montfort was a Third Order Dominican, and we make our total consecration to Mary using the de Montfort formula. Additionally, as a community we have Eucharistic adoration daily.
Q:: You served as the first president of the Forum of Major Superiors, founded under the auspices of the Institute for Religious Life. Can you tell us about that?
A: Yes. The Forum of Major Superiors was established in 1986, under the auspices of the Institute for Religious Life. It served as an alternative to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. As you know, they have just had a visitation and have been asked to implement a number of reforms over the next five years.
Q: What advice would you give young women, or women of any age, about discerning a vocation?
A: I think the best thing they can do is to pray every day to do God’s will — say three Hail Mary’s every day that you will do God’s will. A sister advised me of this when I was young, and I must have done it. It leaves you open and able to pray that you will do God’s will, not our will. I think you cannot lose that way, because God knows us better than we know ourselves. If you feel called to religious life, make sure to make a retreat. That usually resolves it: Some women say this is not for me, and some are attracted. But maybe their children will have vocations.
For example, one of my sisters and I were very close. She always wanted to get married and have a family, and I was always attracted to religious life. As I look back, I can see that that was the beginning of my vocation. I loved the sisters who taught us, and if they asked me to stay after school, I would have scrubbed floors. I think that was the beginning of my vocation and yet I didn’t know it at the time.
Q: But you didn’t feel drawn the way your sister was to motherhood?
A: No, not at all. You know, the irony of it was that they talked to her about religion but they never talked to me. The sisters, the chaplain — they all talked to her. My sister was wonderful and good, a great student. But it was so interesting because I knew she had a vocation to married life; she always wanted to get married.
Q: This has been a very quick visit for you. But you have traveled quite a number of times to our campus — since our earliest years. What is the good you see here at Thomas Aquinas College? What do you think the College does for the Church?
A: I think it is a special gift from the Holy Spirit to raise a place like Thomas Aquinas College. I think the question might be better put by saying, “What if there was no Thomas Aquinas College?”
I just thank God there is a place where young people can go and they know without a doubt they are going to get the Truth, the teachings of the Catholic Church, orthodoxy. It is like a breath of fresh air to know there is some place where parents can send their children without concern or worry that they are going to lose their faith. Parents agonize over sending their children to college.
Posted: January 11, 2013