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Interview of Sister Jean-Thérèse Vauhkonen, O.P.

Interviewed by Fr. Manuel Rivero, O.P.

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Sister Jean-Thérèse was born forty-six years ago in Helsinki, Finland. The Catholic Church in Finland numbers seven thousand out of a total population of five million, the majority of whom are Protestants. Originally a Protestant of the Lutheran Confession, she became Catholic at the age of eighteen.

Why did you become a Catholic?

My protestant family did not practice their faith. As a child, however, my parents had taught me how to pray at home. I was prepared to make my profession of faith at fifteen years of age and on June 14, 1970, I received the Body of Christ for the first time in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. This was a great day. I truly had the impression of having encountered Christ. I reflected on the mystery of the Eucharist and I came to an acceptance that my faith mirrored that of the Catholic Church with regards to the "real presence." In the Lutheran Church, the Eucharist loses its meaning after the Lord's Supper. At eighteen years of age, I was received into the Catholic Church after a year of preparation.

How did your vocation as a contemplative sister come about?

After secondary school, I registered to study French for a year at the University. I was twenty years old at that time and was asking myself about my life's vocation. Religious life attracted me.

It was a Finnish Dominican Father, fr. Martti Voutilainen, O.P., who passed away last July 7, who prepared me for entrance into the Catholic Church. Through his direction, I went to see the Little Sisters of Charles de Foucault and the Dominican Sisters of the Roman Congregation in Sweden. It was there that the Novice Mistress asked if I had ever thought of the contemplative life. A little later, I found myself in France for a few weeks with the Dominican contemplative sisters of Orbey, some 20 kilometers from Colmar, to enquire about their vocation. After a time of reflection and work in Finland, as was required by the sisters, I entered the cloister as a postulant on the first Sunday of Lent, 1977. It was February 26 to be exact.

As a contemplative sister, you consecrate your life to prayer and manual labour. Can you share with us a little about prayer?

Prayer is something very simple. Prayer is an affair of the heart. And, I am aware that my heart is like the heart of others. There is a struggle between good and evil. Without the grace of God I am capable of doing something horrible. I need to be saved. I am aware of my sinful condition.

My goal is to participate in the salvation of the world through prayer. My prayer transcends the walls of the monastery. What I do, I do for the world. There is a universal dimension to prayer.

Do you not suffer from loneliness?

Prayer introduces us into a process of spiritual transformation. We encounter God and neighbour in our hearts. A solitude of the heart seems necessary to me if we want to give Jesus Christ the pride of place.

Each person hopes to be the most important person in the life of someone else. I renounce this, for Christ is the most important friend in my life.

In the heart there is a space reserved for Christ that we cannot share with any one else.

Solitude represents a positive value that allows me to be present to Him who is present in my life.

What is the most difficult aspect of your life?

Community life. There are hurts and a lack of understanding in community. Our community life is made up of minute realities that may at times provoke disproportionate reactions. If a sister does not say "good morning" to me, I may entertain the thought that she has something against me when perhaps she was just a little distracted. At the same time, community life is passionate. It is there that one puts into practice the new commandment of Jesus: "love one another as I have loved you."

Have you changed in your manner of prayer?

My prayer has been simplified. It has become what it was in the beginning but it has gained in intensity.

I pray for Christian unity. I feel pain that Christians are not united.

Did you ever think of leaving the monastery after having entered it?

The temptation to leave is in some ways always present. We can always be doing something else. As far as I am concerned, the thought had crossed my mind two or three times without having taken root in me. It has not been a big issue for me.

Have you received graces in prayer?

Yes, I have received graces that helped me advance in the knowledge of God. Graces of strength and joy to live life as it is. Confession, the sacrament of reconciliation, is also a prayer, an important moment of grace.

Have you discovered new features of the life of God?

Yes, I think of the Trinity. In the beginning, I was attracted by the Father, from whom one receives all. There is always a part of the child in us. The child is infused with an extraordinary confidence in its parents, and, it results in the child thinking that its parents are able to protect it and give it the entire world.

Following this, Christ occupied a central place in my life. He is my friend.

With Him I also live a spirituality of spousal communion as mentioned in the Bible.

The Holy Spirit is the One who prays in us "in indescribable groanings," as Saint Paul taught us.

The mystery of the Trinity lets me live the relations in God. God is One and, yet, in relation.

What is the difference between a Benedictine and a Dominican Nun?

Fundamentally, it is the same vocation: to give oneself to God in monastic life. On the other hand, our democratic government distinguishes us from the Benedictines. We often change the formators. In the Dominican spirit, we look for unanimity. The Benedictines remain disciples of their Mother Abbess.

Do you think that your life is extraordinary?

All life is extraordinary when it is given.

My life is a very ordinary life. Nothing extraordinary happens. The grace of vocation, the fact of having been called…now, that is extraordinary.

Address of Sr. Jean-Thérèse: Monastery of the Dominican Sisters. F - 68370 ORBEY, France


Interviewed by fr. Manuel Rivero, O.P. (Province of Toulouse).

Photos: fr. Phillip McShane, o.p. puce


Design & management : Fr. Yves Bériault, o.p.