Welcome to our summer Lay Member Series on the Blessed is She blog! This week, we will hear from several different members who are lay members of various religious orders. We'll learn about their walk with Christ, their vocation, their discernment and formation process, and what it looks like to live out their vows in the framework of their primary vocation or state in life.
Samantha, A Lay Dominican
Today, we chat with Samantha Yee, a lay Dominican.
Tell us a bit about your journey with Jesus.
I grew up Catholic, with a family that was involved in nearly every ministry at our parish. Serving the Church was just something we did, but a strong prayer life and a personal relationship with Jesus was not something that was emphasized.
When I started college at UC Berkeley, I struggled to find my place. I had no friends, and for the first time in my life I was not doing well in school. My identity was, understandably, shaken. I had been told my whole life that I was smart and I had come to use that one thing to define myself. I fell into a deep depression that took me years to recover from.
I reverted back to the faith at age 19 at a Steubenville conference (I’m 25 now) and I realized my true identity came from being a daughter of God.
You can find more of my personal conversion story here.
What first drew you to the Dominicans?
I attended Mass at a Dominican parish as an undergrad and my Confirmation saint was St. Catherine of Siena. I chose her because my mom’s name is Catherine. But beyond that, I had no other connection to the Dominican Order when I entered.
What are the charisms and motto of your order?
The Dominican charism is to preach the Gospel with our words and our lives.
We have three mottos.
- Veritas (meaning “truth”)
- Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere (“to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation”)
- Laudere, benedicere, praedicare (“to praise, to bless, to preach”).
Underneath all of these mottos is an emphasis on learning Christ through prayer and study, and letting that love and knowledge overflow naturally into ministry.
How did you know you had a vocation to the Dominican order? What did your discernment process look like?
It’s funny, some people take years to discern being a lay Dominican (in fact, there was a woman in my chapter who had thought about it for 10 years before joining). But for me, it was a whirlwind love affair. Everything happened within the span of a week.
I had played Mary in a very public and very large living Stations of the Cross down San Francisco’s Embarcadero on Good Friday 2018. It was the most spiritually-intense experience of my life. I truly saw and felt the Passion through a mother’s eyes. That night, I received a little miracle from Mary, the smell of rose incense, and I could do nothing but pray and weep for my sins and for the sins of others. It was gutting, and God was so real to me in that moment that my immediate reaction was, “I need to enter a convent right now. I need to love Him every second of everyday. I need to do something.”
Over the next few days, I kept having dreams of black-and-white veils. This was odd because, though I had discerned religious life, the only orders I’d seriously considered had blue or brown veils. The following Tuesday, I was at school, and I kid you not, the Dominicans randomly came up in conversation at least 50 times. For example, I had a burger for lunch and the customer next to me nudged me, pointed to the baseball game on TV, and said, “The Dominicans are really good, huh?” It was the strangest thing, but I didn’t think anything of it until a friend who had come back from the shrine of St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres in Peru gave me a medal of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, which had the phrase “Truth in Love” engraved on it in Latin.
Later that night, unable to sleep, my Google searches for "veritas" led me to the Dominican Order. I found out that all three saints were third order Dominicans.
The first step to entering my local lay chapter was getting approval from the prioress, who just happened to be my brother’s godmother. I called her the next day and had an interview with the council that Saturday. They unanimously voted yes, despite the fact that I was younger than everyone in the chapter by 20-45 years. And so it began.
Were there any particular tools you found useful in your discernment?
I think I’ve been equipped with tools throughout the years. Books like St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, The Soul of the Apostolate, and The Fulfillment of All Desire were instrumental. I also had countless conversations with women and men religious.
Discernment is really developing a practice of recognizing God’s voice and presence in your life. How has God spoken to you in the past? When were you sure God was working? I know how God speaks to me, He always makes it clear. So it was easy for me to say, “This is God,” and act. But part of that was leaving room for God to speak, making space in my life for silence and prayer and listening, and having a relationship with God already.
Why do you think the charisms of this order are useful to you in your path to sanctity?
The more time I spend with Dominicans, the more I realize that my personal spirituality is Dominican spirituality. I’m always talking with and about God. I grow deeper in my faith through reading books, and I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning. I share what I’ve personally received in prayer in my writing and in my talks. I’ve been “preaching the Gospel” to atheists in parties, bars, and classrooms for as long as I can remember.
I have a deep love for Mary and the Rosary, and fasting is a huge part of my prayer life.
Joining a religious order’s family is, in a sense, finding people who experience God the same way you do within the Catholic Church, and the Dominicans were 100% for me.
What is the formation process like? Where are you in the discernment process?
The first two years as a lay Dominican involve formation and mutual discernment. You get to know the order, they get to know you, you attend monthly chapter meetings, you regularly meet with a formation director, and you complete reading and writing assignments about topics such as Dominican rule, community, the life of St. Dominic, the Eucharist, and the Rosary.
I just finished my first year of formation. After the second year of formation, I can make temporary professions for 1-3 years at a time. Then, if I wanted, I could make a lifelong profession three years after my first profession.
What are the daily practices and other requirements/practices of lay members? How do those look lived out in your particular life and vocation?
As a lay Dominican, I make a daily commitment to go to Mass and to pray the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours (morning, evening, and night).
I must also nurture a devotion to Mary, read Scripture, fast on certain days, pray for deceased Dominicans, and go to Confession at least monthly.
It’s definitely doable, but there are days when I still struggle to wake up for 8 a.m. Mass because it’s the only daily Mass in the area. Or I try to start a Rosary at 11:59 pm (whoops). Or I fall behind on my spiritual readings.
There’s no one making sure I do these things and I don’t get punished for it, but I do make a promise to my chapter and I intend to live up to those promises. Being a full-time college student, freelance writer, and speaker who constantly travels, while balancing being a contemplative and prayerful Dominican is not easy, let me tell you. But it is possible.
How has being a lay Dominican changed your own heart? What about your relationships with your family and friends?
I can’t say that being a lay Dominican itself changed my heart and relationships so much as a consistent prayer life did. But I do know that entering the Dominican Order, because it was truly a vocation and a calling, has made me much more fulfilled, at peace, and encouraged in what I do. That has influenced how I encountered others.
What advice would you give someone considering a vocation to a third order?
Do it… And entrust your discernment to Our Lady. She wants to see everyone grow closer to her Son, and she’ll lead you to the right order for you. It’s also important to note that a “yes” to a third order doesn’t mean a “no” to married life or religious life. You can join a third order if you’re married or dating, or a different order as a religious sister. So don’t be afraid.
Start looking at lay chapters near where you live. Contact someone. Attend a meeting. If it’s not for you, you can discern out at any time.
Lay Member Series: Lay Dominican #BISblog //Click to tweet
Written by Samantha Yee.