“Religious life is a way of life, a life that is free and allows for growth and maturity. It is not easy, but it is worth it,” said Cenacle Sr Francisca Tan.
This was her advice to those thinking of joining the Religious life. “People think joining a Religious means giving up so many things, but it is not. It is about embracing yourself and God’s call,” said the 63-year-old nun.
Sr Francisca said her own journey towards joining the Cenacle Sisters began in her early 30s and was filled with many twists and turns.
In 1983, a team of Cenacle Sisters and Jesuit priests from the Philippines came to Singapore to conduct training programmes on spiritual formation and direction.
Sr Francisca was then a catechist at the Church of St Teresa and she recalled driving the Religious around Singapore. “I was bringing them around for sightseeing and shopping and it was then I began to become curious about their vocations,” she said.
The following year, she decided to attend her first three-day silent retreat in Singapore conducted by the Cenacle Sisters.
“I remember it was held at Jalan Merbok and there was a sense of ‘quieting’ being formed in me,” recalled Sr Francisca.
In 1985 and 1986, she made more silent retreats with the Cenacle Sisters and Jesuit priests when they came over from the Philippines.
Sr Francisca said she was initially unsure of what God “wanted from me”, but under the guidance of her spiritual director at a retreat, “I was told to just give it a try and not delay further. If it didn’t work I could always come back.”
The obvious choice in picking a Religious community was the Cenacle Sisters but the congregation was not represented in Singapore and the nearest community was in the Philippines.
In 1987, Sr Francisca left Singapore to join the Cenacle Sisters in the Philippines where she experienced a “new realisation of her faith”. In 1997, the congregation was established in Singapore and also the year Sr Francisca made her final profession.
There were challenges she faced settling into Religious life. “There were times I couldn’t get along with some of the Sisters. There were disagreements and we would often have little squabbles,” she shared. “There was also a sense of loneliness but that loneliness allowed me to focus on God whom I knew was there for me.”
She noted that “in a marriage, you pick your spouse but in a congregation, you don’t choose your Sisters”. She decided to view these situations as an “invitation to be open in loving.”
Now in her 29th year with the Cenacle Sisters, Sr Francisca said she still experiences challenges within her community but “it always serves as a constant awakening and deepening of my faith”.
“The community is a source of strength and struggle. I am reminded daily to love, forgive and to develop a sense of companionship with my Sisters,” she said.
The mission of the Religious of the Cenacle is to help people deepen their faith through retreats and spiritual direction. The Sisters are also involved in the biblical apostolate, psychospiritual formation, religious education and pastoral counselling.
There are currently two other local Sisters undergoing spiritual formation in Macau and the Philippines.
By Jared Ng