Aside from the three years she and her family lived in California, Sr. Kathy Slesar, O.P., enjoyed the influence of the Racine Dominicans in forming her education from first grade through her college years. It is no wonder she found her home in the Dominican Order.
In honor of Catholic Schools Week, Sr. Slesar, the vocations director for the Racine Dominicans, spoke to students from St. Rita School in Caledonia on Thursday, Feb. 3.
“I really loved what these sisters stood for, and they were so kind and caring,” Sr. Slesar said. “I went to college, worked in a Navy office and then for an insurance company, but it wasn’t enough. I knew I wanted more.”
In her early 30s, Sr. Slesar felt called to devote her life working in the Church and returned to graduate school, earning her master’s degree in pastoral ministry in Seattle. She returned to Racine and began working as the director of religious education at St. Edwards but was still looking for more.
She looked to the ones who had set such great examples for her most of her life and began exploring the Dominicans. She became a candidate at 37 and took her first vows two years later.
“I went to live with the Racine Dominican sisters to see if it would be a good fit for me,” Sr. Slesar said. “I ate with them, prayed with them and worked with them until I was ready for the next step and became a novice. There are many different Dominicans. There are the Racine Dominicans, Sinsinawa, Springfield, East Coast, West Coast. When I was in the novitiate, I was in an intercommunity novitiate, and I was with five others who were from different community congregations and learned about scripture (and) community life, and we also learned about preaching.”
Sr. Slesar explained to students that O.P. means Order of Preachers, an order founded in France by St. Dominic that was established to preach the Gospel. She outlined the steps she took to become a Dominican nun, beginning with the application to candidacy, where the applicant is formally accepted into the order.
“Candidacy gives you a chance to see what life is like in a religious order — whether you are a good fit, how well you live and interact with each other — and helps you learn more about scripture, the Church and yourself,” she said. “After the period of candidacy comes the Novitiate.”
Sr. Slesar asked students if they knew what a vow was, and responses varied but settled on the correct answer, a promise. She compared the vows to a marriage where a husband and wife promise to love and cherish each other.
“There are three vows; one is obedience where I listen to leadership, talk to them about decisions I want to make, and above all, be obedient to God,” she said. “I also make a vow of poverty, which means that we share in all we have and help others in need. And I take a vow of chastity, which means I promise not to get married. I can have friendships but not romantic relationships.”
To help students understand the vows, she provided relevant examples comparing religious life to family life. While Sr. Slesar is happy with her life, she explained to the children that just as with family and marriage, being a nun also has its ups and downs.
“But we care for each other and know that God helps us with every challenge,” she said. “Just as with families, sisters have to be willing to work out their challenges and be faithful to their vocations.”
Following her talk, the children peppered Sr. Slesar with questions about what it is like living as a religious sister. Most of their questions focused on her age, whether they help others and whether she and the sisters like to have fun.
“Oh yes, we like to have fun just like you do,” she said. “We love to play games and laugh. In fact, before the whole pandemic, I loved to attend Zumba classes for the exercise.”
Students also asked whether the sisters went to Mass and if they liked karaoke, of which she told them they have Mass three days a week and that yes, they do enjoy singing.
“We have a 160-year-old community here in Racine, and the founder of our order played piano, so we have a piano here and very much enjoy music,” Sr. Slesar said. “God wants us to enjoy life and be happy. We have sisters who love to play games, watch baseball, basketball and football, and will be cheering while watching the Super Bowl.”