By VALERIE SCHMALZ
Catholic San Francisco
Tara Clemens was an Anchorage attorney and evangelical Christian who converted to Catholicism during her last months of law school. On May 28 she made first vows as Sister Marie Dominic of the Incarnate Word, a cloistered Dominican nun at Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park, Calif.
With first vows, Sister Marie Dominic received the black veil, replacing the white veil of novices.
“The priest says, ‘Accept the sacred veil by which you may be recognized as a house of prayer for your Lord and a temple of intercession for all people,’” Sister Marie Dominic explained. “The center of the contemplative life of the Dominican nuns is the love of God.”
“As a nun inside the cloister, even though I can never leave, I can embrace the whole world with that love and intercede for the whole world,” Sister Marie Dominic said, in a conversation two days after making her vows.
First vows are for three years. Those vows will be followed by two one-year renewals as she and the community continue to discern her vocation. At Corpus Christi Monastery, a nun is in formation for a total of seven-and-a-half to eight years before professing solemn vows, which endure until death.
Sister Marie Dominic has already spent more than two years in the monastery, first as a postulant and then as a novice. Dominican friars and nuns profess the vow of obedience to God, to Blessed Mary, to Saint Dominic, to the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers, and for the nuns, to the prioress and her successors. The vows of chastity and poverty are included in this vow.
It was a sudden change to Catholicism and a relatively quick decision to discern a vocation to the Dominican Monastery of Corpus Christi that caught Tara Clemens by surprise. A visit to a Friday Lenten Mass with a friend during the last months of Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland led to three months of late night studying of Catholicism, while working full time and completing law school. By Pentecost 2007, two or three months later, she was convicted of the truth of Catholicism.
In Anchorage, she was randomly asked about becoming a nun. She responded she had never considered the idea. By November 2008, just months after entering the church at the Easter Vigil, the young attorney was visiting Corpus Christi Monastery.
“When God calls, he is very persistent,” Sister Marie Dominic said.
But with more than $100,000 of student loans, Tara Clemens was at times close to despairing because she could not enter with outstanding student loans. So, the story of her vocation journey is also the story of how the Laboure Society helped Tara Clemens resolve her student loans and become Sister Marie Dominic.
“She has a dear place in my heart,” said Laboure Society executive director John Flanagan.
The Laboure Society, based in Minnesota, is devoted to helping those with a priestly or religious vocation resolve their student loans, which can be a large obstacle to priestly and religious vocations in the United States. The society enrolls a “class” of a dozen to 25 people who believe they have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, and puts them through a “boot camp” on fundraising. The aspirants fundraise for their class, not for themselves. For Clemens, she participated in the program for two years. At the end of her last class, it looked like she would be in for another year until two benefactors made large contributions.
“People all around the country know they have done something to help Tara Clemens become Sister Marie Dominic. She didn’t get there alone,” Flanagan said. And Flanagan said Sister Marie Dominic has not forgotten any of those people. “She has a gift of gratitude.”
“She inspired the heck out of me,” Flanagan said. “She had her own difficulties in her journey, but she faced them with great trust in the Lord.”