I would highly recommend Compass to any discerning young person. It was the highlight of my year. Every month, I looked forward with eagerness to the quiet retreat weekends with Fr Dave, Sr MaryAnne, Patrick, and Yasmin, sharing about our lives, our desires, and our search for God in the context of discernment of a possible vocation to the religious life.
I am a 27-year-old American PhD candidate studying theology and theatre in Scotland. I was raised Presbyterian, but a brief time at a Jesuit college in the U.S. started me exploring Catholicism, and performing in a production of A Man for All Seasonsthree years later clinched my decision to be received into the Church (with St Thomas More as my confirmation saint). I was received into the Church in 2009 through the Jesuits at Oxford while studying for a second BA in Theology (after having gone to drama school and spent some time working as an actor and arts administrator in the States).
During my RCIA at Oxford, I met Jesuits, Dominicans, and Benedictines, and started feeling a pull to the religious life, and an increasing excitement at the thought of living poverty, chastity and obedience for Christ. (I had never known growing up that there still existed real monks, but I had always wanted to be a knight errant. Like St Ignatius, the religious life seemed to be the answer to my desire to be a ‘knight for Christ’.)
Since I knew that most religious orders did not accept new converts, I decided to put thoughts of vocation aside during my first year as a Catholic, so as to settle into the practice of my faith. (I had always been an observant Presbyterian, but Catholicism was a whole new culture!) I participated in Compass during my second year after reception, with the goal of discerning an institute to approach for candidacy at the end of the year.
Compass was a great blessing because of the sense of community and support I found. Dave and MaryAnne gave totally of their time, attention, and hospitality, and created a warm and safe environment in which we could be brothers and sisters together, sharing our prayer, our table, and our personal struggles, questions, and blessings. My favourite parts of the weekends were having our small intimate Masses together, praying morning and evening prayer in the downstairs chapel at Katherine House, and the conversations while cooking, washing up, going for walks, or having hot drinks in the evening.
I also enjoyed being able to have one-on-one time with the group leaders each weekend, as well as the various presentations and discussions on aspects of religious life. It was also helpful to be able to have three monastic weekends away, two at Hyning and one with the Compass South group at Worth Abbey, to expand our range of experience, since both of our group leaders and most of our guest speakers were from apostolic orders. I also found particularly valuable the presentation on the history of religious life given at Hyning, as well as the three weekends on each of the evangelical counsels. It was humbling and inspiring to hear our leaders and guest presenter speak honestly about their experiences living poverty, and the struggles of idealism and compromise that happen ‘on the ground’ in their communities.
Compass provided a space to explore several options, including religious life, another form of consecrated life such as a secular institute, or private vows. Compass also provided support when I approached two religious orders during the year to ask about candidacy, and was encouraged by their vocations directors to seek other options, due to medical difficulties. Both conversations were very heavy emotional blows; it was a test of faith to strive to hear the voice of God in rejection.
However, Dave and MaryAnne encouraged me to find the door that God was opening. Therefore, I shared with them an idea which I had had while on retreat, for an institute of consecrated life dedicated to artistic creation and ministry to those working in the arts as its primary apostolate. They encouraged me to pursue the possibility of such an institute, which led me to share the idea with other religious and artists. At the present time (Advent 2012), there are two of us committed to bringing the institute to fruition, with two other possible members, and a small but growing army of supporters. As my spiritual director said to me, ‘If you can’t find it, found it’. It’s a bit out of the ordinary, perhaps, but I don’t know that I would have had the courage to embark on such a journey without the support of Compass.
I therefore heartily recommend Compass, and will continue to recommend it, to anyone searching for God’s will for their life, and who wants to do so among friends in the Lord. I pray also that Compass will be used as a model for other areas. To know that the religious communities of England and Wales were rooting for us, and even more, praying for us, was a consolation that enabled us to conquer our fears and doubts, and step out in hope and trust.