The whole of the monastic life is a process of formation, a process of being transformed more fully into the image of Christ. Newcomers to the monastery are welcomed through a process that we call Initial Formation.
Prior to beginning Initial Formation, women seeking a deeper understanding of the nature of a monastic vocation may choose to become an affiliate with the community. Affiliation allows her to receive further information and guidance in reaching a vocational decision. Affiliates maintain some degree of regular contact with the vocation director by phone, e-mail, and/or personal visits.
Postulancy is the first official stage of the Initial Formation process. This period lasts between ten months and two years, allowing the postulant to live with the community in its daily life of prayer, work, and leisure. During this period, postulants engage in part-time ministry, either within or without the Community, and receive instruction in the goals and purposes of the monastic life.
During the novitiate, the novice learns the meaning of monastic profession, deepens her relationship with God, makes progress in community living, and seriously considers whether she can respond to the invitation of God freely and joyously with the depth of faith called for in the Benedictine life. At the end of this stage, the novice makes her first monastic profession of stability, obedience, and fidelity to the monastic way of life. The duration of the novitiate is at least one full canonical year.
The scholasticate is the third major stage of Initial Formation, allowing recently professed monastic women to continue their development in this way of life under the guidance of a Scholastic Director. The scholastic engages in some form of ministry while maintaining full participation in the life and prayer of the monastic community. With her Scholastic Director, she considers her call to live the monastic life with the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama. Generally, the length of this stage ranges from three to five years. At the conclusion of this period the scholastic makes her perpetual monastic profession.
Continued discernment of one's vocation accompanies each stage of Initial Formation. This is a mutual process in which both the individual and the monastic community consider God's call. A liturgical ceremony publicly marks the transition from one stage of Initial Formation to the next. With perpetual profession, the monastic commits herself to a lifetime of continuing formation and transformation through the monastic way of life.