Who am I?
My name is Stephany Thiel. I was born and brought up in the Johannesburg area. I was an only child orphaned by nine years of age, but brought up thereafter by two of my mother’s widowed sisters. I was christened a Lutheran, but chose to become a Catholic at the age of eight. My aunts were practising Catholics and were very active in the parish. I enjoyed the life in my parish with many social events, such as bingo evenings, film shows and fund-raising events. I joined several sodalities such as the Children of Mary, the Legion of Mary and the Youth Group. My friends were mostly from staunch Catholic families. In school, I participated in sports – hockey in the winter; swimming in the summer; and tennis all year round. My mother had also got me started with piano lessons that my aunts continued to let me have. I loved music.
How did I come to be a Dominican Sister?
My mother sent me to the Convent school that was very close to my home. I was there from grade 1 up until I finished school. I admired the Sisters, and grew fond of them. When I was in grade 9 (I was 14 years of age), I began to think about becoming a Sister. I had a very good class friend whose eldest sister had joined another congregation of Dominicans. My friend and I discovered that we were both thinking about entering the Convent, and we talked about it at great length. However, by grade 11, I was beginning to feel drawn to the married state. I had male friends with whom I attended socials and dances, and enjoyed these events very much. I completed school and, on my aunts’ suggestion, attended a business college for a year to gain experience in business skills, while I decided what eventually I would do with my life. During that year, I attended a retreat. I was constantly being drawn back to the idea of giving my life totally to God as a Sister – a Dominican Sister – but felt I wasn’t good enough, or wouldn’t be able to make the grade. So when I finally decided to take the step, with the encouragement of a spiritual director, it was with a lot of anxiety and unsure-ness about it. My aunts were surprised, since I had never mentioned the possibility of religious life to them. One of them supported me. The other gave me support but also felt she needed to point out to me the rigour of the life. No doubt, she felt I would be challenged very much by the strictness she believed I would be faced with.
I entered with four other South African companions. We had met one another during that year, visiting and getting to know one another. We all entered early in December, our initial training taking place in England – the middle of winter. At that stage, the big community, together with all the newcomers (postulants), and others in initial formation (the novices and temporary professed) were in full swing practising for the Advent and Christmas services. I literally thought I had arrived in heaven, finding the singing, the rituals, the Gregorian chant beautiful and inspiring. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing we did. In fact, my one aunt’s words were quite correct in regard to rigour: there was a lot of manual work to be done in a very large convent of over 6o or 70 Sisters, attached to a big school. Our services were in laundry, housework, and getting all the vegetables ready for the school children’s lunches. In addition to that there were community and private prayer times. We attended classes that prepared us for our life as Sisters. It was a very full life, one I found suitably challenging for me.
I guess God intended me to stay, as I am still happily here, by His grace, after 43 years.
What gives me joy and hope?
What gives me joy and hope are when I see people who have faced challenges and even disabilities, who have wrestled with difficulties and come through having grown in themselves, stronger in character and knowledge of themselves, in faith and in their relationships with God, with others and with the earth.