Formation/Incorporation Process

Incorporation into the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus takes place gradually.

cross-handsBoth Church law and the Handmaid Constitutions govern the formation/incorporation process. Here is a broad overview of what happens when a woman considers and makes the decision to become a Handmaid:

Phase 1: Discernment
A woman takes an interested in the Handmaid way of life and that there’s a possibility God is calling her to join the congregation. She may have found us online, attended a discernment retreat with us, or she might know us in other ways, such membership or service in a parish in which we minister.

  • In the first stages of discernment, she may feel more comfortable simply gathering information about our congregation as well as other congregations.
  • If she continues to feel drawn to the Handmaids, she can enter more serious discernment. This can involve spiritual direction with a Handmaid, a volunteer experience with us, and/or sharing prayer and meals with us occasionally.
  • In a more serious discernment, she will be in regular conversation with a Handmaid who will help her determine if there is a good fit between who she is and who the Handmaids are.


Phase 2: Application
The application process is somewhat like a college application process.

  • The application includes an interview, a biographical form, and several essay questions.
  • In addition, a mental health assessment and a physical are necessary. These are important considerations because the Handmaids do not want to unduly stress someone who may not be able to joyfully and healthfully live a consecrated life, a life which can at times be demanding.

The application process is not meant to be intimidating. In fact, we hope it is just the opposite. The application process is a time for a woman to examine her spiritual journey and rejoice at God’s providence in her life.

If the applicant has not made a “Come and See” live-in experience during her discernment, she will do it as part of the application process. This live-in experience is a time for the aspiring Handmaid to live in community and participate in the prayer and ministry of the Handmaids. This time lasts at least one month and is an integral part of determining whether the applicant is called to our lifestyle.


Phase 3: Postulancy
Postulancy marks the start of formation for a Handmaid of the Sacred Heart.

  • Postulants live as part of the community, spending some time learning theology, spirituality, Handmaid history, and other Catholic themes. Another part of their time is spent in ministry.
  • Postulants can visit home and be visited by family members. They maintain ownership of their property.
  • Postulancy lasts approximately one year and includes a retreat of eight days.


Phase 4: Novitiate
The novitiate is a two-year time period in which the new Sister continues her formation.

  • The first year is an intense time of prayer and reflection, with little ministry responsibility.
  • The second year includes more ministry while maintaining a focus on learning and prayer.


The novitiate is a time to prayerfully prepare for making one’s first vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Novices study congregational documents, meet regularly with a formation director, and grow in their prayer experiences.

Novices make the thirty-day Spiritual Exercises with a director and experience God’s love and their own response in a new way.


Phase 5: Temporary Vows
Temporary vows last for three years, and are taken twice, for a total of six years of temporary profession. The sister of temporary vows is still in initial formation, and will be given opportunities for professional and personal development. There are two stages of Temporary Vows:

  • Juniors are sisters who have just finished their novitiate and are being trained for ministry. (Many go through an undergraduate or graduate degree related to the ministerial abilities and interests of the sister.)
  • Sisters of Vows are those temporary professed who have completed their juniorate (time of studies) and are in fulltime ministry.


Phase 6: Tertianship
The tertianship is the final part of temporary profession.

Handmaids from every province around the world who are ready to proceed to final vows come together in Rome for a time of spiritual reflection, education, and cultural orientation. They enjoy the internationality of the congregation while they prepare to say ‘yes’ forever.

The tertianship, or third probation, as it is also called, includes a thirty-day experience of the Spiritual Exercises. The tertianship lasts for six months.


Phase 7: Final Profession

Final profession follows a long process of self-discovery and spiritual growth and advance in leadership skills.

The Handmaid pledges herself to God as a Handmaid for life, vowing chastity, poverty, and obedience, in imitation of Christ. Yet her formation has only just begun! Her life as a Handmaid will be a continual learning process, and her formation will end only when she meets the Teacher face to face.


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