Real Nuns

Nobody Drove Me to the Convent

“There I was, there I was, there I was… in the Congo .”

It was the first thing my friend Vinci blurted out after, “hello,” at our recent reunion. About ten years ago we were roommates and “There I was, there I was, there I was…” was the soundbite we picked up from some cheesy commercial.

An avalanche of images came rushing back. Words have such a power to bring up images…and ideas.


Like “Father-what-a-waste,”
a phrase someone I know had recently used about her boss, a Jesuit priest. I know it was only meant as a joke, but, really, you wouldn’t call your best friend’s husband, “Mr.-what-a-waste,” would you?

As if being a priest when one is good-looking is some waste of a perfectly good human being.

Driven to thinking or drinking
Introducing me to her coworkers my friend Vinci says, “This is Christine. Being roommates with me drove her to the convent.” And I’d protest, squirms in my stomach cranking up a level. What bothered me so much? It was just a joke, right?

On the plane ride home I put two and two together. Her saying she “drove me to the convent” tells like the priest joke. As if entering the convent is some a negative response to a difficult world or difficult relationships. Like religious life is where you go to get away from real life. That someone could “drive” another person to it—like you “drive someone to drink.”

While I know she doesn’t really feel this way me, the words reveal a way of thinking about sisters and religious life that is common in today’s world.

More life
But, my choice, my

response to God’s invitation to be a sister, is a choice for life. As a sister I’m becoming more the woman God created me to be. I’m becoming—I hope—more loving, more patient, more alive .

I’ve become more aware of the world and other peoples’ needs. And I see this happening to all my friends who have made some big commitment in their lives. They are growing in the same ways in their experiences as spouses and parents .

Sisters in spades

And I’m not alone in making this choice. Last year I attended a conference of younger and newer sisters. Four hundred of us gathered in Chicago for a long weekend.

Though people say that religious life is in danger
of extinction, that has not been my experience at all. If you compare the numbers of sisters today to the numbers in the forties, fifties, and early nineteen-sixties, then yes, here in the U.S. there are fewer newer sisters. If you compare the numbers to the other 1700 years of its existence, there are more sisters today than there ever have been.

Real nuns
and their habits

Still, a woman asked me recently why I don’t go “the whole way and get a habit.” When I shared with her that many religious sisters, responding to the pope’s call to renew their communities in the spirit of their founders, have chosen to wear “street clothes” because that’s what the people with whom they serve wear, she wasn’t convinced.

I am going the whole way in this religious life.

In my novitiate class, a woman walked by
in a habit one day; a couple of us commented, “Look, a ‘real’ nun!” One of the twelve of us later shared how offensive the joke was to her: “What’s that make us,” she asked, “chopped liver? Fake nuns? This is my real life.”

And eventually
I got

it—she was right. In or out of habit, we’re all real sisters.

There I
was and here I go…

This past April I made my permanent commitment with the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael . Like those who came before me I don’t know
where this call will lead. Like my married friends who don’t know where life together will take them, I’m committed to finding out. So, “There I was, there I was, here I am… in the convent!”