“My dad knew it was for real when I left my cell phone to go into the cloister.”
It’s not exactly what most Millennials have been exposed to. But in fact, it’s a trend happening all over the USA these days, though under-reported in the media. So why would modern young women enter a cloistered convent? REGINA recently sat down with the Dominican Nuns of Summit, New Jersey to ask the hard questions of a group of young postulant and novices there.
REGINA: What is the most surprising thing about your vocation?
SR. CLARE, POSTULANT: I would say the most surprising thing about my vocation was the discovery that God was calling me to the Dominican Monastic life. I used to imagine the Dominicans as being deeply involved with highly intellectual dealings that were too lofty for me, while I saw myself as a rather simple person who preferred something mellower. I do feel a sense of complementarity with my vocation and it lends a wonderful harmony to my whole person. There is an inner joy that wells up like a spring within me, and I wish for it to gush forth that I may share this joy of the Gospel with others.
SR. Clare: “There is an inner joy that wells up like a spring within me, and I wish for it to gush forth that I may share this joy of the Gospel with others.”
SR. CHIARA MARIE OF OUR LADY STAR OF THE SEA, 1ST YEAR NOVICE: That I could be so happy. Throughout my twenties and thirties I felt adrift, moving from job to job. I couldn’t settle anywhere. Then when I was thirty-five I had a conversion of heart and knew God was calling me. I’m Irish and at the time I was living on the island of Guernsey (which is between England and France). So the idea of entering a monastery in America never occurred to me. After a few emails I was invited to fly over for an aspirancy in 2012 and I just knew I was home.
REGINA: Did you enter immediately?
SR. CHIARA MARIE: I had to wait another three and a half years because of a mortgage and other debt. I always trusted that God wouldn’t call me if it wasn’t possible for me to enter but for a long time it looked like there was no way to achieve it. But I’m here and I honestly never believed that I could be so settled and happy. That’s not to say it hasn’t been hard, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it is worth it.
SR. Maria Johanna of Our Lady of Grace: “I think the biggest surprise I had about my vocation was discovering how much I enjoy being with the nuns here.”
REGINA: How did your family and friends react when you went into the convent?
SR. CLARE: My family and friends were mostly supportive and most of them were very encouraging. It seems that once they understood that God was calling me in this direction, they had a greater acceptance of the matter.
SR. CHIARA MARIE: I realized very quickly that my friends and family just didn’t understand my longings. Most of my good friends still find it very difficult to understand why I would want to do this. Some have broken off contact with me. The only friend who seems to have really understood my vocation though is a devout evangelical Christian because she understands wanting to dedicate my life to Christ.
REGINA: And your family?
SR. CHIARA MARIE: For the first few months when I called home to speak to my parents it was difficult. But when I was voted on to receive the habit things changed and they came over to visit. My Mum said, after she met the other sisters she could understand why I was so happy.
SR. MARY ANA OF THE DIVINE MERCY, 2ND YEAR NOVICE : My dad told me, “I knew it was for real when you left your cell phone on the table to go into the cloister.” My best friend told me via letters how much our friendship meant to her, and my sisters sent me funny birthday cards because they knew my humor wouldn’t change that much!
SR. Chiara Marie of Our Lady Star of the Sea: “Every part of the day is sanctified by Christ through praying the Divine Office.”
SR. MARIA JOHANNA OF OUR LADY OF GRACE, 2ND YEAR NOVICE: I entered the monastery less than half a year after graduating from Thomas Aquinas College, so I did most of my discernment while I was there, and my closest friends were fellow students. At TAC vocations are encouraged, but they’re also normal enough that a person discerning a vocation isn’t made to feel awkwardly special. In my case this was even more so, since it happened that about half of my close friends also felt called to religious life or to the priesthood. It was a very supportive environment.
REGINA: Were your parents happy about your decision?
SR. MARIA JOHANNA: I had always taken for granted that my parents and siblings would accept my entering religious life, both because I saw how they were when my sister entered her community, and because my parents had always adopted the position that we belong primarily to God. Nevertheless, there were a couple of conversations in which something my parents said let me glimpse that, even while they were being supportive, they were also finding it hard to see me go.
SR. Mary Ana of the Divine Mercy: “My dad told me – I knew it was for real when you left your cell phone on the table to go into the cloister.”
REGINA: What’s so great about your life now?
SR. CHIARA MARIE: That my life is centered on God. The Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the choir is literally the center of the monastery. St. Dominic wanted the nuns to be free for God alone. Every part of the day is sanctified by Christ through praying the Divine Office. I have this sense of everything I do flows from and to God, both spiritually but also physically as we regularly stop everything to go and pray, either the Office or Mass.
SR. MARIA JOHANNA: The single most beautiful thing about my life here in the monastery is that it is a life centered on God. Our horarium is a great help, since it is built around the divine office, which we pray as a community. It means that, no matter how much we might get caught up in our work, worries, ideas, or personal problems, as long as we remain faithful to the schedule and to authentically praying, we keep being turned back to focus on God and to be, in communion with our sisters, intent upon Him.
SR. MARY ANA: What I love about my vocation now is my sisters. I love my community, we can speak our minds, have lively discussions, and at the end of the day, with all its frustrations, worries and anxieties, know that we’re all here for the same reason: To become of one heart and mind in God.