The Postulancy—background on the first six months of convent life:
Amusing Convent Stories:
Entering and Leaving the Convent:
Nearly forty-five years ago—in 1966—I left the convent. I have many good memories of my eight-and-a-half years there. I also have not-so-good memories. Thus it is with all of life. For today—let’s seek out the humor of my life as a postulant.
As I remember, our families could visit us only once during the summer. They came to the main convent building and someone fetched us from the novitiate. We then spent two or three hours visiting while sitting on benches amidst the pine trees.
Dad, Mom, and myself, as a postulant, in a summer visit of 1958.
The professed nuns also had visitors each Sunday. None of us—postulants, novices, scholastics, or professed—ate with our families, but I found sustenance in the conversation about life at home and what was happening in the world beyond the convent.
Often the nuns would meander to the cemetery with their visitors to view the large sculpture there and to pass beneath the arching branches of the deciduous trees lining the driveway. As they walked, these visitors casually smoked.
After supper each Sunday, four of us from the novitiate would surreptitiously amble down that driveway. Our mission? Salvaging the butts.
Three of us—two novices and one postulant—had smoked before entering. They sorely missed their “ciggies.” So every Sunday at dusk, we’d retrace the steps of those cemetery visitors, plucking from the driveway every smoke-worthy butt we could find. Afterward, we’d huddle behind the trees. The three of them would pull their veils around their faces. They’d turn their backs on the convent. Light up. Inhale. And whisper, “Ah!”
I—the nonsmoking asthmatic—stood alert. The lookout.
You’re wondering where we got the matches for lighting up? From the convent kitchen. All of us had the occasional obedience of working in the kitchen and serving meals to the nuns, which meant getting bowls of food from—you named it—the kitchen! Pilfering matches became an art form.
Each summer Sunday we rescued thirty or so butts. Afterward, I’d dole them out equally to my three friends. The following Sunday, we’d fill our pockets again. And so the summer passed. The three of them hoarded what they could of their bounty for the lean months that followed.
The Benedictine convent I entered celebrated it’s centennial in 1963. I have no idea if, during those one-hundred years, other nuns reclaimed cigarette butts and smoked them. But for me, one of my favorite memories is seeing those three fellow novitiate sojourners blow smoke rings.