This particular novice was Number Three in our class. That is, she was the third person who’d ask to enter the June 1958 class. I was Number Six. The novice with whom I shared a sense of humor was Number Seven.
She and I sat next to one another in chapel and across from one another in the refectory. The obediences of washing dishes and table waiting were done in groups of six, so she was in one group and I another. Had she been in my group, I’d have wiped, clattered, knelt, and then broken out laughing at her expressive left eyebrow, raised in astonishment.
Novice Number Three was in my group of six. She was on my case constantly. I’d been the college student body president in my senior year. Therefore, she thought I was a born leader and should set an example for the younger novices.
A photograph of me standing on the steps of the college chapel in 1958.
Only two novices were older than I—Number Two and Number Three. Number Two smoked and had a laissez-faire attitude toward all the rules. She was probably the most mentally healthy of all of us. Number Three, of course, shook her head over the antics of those of us who, in her opinion, should guide the others toward perfection in all things.
Here’s an example of how seriously she took the strictures of the convent.
Once a week, a monk from the abbey across town lectured us in the common room on the Benedictine life. We eighteen novices sat in a V. He sat behind a table at the wide end of the V, never looking up from his notes.
Most of us, sitting there so seemingly serenely, simply pulled our veils forward so that he couldn’t see our closed eyes. I never made culpa for falling asleep. Who could expect us to stay awake before such a monotone?
However, Novice Number Three must have thought she was duty-bound to remain alert. She sat, a straight pin between the fingers of one hand, and pricked the fingers of her other hand whenever she began to nod off.
Even then, this seemed extreme to me. As immoderate as I myself was, I still recognized her behavior as excessive. She seemed determined to be a model nun. And, the truth is, that while fourteen of our class left during and after the eight and a half years I was there, she was one of the four who stayed. She did much good and was greatly treasured before her unexpected death a few years ago.
I never again saw her after I left, so I don’t know if her sense of humor was ever allowed free rein. I hope so. I hope that she came to know that laughter is part of wholeness.
Photo Credit for pins: