Mostly on this blog I post stories from the past, but today’s is a right-here, right-now event. That is, I want to share with you my excitement over the invitation I’ve received from the Benedictine nuns at Mount Saint Scholastica Convent to gather with them this coming weekend to celebrate the convent’s sesquicentennial. All of us who lived as nuns at the Mount have been invited.
For nearly 1,500 years, Benedictines around the world have been chanting the Divine Office and keeping alive the light of learning. In recent years, the Benedictines in the United States have been committed to social justice.
The Benedictine sojourn in the United States began in1852 when three Bavarian nuns braved the tempestuous storms of the North Atlantic; made port; settled at St. Mary's, Pennsylvania; and established a school for young children.
Five years later, a group of those intrepid pioneers traveled by steamboat up the Mississippi to establish a convent in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Six years passed while they set down roots.
Then, in 1863, the abbot of St. Benedict’s monastery, situated on the Kansas side of the Missouri River, invited the Minnesotan Benedictines to send a group of nuns to the frontier town of Atchison to teach the children there.
Seven Minnesota nuns traveled by train down to Missouri, crossed the river, established a convent, and began to teach children from both the neighboring farms and the burgeoning town. Sixty years later, in 1923, they opened a college for women.
It was that college from which I graduated in May 1958, and it was that Atchison convent I entered a month later. There, I praised the God who I believed had beckoned me to the life of a nun. Back, back, back, I could trace the path that had led to that chapel in which I prayed.
Seventeen other young women entered the convent with me. Many of them were recent high schools graduates. Others, like myself, came from the Mount college. Still others, working forty-hour weeks at a variety of jobs, had discovered a calling to religious life and answered it that long-ago summer.
For six months, we eighteen studied the religious life as postulants. On January 1, 1959, we received the habit—with a white instead of a black veil—and became novices.
The eighteen of us became novices on January 1, 1959.
I’m the third seated nun from the left.
We spent a year studying the vows we hoped to make. The following January we embraced the five Benedictine vows—poverty, chastity, obedience, conversion of morals, and stability. We made these vows for three years. I immediately went out to teach while many of my classmates attended college to get their degrees.
By the end of that time—January 1, 1963—only fifteen of us were left to make final vows. I was among that group. Since that time, three of us that I know of have died: Rose, Norma Jean, and Annette. Three—Marian, Roseanne, and Ann—are still nuns. They live and work at the Colorado convent established by the Mount back in the 1960s.
Out of the eighteen of us who gathered in the Mount parlor on June 26, 1958, twelve are ex-nuns who live throughout the United States. Thirteen years ago, at another celebration, five of us returned to the Mount. So I’m eager to discover if the same five will be there this coming weekend plus the others who couldn’t make it to Atchison in 2000 for the millennium celebration.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost touch with most of these women and yet we share truly formative years. I’m eager to see photographs of their families, children, grandchildren. Perhaps we’ll share our life stories: the paths we’ve followed in the years since we left the convent—at various times over a period of about ten years. This weekend offers an opportunity to come full circle with them. I am so looking forward to meeting them again. Peace.