(Continuation of postings on random acts of kindness . . . )
Nearly forty-seven years ago I left Mount Saint Scholastica Convent in Atchison, Kansas, after living there for eight and one-half years: as a postulant for six months; as a novice for a year; as a scholastic, having taken first vows, for three years; and as a professed nun, having made final vows, for four years.
Many changes took place in the Roman Catholic Church after the ending of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. One of those changes was that many nuns left the convent. I myself walked away from that life of prayer and work on Christmas Eve in 1966.
Part of a stained-glass window in the choir chapel. It portrays Saint Scholastica.
Because only a handful of nuns had left by then, the convent had no procedure for wishing a woman well on her journey. All of us there were still wearing the habit and the convent provided no “lay” clothing or any money with which to get started in that new life.
Of course, we had brought nothing to the convent, such as a dowry, so the convent had no obligation to give an allowance or stipend to anyone who left. In fact, I didn’t expect anything because I was the one leaving the convent; it wasn’t leaving me.
My mom and dad drove up on December 24 with clothes my pregnant sister-in-law loaned me. For the next four weeks, I stayed at home with Mom and Dad until starting to work for a publishing company in Dayton, Ohio. The company flew me to Dayton and gave me an advance on my salary so that I could rent a room at the Loretta Home for Working Women and pay for my meals.
Within six months of my leaving, the Atchison nuns had voted to change from their habit to “regular” clothes and to provide a basic wardrobe and a stipend to anyone who left. This was in keeping with the Benedictine tradition of responding compassionately to the needs of others. And it speaks to the generosity of the women there—a generosity that continues to this day and that was in great evidence this past weekend.
The statue of Saint Benedict at the Mount, with the choir chapel in the background.
The Mount monastery—this designation is more in keeping with the Benedictine Rule than the word convent—is celebrating its sesquicentennial throughout 2013. As part of that celebration the Mount invited all its ex-nuns to return to be part, once again, of a community that helped form each of us into the women we are today.
Sister Mary Grace—who is truly full of grace—headed the committee that researched which ex-nuns were still alive. She sent out 135 invitations and 45 of us accepted. Of those 45, however, only 43 arrived at the Mount on Saturday, May 25, because two had fallen ill. (In fact, one of them died this past Monday.)
A friend from convent days—Paullene Caraher, whom you met in my Tuesday posting—now lives in Arizona. She arrived at my home on Thursday evening and we began our visit.
Neither of us had married, so we had no pictures of children and grandchildren to share. But our friendship, which began in the fall of 1962 when we taught together, rested on a solid foundation, so there was no awkwardness despite the fact that we hadn’t seen one another since about 1985 when she visited me in Minnesota.
We spent Friday talking a mile a minute about our former lives as nuns, what we’d done since leaving the convent, and our plans for the future. When we drove up to the Mount on Saturday morning for a day and a half of visiting with the nuns still there and the ex-nuns who’d returned, we continued to talk and laugh and talk some more about all that had happened in the past fifty years.
Most of us had been Benedictine nuns in 1963 when the Mount celebrated its centennial. Between that time and today, so much has changed in the monastery. And it is those changes, as well as the hospitality of the nuns still there and their kindness toward each of us who returned, that I want to share with you next Wednesday when I return to my regular posting routine.
So my random-act-of-kindness story today is simply the graciousness of a group of nuns living in Atchison, Kansas. They reached out to those who had once prayed and worked with them and said, “You have been and will always be part of our community. Peace.”
Both photographs are from the Mount website and are shared here with the consent of the prioress.
PS: I’ll continue my five random-acts-of kindness stories on Friday and Saturday. You’ll meet Marge Tansley, who was at the Mount this past weekend, and Sister Madonna. Next Wednesday, I hope to conclude today’s posting on the sesquicentennial and the Mount. Click here to go to the monastery’s website for photographs and explanations of its prayer and work and the living of the Rule of Saint Benedict.