Saturday, October 1, 2011

Becoming a Novice

After being in the convent six months as a postulant, I received the habit and became a novice. Before the ceremony, each of us who’d entered together in June 1958 picked three names as possibilities for what we’d be called as nuns. I picked Mariah, Shawn, and Blain.
            The novice mistress nixed all three.
            “You’re not a wind,” she said about the first name. “You’re here to stay.”
             She felt that Shawn was too masculine for my personality.
            Blain reminded her of chilblains and ice. “You’re not a swelled-up sore and you’re not icy either.” She shook her head at the image.
            I simply couldn’t think of any other name that hadn’t already been taken by the more than six hundred nuns in the convent. So I told her to give me whatever name she thought suited me. I really didn’t care. After all, a rose by any other name and all that.
            On January 1, 1959, I received the habit and my new name in an ancient ceremony steeped in ritual and beauty. Each postulant knelt before the bishop. He blessed our clothing. We then went into a side room and disrobed.
            Several professed nuns stood by, ready to help us dress. We’d already memorized the prayer to say as we kissed and then donned each article of clothing: black serge habit, leather belt, scapular, small skullcap, coif, forehead band, and white veil. All was solemn and sacred. I felt I stood within and on holy ground.

Here I am on the day I received the habit and the white veil of a novice.
On my head is a white wreath of celebration.

            Clothed in our new Benedictine habits, the eighteen of us processed back into the sanctuary where the bishop sat in front of the altar. One by one we knelt before him. He gave us our religious name and blessed us. For time and for eternity I was to be called Sister Innocence.
            After the ceremony, the nuns served a lavish meals for the novices and our parents. Mom and Dad and I laughed and shared stories of our lives—theirs at home, mine in the convent. I told them about the names I’d originally chosen and how surprised I was by the name Innocence.           
            My parents had their own name story to share. The previous Sunday, they’d brought my Christmas gifts to the novitiate: a long flannel nightgown sprigged with pink rose buds and the book Time Without Number by the Jesuit poet Daniel Berrigan. The novice mistress put the gifts in a cabinet and then said, “Mrs. Ready, Dolores is having a hard time finding a name to be called as a nun. May I tell you the name I’ve chosen for her and see what you think of it?”
            “Say that again. Slowly.”
            “Euchareena. I think it’s the perfect name. She seems to have a special devotion to the Eucharist. Besides that, the word Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving’ and she’s filled with gratitude.  What do you think?”
            “I’d like to be able to pronounce her name,” Mom commented.
            Dad finished the story while Mom shook her head over the name’s absurdity. “She didn’t know if your mother was kidding or not,” he said. “I told her that Euchareena seemed too old-maidish for you. Your mother agreed.”
            Thank heavens for mothers and fathers who speak their mind.
            Despite my indifference to the name I was to receive, I wouldn’t have liked Euchareena. To me, it sounded like a squat piece of worm-holed furniture. Or a rotund gourd with bass strings that croaked like a frog.  
            I didn’t understand why the novice mistress thought Innocence fitted me, but truthfully anything would be better than Euchareena. Many years later a co-worker told me I was “without guile.” Maybe that novice mistress saw in me something I hadn’t recognized or realized. I know only that I came to love the name. 


  1. What a wonderful story of how you came by your name. You do look so sweet and innocent in that picture. And I agree that the Euchareena name is a real "ewww" name! I am really enjoying your memories, Dee. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me.

  2. Innocence. What a beautiful name. Like Sojourner Truth, it stands for something. This is a world I am entirely unfamiliar with, so I'm enjoying reading about your experiences.

  3. "Euchareena" sounds a lot like "ocarina" to me. If you had received that name, I don't think it would have taken you 8 1/2 years to leave the convent. I'm so glad you're just "Dee", my friend now.

  4. I was thinking I used a hand lotion named that once...
    I love your mother's comment:I'd like to be able to pronounce her name.
    I'm with Mom.

  5. I don't think my comment saved.
    I'm with your Mom on being about to pronounce the name... I think I used a hand lotion with that name at some point ;o.

  6. Euchareena? Sounds like a dance name...Innocence is perfect. But, 'Dee' is even better.

  7. As soon as I heard Innocence I thought--How perfect! Thanks to your mother you weren't saddled with Euchareena!! Although, you can get used to any label and could have been called Reena, I suppose. Innocence was meant to be yours. :)

    I know nothing about this life and find your story fascinating. Makes me wonder if convent life has changed much over these past decades since you were there?

  8. Thank goodness, indeed, for your parents speaking their minds! Innocence is a lovely religious name! I had two high school friends who entered the Dominican convent and their religious names were "Arthur" and "Jonathan" if you can imagine. Both left after about 8 years. At least your novice mistress wasn't into masculine names -- but Euchareena -- ick!

  9. As always, I am blessed when I have the opportunity to stop by and catch up on your posts. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  10. As Rita commented, my own spontaneous reaction to the name, Innocence, was also, 'Oh, how perfect!' I don't think you have ever lost your intrinsic innocence, Dee. You still view the world with wide-eyed awe and wonder and this surely is one of your most endearing qualities! I loved this story of how your name was chosen. I had no idea everyone has a hand in making the selection. I thought a name was merely bestowed upon all nuns. Thank goodness your parents were there to intercede on your behalf! Your gift of a lovely nightgown decorated with rosebuds and book of poetry from your Mum and Dad sounded perfect, too! This was a happy moment at that time in your life and you felt this was your calling. I loved seeing the picture of you wearing your finery for the ceremonial occasion. Your expression was calm, placid and, dare I say, resigned rather than excited? Possibly, over-awed would be a better way to describe it. I imagine you all had to practice self control at moments like these and any show of exuberance, if indeed any of you felt it, would have been frowned upon?

  11. what a nice story :) and I wouldn't like the name Euchareena either. :D

  12. Oh Dee! You had me nearly crying because it is sooo beautiful thinking about this memory of yours and then I got to the end and laughed so loud my kids had to see what I was reading.
    "The Scribe" agreed with me saying, "Euchareena is not the name for someone who wrote such a wonderful book about her cat. Innocence is much better." LOL!

  13. Innocence sounds like the perfect choice, and I love that your parents were asked what they thought about Euchareena. Hope you are having a wonderful weekend.

  14. Innocence is a lovely name and I think it suits you still.
    Your description of the solemn occasion of namegiving is impressive; I can see that such a ceremony must be deeply moving to the people involved.

  15. It's a perfect name for you. :)

  16. Dear Dee,
    I'm in wholehearted agreement with the rest . . . a name that is unpronounceable is not worth having! And, I do love "Innocence" as it fits you perfectly. Every story you've written is enveloped in a sort of wonder and awe, as though each event was a miracle, even the most awful ones, as the miracle was the way you overcame.

    I see in the picture a woman who innocently lays her life on the altar, and asks no special favors. The miracle is that you made the choice to take your life back, and I'm so grateful you are who you are today.

  17. Euchareena- that's quite a name for sure. I don;t think I've ever heard one anything like it.

  18. "Sister Innocence." I love this.

    And Euchareena sounds like a sneeze to me.


  19. What a lovely account and the picture of you is wonderful -- your face is the picture of what? Oh, I know 'Innocence'!

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