Saturday, November 26, 2011

Daily Life in the Novitiate—Part Three

Benedict of Nursia—born circa 480, died in 543—realized his vocation in a cave at Subiaco, Italy. He founded his first monastery in the beginning years of the sixth century. Scholastica, Benedict's twin sister, began a convent for women shortly after the first monasteries were established.
            Thus, for nearly 1,500 years, Benedictines around the world have been chanting the Divine Office and keeping alive the light of learning.  In 1852, 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 these intrepid pioneers sailed up the Mississippi to establish a a convent in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Six years passed while they set down roots. Then, in 1863, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery in Atchison, Kansas, invited them to come and teach the children of this frontier river town. 
          Seven of the 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. 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.
            In her comment on Tuesday’s blog, Susan said she found herself wanting “to be a part of that time where focusing on God was a full time involvement.” I’d never before thought of that time in that way. But the words ring true to me. Daily I focused all my attention on God. And if, today, I view God and life differently from then, that does not negate the purity of my intent when I was twenty-two.
           Yet always, during those eighteen months in the novitiate, a thread of indecision ran through the tapestry of my intent. In my next two or three postings, I'll share with you the doubts that riddled me as the idealism of my youth warred with the reality that was the convent.
            The truth I share with you today is that, despite everything, each evening at Compline I let go of doubt and settled into the peace that spanned those fifteen centuries from Benedict at Subiaco, just forty miles from Rome and the Tiber, to Dee Ready in Atchison, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Missouri River. That centuries-old peace permeated the very words I chanted to end the day.
                                                                       (Continued on Tuesday . . .)

PS: If you'd like to see one of the stained-glass windows of the choir chapel,
click here. It will take you to the convent web site. 
The window on that page depicts Scholastica and Benedict at prayer.


  1. I look forward to hearing of your struggles in the convent. And I'm also glad to know that amongst all those trials, you found the peace you sought. For whatever reason, the words you write from your heart always bring me a sense of peace as well. I always look forward to your posts.

  2. Interesting bits of history. I went and looked at the website and snooped around a bit. Do the nuns ever wear habits anymore? I love that they do all sorts of arts and crafts! That brought a big smile to my face, Dee. :)

    I have wondered if it is easier to stay focused on your spiritual path when your life evolves around God and your soul all of every day? Was it harder after you left? Did you get caught up in the daily struggle of work and bills and such? I'm sure you'll tell us eventually. I don't mean for you to answer right now...but keep it in mind for later, please. ;)

    I love your posts. Thanks for sharing your life with us. :)

  3. "And if, today, I view God and life differently from then, that does not negate the purity of my intent when I was twenty-two." I love this line! It is so true that as we grow, often we feel as though we need to hold on to those youthful ideals simply to prove they were worthy at the time instead of growing from them and acknowledging their place in our education and evolution. I am still so in awe of the courage it must have taken to enter and then later, leave the convent.

  4. KARIO said it all for me today, except for the windows. THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL!!! They are made in a different way than mine. These are made by fitting a piece of glass on either side of a strip of lead came that has a U-shaped channel on both sides. The faces & small details are painted. My work is in the Tiffany style: wrapped in lead foil & soldered together. The lead came makes for a sturdier window (braces are also used) but I like the flexibility & clean feeling that soldering gives me. That concludes today's lesson on stained glass.

  5. Yours is such a special story.

    I could almost feel those precious evenings. Just to feel peace . . . that must have been amazing.

    I'm going to look at the stained-glass windows now :)

  6. Dear Dee, I will read posts 2 and 3 tomorrow morning. I just read your comments on my blog and wanted to thank you so much. I have never read a book like Dulcy's story before. I hope to write about what I felt when I read it on Wednesday. If I can't (suffering from brain fog from all these medicines I'm on) it will be the following Wednesday. I need to do it justice. I am also thinking about a new post dedicated to our friend Fran. A most remarkable, kind, funny, and wild woman and a great artist. I have more things of hers to share. I'm so glad to have made a new blog friend in you.

  7. The Benedictine order spread all over Central Europe first before they braved the Atlantic and the New World.

    As you know, religious orders kept the flame of learning alive n Europe after the dark ages.

  8. I am late with reading and commenting this week, Dee. I am starting here and working backwards to catch up. I enjoyed the history lesson about the establishment of this Order and my visit to the convent's website to view the stained glass window depicted. It has been equally interesting to read fishducky's explanation of the different techniques for making stained glass windows. Isn't it wonderful what grows from a single post?

  9. What emerges for me as your story unfolds is that while you left the convent, it changed you forever. It's clear you still carry the peace and love you found there. You know at your core what connection to God feels like -even with the doubts. You are an amazing woman with a story that has the power to change lives.

  10. Dee, I love the way in which you show what it was like to become part of the Benedictine order with its long and widespread history. The courage of those pioneer nuns in the nineteenth century gave you plenty to live up to and the Benedictine spirituality obviously sank very deeply into your heart and soul. I await the unfolding of the next part of your story with great interest.

  11. Hello All,
    Thank you for commenting on my posting. I know this is a busy time for everyone.

    I've been struggling all day with the final three postings that will come next week before I do the posting about first vows and end this section of my convent life. Not feeling so much peace today because of that struggle. I'm having to do some deep thinking about all this and it's tiring me because after all these years I'm still not sure why the convent and I didn't mesh.

    thanks for giving me some ideas about future postings. As to the habit: I've visited the Mount several times in the past few years and seen nary a habit! Each nun's allowance for clothing and toiletries is small and so they go to thrift shops for clothing. When I became a free-lancer and no longer needed a "business" wardrobe, I gave all my clothes to the nuns. I think their family members do this too.

    you know I've never thought that I was courageous in entering. I felt compelled to do so by that experience in the math class. Nor did I feel courageous in leaving. It was that or end up at the mental institution in Council Bluffs. What's astonishing about the comments I'm receiving is that all of you readers see things I didn't or don't! Thank you for sticking with me on all this on-line musing of mine.

    Thanks so much for explaining the difference between those convent chapel windows and the stained-glass art you do. Did you look around on that website and see the seven or eight photographs of the windows in the college chapel????? I'm wondering whether they are like yours.

    I hope you found and enjoyed the photograph of the stained-glass window in the convent chapel. I used to sit in that chapel and just absorb the story each window. On one side the artist did six or seven windows that illustrate Benedict's life. On the other side of the chapel, he did the same number of windows to illustrate the Rule written by Benedict.

  12. Inger,
    I, too, am glad to have a new blog buddy. And I agree with you about "fishducky." She is a gift to all of us. You mentioned a "brain fog." I've had those with Meniere's Disease. Do you have Meniere's? If not, is it the medication for something else that causes the fog?

    Yes, the Benedictines established monasteries throughout Europe and did keep alive the flickering light of learning during that period historians call "dark." I know that the story of the convent I entered went back to those times and those monks and nuns who carried the torch.

    Like you, I find myself bemused and astonished at how blog readers comment on comments and a thread holds all together. I see that happening often on your blog.

    Thank you. Several psychics have told me that I was born to be a teacher. I entered an order that staffed many schools in the Mid-West. I became a teacher because of that. Without entering the convent that never would have happened. So I am grateful to the Mount for many things, among them the deep-down surety of Presence and the gift of teaching.

    I have to tell you that I await the unfolding also! The thing is that I've managed for forty-five years to do little thinking about why I left that convent. Now I'm being forced to think deeply about why the convent and I didn't mesh. I've struggled all day trying to write clearly about that. Wish me luck!

  13. I can just feel the peace of the evening Compline, Dee! And thanks for the history of St. Benedict. I never knew all that. The backstory is fascinating!

  14. Dee, I am enjoying the way that you are telling your story in installments. I'm eager to read "what's next" as you share a compelling story of faith. I've had a strong faith since childhood, too, and although never entered a formal vocation of faith, I do relate and identify with many of the feelings and emotional responses you describe. And that would include long periods of doubt, frustration and shifting spiritual perspectives. I thank you for your willingness to share so personally of your struggles. I will be waiting to read more! Debra

  15. Kathy,
    I'm glad you liked the history. I'm doing just a wee bit more of that this coming week.

    Your comment has eased my mind about my postings for next week. In writing them I felt that my twenty-two-year-old self was so immature. Your comment helps me get out of my own mind and see that what I was thinking and feeling was simply ordinary. Often, I tend to think that I'm the only one who feels this or that way and so I must be not quite "normal." But in blogging I've discovered such honesty in others that my world view is really expanding.

  16. This is so interesting and that stained glass is beautiful. Fishducky's lesson on stained glass making is a bonus. I just had a repeat root canal done trying to get rid of a stubborn infection, so I had to take 800 mg of Ibuprofen four times a day. Plus antibiotics. I don't do well with medicines. Other than that I have Type 1 diabetes and some other chronic stuff. I will write a blog about the sounds of the canyon. What a great idea, thanks!

  17. OF COURSE I looked at every window! I never pass up a chance to look at stained glass. Every single one of them is beautiful. I only did one piece in the lead came method--to learn how it was done. As you can see from the pictures I sent you, they are nothing like mine, neither in style nor method.

  18. Dee,
    How wonderful. I would love to see those in person. We have some beautiful tile in my kitchen and there have been many times when the Scribe, Hippie and I just stare at the tile, trying to make fun shapes and stories from the stone. So fun :0)

  19. A wonderful post again Dee. I am fascinated by your life and I adore stained glass windows...yes, fishducky you have completely converted me and I shall one day have a go at painting them myself although I am sure I won't be up to Fran's standards.
    I really hope you enjoy the book and thank you so much for dropping by my blog even though I have been remiss in visiting everyone.

  20. I feel like I get to trespass on some clandestine world.

    I let go of doubt once or twice ;o.

  21. I don't really know anyone that has not searched for the peace you describe. Maybe they look in different places but the search is always at the forefront.
    I often find that sitting in a chapel and praying eases my burdens and brings about peace, but with the menagerie at my house so does putting in ear plugs and locking my bedroom door while diving under the covers. Feel my pain Dee, feel my pain.

  22. Inger,
    Like you, I was so glad that Fishducky taught us about the difference between the convent windows and her art work. I'm learning a lot from this blogging community I've joined. What a delight!

    I do see the difference. But before I never knew what I was seeing!

    You are such a wonderfully imaginative mother. How blessed the children are to have you. And, of course, how blessed you are tohave them.

    I so enjoy your blog and your sense of the ridiculous. Your recent posting on the house buying made me chuckle--repeatedly!

    I've let go of doubt a couple of times too. I have a tendency to over-analyze and so I'm trying to embrace the mindfulness of Buddhism. I think if my mind is dwelling in the here and now, I hopefully will not brood over doubt, because so much doubt dwells in past decisions or in future ones. I'm trying to stay in the present!

    Ah, I do so feel your pain! And I laughed out loud.

  23. I am enjoying learning about the Benedictines, Dee. Their very early history and founding, and their eventual journey to other lands, including this one we live in. Of course, I'm also caught up in your own personal story and journey of faith. Your postings bring to me an order to life. A purposefulness. No matter that you left the convent, for that led you to other things, such as this blog, for which I am grateful for.

  24. I loved that stained-glass window. Beautiful! And the history you provided painted an even more exquisite picture.