Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Letter Filled with Concern

Last week I shared with you the gift of a cache of letters and documents—eight in all—that I recently discovered in my safety deposit box. Among the documents was the “Permission for Exclaustration,” which you read last week.
Several of you who left comments noted how formal it sounded and that’s true. It was in a sense a legal document that permitted me to leave the convent for a year. I’d professed a vowed commitment to that convent on January 1963 and so this document was a formal recognition of that and a permission to leave the Mount for a year and live beyond the convent itself.
 The vow I’d taken—along with poverty, chastity, obedience, and conversion of morals—was one of “stability.” That is, I would be a part of that Community of Benedictines for the rest of my life. I was walking away for a year and so I needed permission to depart the convent and leave the Community.
This week, I’m sharing with you the following letter that Mother Mary Austin wrote to me on December 23, 1966, the day I signed the above document. That was the day before I left the convent.

Late as it is, I cannot resist writing a brief note to you. In my own name and that of the Community, I wish to express my appreciation for the contribution you have made to our apostolic work.
Even though you are leaving us, please be assured that the Mount Benedictines are not breaking their bond with you. You will be included daily in our remembrance of the “absent brethren.”
Know too, Sister, that I have faith in you as a person. I believe that you are trying sincerely to bear witness to Christ in the way that seems best for you. Know also, Sister, that if after you have tried to live outside the convent and find that you would like to return, we will gladly welcome you back. In the interim we will always have a prayerful and loving remembrance of you.
I hope you will find the peace and happiness that you are seeking. God bless you through the coming year. Please remember me and the Community in your prayers.
With love in the Holy Child,
Mother Mary Austin OSB

I don’t remember Mother Mary Austin giving me this letter. My memory of her attitude has always been that she was deeply annoyed with me. And she was annoyed on the evening of December 5 when I’d sought her out and said I needed to leave. But it’s clear from this letter that her annoyance was only momentary and perhaps she felt it only because she was powerless to give me peace from my torments. It was only in myself that I could find the happiness I sought.
I had become, in today’s parlance, somewhat of a zombie. I taught my high school religion and English lit classes enthusiastically. I participated devoutly in the monastic prayer of Benedictines. I listened intently to the students asking for advice.
I did all that was asked of me and yet I felt nothing. I was simply acting the role. It was a performance. I had lost between ten and fifteen pounds; I had no appetite; and I wasn’t sleeping. Truly I walked as the living dead from Thanksgiving on.
So I suspect now that I gave only a cursory glance at the document I signed on December 23 and at this letter from Mother Mary Austin. I’m not sure why I kept them or the other six documents I’ll share with you. I was acting on “autopilot” for many months after leaving and somehow these letters and documents must have held meaning for me even though I never again read them.
Note that at the end of her letter, Mother Mary Austin—of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB)—asked me to remember her and the Community in my prayers. The truth is that rather quickly I ceased attending Sunday Mass and seldom prayed. I felt I was drowning in despair. I suppose my only prayer was “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” (Psalm 130)
I did sorely miss the many friends I’d made in the convent—women who laughed a lot and showed compassion toward all and cared with deep concern about our world. Many of them are dead now, but I’m still in touch with several nuns who became dear to me during those convent years.
I think the truth may be that I was in such anguish for many months after leaving that I drew in on myself—except for when I had to put on a performance of normality at work and with the new friends I’d made at the Loretta Guild for Working Women.

I tell you now that I figuratively died during that time. I existed merely as a puppet, although I don’t know whose hand animated me. Many years passed before—like Pinocchio the marionette—the current of life pulsed within me.

I always think of that when I read newspaper stories about the Magicicada cicadas of eastern North America. They spend most of their life underground. Then after thirteen or seventeen years the mature cicadas emerge and live for several weeks, singing their unique song.
I, too, finally emerged from the dark loam of uncertainty. I left the convent in 1966 between my 30th and 31st year. But I think I did not truly live as a whole person until 1976 when I met Doctor Nimlos, who literally saved my life.
For everything there is a season. Peace.

PS: These past two weeks have not been—for me—the season for blogging. I’ve had two bouts of pink eye, a cold, and a sinus infection. I’m hoping that by next Monday I’ll be back to my routines. Peace.

Photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Cache of Letters Reveals Faulty Memory

The Mount College Chapel

These past two weeks have been busy with me going hither and yon for health and recreation. Thus, I didn’t post last Thursday and this week I haven’t visited any of your blogs. I hope to do a “blog marathon” this weekend and catch up.
Now to today’s posting.
         The past two weeks revealed to me that my memory is sometimes—maybe often—faulty. In the last few postings, I’ve given you certain seasons and years when I corresponded with the convent and with Rome. But I’ve discovered that time frame was inaccurate.
Here’s how the discovery was made: While sorting the contents of my safety deposit box, I discovered letters from the papal prelate and Mother Mary Austin concerning my being released from my vows. That’s when I learned that I’d given you an incorrect time frame. The letters also revealed just how kind both the prelate and the prioress were and how much they wanted nothing but surety and peace of mind for me.
In this posting and perhaps one or two more, I’d like to share that cache of letters with you. I don’t have the ones I wrote because those are probably in the Mount archives, but you will see from the concerns expressed by Mother Mary Austin and the prelate that I was indeed confused and torn by the decision I was making.

The interior of the Mount College Chapel.

The first sharing I'll do from that cache is not a letter but a document called “Permission for Exclaustration,” which simply means “permission to leave the convent.”

Sister M. Innocence (Dolores) Ready, O.S.B., of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kansas, by letter of December 5, 1966, has, for a just cause, requested permission to live outside the religious community for a year.
By reason of the authority granted to Major Superiors by the Hold See through #4 of the Decree to Lay Religious Institutes, I am, with the consent of my Council, granting you permission to be absent from the Religious House for not more than a year.
You will be expected to put off the religious habit when you leave, and when you have established yourself in some location will notify the Ordinary of the place of your state as an excloistered religious and will be subject to him in obedience.
Although an adequate sum is given by the Community to cover your immediate needs, you will be expected to seek suitable employment and thus to maintain yourself throughout the year.
May God be pleased to show you His will and to grant you peace.
Approved by the Council of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kansas, this 20th day of December, 1966.

Mother Mary Austin, the prioress, signed the document on the 20th. Three days later I went to her office to read and sign it. Below her name came the following:
 “On this date, December 23, 1966, I accept the permission for exclaustration for one year as indicated above.”
As I signed the document, two nuns witnessed my signature.
In my posting of October 30, I indicated that I saw—for the first time—the “Ordinary,” that is, the Cincinnati bishop, nearly a year and a half later—in 1968. But it’s clear from this letter that I was supposed to notify him of my presence in the Ohio diocese when I moved to Dayton in January 1967. I didn’t do so.
Did I forget? Was I just being obstreperous? I don’t know. I can’t remember. But it’s interesting to me that I began my year’s leave with disobedience. Why? Because of the five vows I made in the convent it was the vow of obedience that caused me to stumble again and again. I was not always able to bend my will to the vision of a superior.
Next week I’ll share another letter or two or three with you.