When my sister entered the monastery…
Greetings from the cloister! Due to a freak “tropical depression – wind storm” from Hurricane Ike we were without power for a couple days including the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. It was a day of prayer and festive joy here in the monastery. As Passionists we have a special Liturgy of the Hours for Our Sorrowful Mother feast and it is in itself a mystical banquet. Our prayers go out to all those who are still suffering from the hurricanes. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, ora pro nobis!
Recently Sr. Mary Andrea’s sister Theresa was here to make a solitude retreat. She shared with us a copy of a talk entitled Growth and Ideals, which I believe she gave at a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) Retreat last spring. I knew you would enjoy this segment of it!
“I come from what some may call a bit of a large family. I have four sisters. Oh, and also five brothers. And 14 nieces and nephews, 42 aunts and uncles, and over 100 first cousins. Most people go to their grandmother’s or an aunt’s house for Christmas. We rent out a gym.
Melanie, Theresa, Sister Mary Andrea, Bridget and Emily
In the middle of all the madness that is my huge family, there is me. I’m the 8th child, with two little sisters. Its just the three of us and our parents at home now because everyone else is moved out or married. I’m also partially moved out since I started going to IUPUI in Indianapolis last fall. I still stay close with my family, however. They always have been and always will be a huge part of my life. We had to be close, considering there were 10 kids and 2 parents living under one roof. I just laugh when I hear people complaining about having to share a bedroom or bathroom with a sister or brother. When I was younger, there were four girls in my bedroom, and all 12 of us shared 2 bathrooms. It definitely made getting ready in the morning an adventure.
We were also close in everything else we did, whether it be camping, working in our garden, or just doing dishes together. My mom believed in the power of hard work over the power of technology, so we often abandoned the dishwasher in favor of doing the dishes by hand, with everyone helping. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, in fact I hated it, but I think it was simple moments like talking and laughing with dishtowels in our hands that helped make us so close.
Any time I introduce myself to someone new, and they find out how many siblings I have, they invariably ask if I’m Catholic. I just don’t know what gives them this impression! But yes, I sometimes wondered when I was younger if my mom was going for “Catholic mother of the year”. As well as going to Mass together at least once a week and praying night prayers, we would pray the rosary every day when we got home from school. This was another ritual I did not always appreciate as it was happening. I remember being asked what I wanted to pray for and replying huffily “Everybody and Everything!” in an effort to get prayers over with faster. Now that I’m in college and away from them, I find myself missing that group of supporters to pray with…
This talk is called Growth and Ideals. I’m sure you guys know what growth is, at least physically speaking…you get bigger! But growth also means becoming a bigger person emotionally. And when I talk about an ideal, I mean something that is close to my heart, something that really matters. My ideal self is my best self, the best Theresa…that I can possibly become. My ideal is how I envision life, how I find meaning in life.
As we grow and change with age, so do our ideals. As children, we had simple ideals. The things that were important to us were easily attainable; games, dolls, baseball mitts, the latest Barbie dream house. We idealize people like athletes, astronauts, and ballerinas. I remember when I was in elementary and middle school, I idealized the people in my story books and novels. I spent so much time reading that, when I was punished, instead of getting grounded, my mom would take away my books for the evening. I read those stories over and over because the characters in them had everything I wanted. If only I had the magical powers of Matilda, the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, or the humor of Junie B. Jones, life could be just about perfect.
A few years later, however, Jr. High and High School were ushered in, and along with them came my social awareness. Suddenly books were collecting dust as I learned how to wear makeup and made giggly phone calls to my best friends to discuss their latest boyfriends and our next trip to the mall. My ideals and the way I viewed life were changing. Suddenly, clothes, boys, friends, and my social calendar were top on my list of priorities. I went to a private elementary school where we had to wear uniforms, so when I got to high school, my clothes became especially important to me. I would wake up as early as 5 o’clock in the morning so that I would have a full 2 hours to do my hair and makeup and get ready. I even started keeping a ridiculous log of what I wore everyday so that I wouldn’t wear any one outfit too often. Even after all this effort, I still look back at my early high school photos and laugh at how goofy I look. Anyway, my point is that my ideals were obviously of a superficial nature.
Then, in the beginning of my junior year, something happened to make me question my ideals and the things I had built my life around. My older sister Andrea and I have always been close. She is four years older than me, and the closest older sibling to me. However, just because she is close to me in the family order does not mean that we were similar. She was always much more of an individual and never afraid to do what made her happy. She had a deep love for Christ, and wasn’t afraid to show it, even in high school, where most kids are way too cool to show a deep passion for anything, much less their religion.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when she sat me down one day to tell me that she had decided to join the cloistered Passionist Monastery in Whitesville, KY. I say I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I most certainly was! For those of you who don’t know, living in a cloistered monastery means you don’t come home. Ever. Needless to say, this came as an absolute shock to me. I had shared a bedroom with Andrea for my entire life. We told each other everything. I remember lying in bed some nights talking for hours about whatever was on our minds until one of us would finally drift off to sleep. Now she was telling me that she was leaving to go live with this group of crazy old nuns for the rest of her life, and she wouldn’t be home. Not for my first prom, not for my graduation, not even for my wedding. That was a lot to take from my sister who had become one of my biggest confidants. At first I felt only skepticism and even a bit of anger at her decision. I mean, how could she just leave me, leave our family like this? And who does that? Who becomes a nun, and a cloistered nun with a big black habit and everything? It was so weird, and definitely did not fall under any definition of cool that I had come to know in my high school career.
I tried to be as supportive as my emotions would let me be, but it was hard. She told me she still had several years before she took her vows and she was only going as a postulant to discern whether this was right for her or not. Secretly, I wished and hoped that she would hate it and come home. Finally, the time came for her to leave. Even more when she left, I wondered why she would choose this weird, weird way of life. Over the next few months, we got to go and visit her a few times in her new home. I got to meet some of the other nuns that lived there, and they weren’t so bad. The monastery was also very pretty. It still just seemed strange, however. I mean, how dare Andrea call all those old nuns her sisters. She was my sister. Mine!
Sister Mary Andrea with “those Nuns”!
Then one Sunday, my mom decided that we should go to Sunday Mass at the monastery. We got there, and had to sit on the visitors side. Part of the cloister is that the nuns even sit on a different side of the church from everyone else. Mass started, and the sisters all filed in. There was Andrea, sitting with the rest of them. As Mass went on, I kept watching her. She seemed so peaceful, so fully in her element. I began to think about my definition of normal and how Andrea would fit into it. Then I realized, she wouldn’t. This was truly her home, the place where she really belonged. Just watching her and realizing how truly happy she was, I started bawling, right there in the middle of Mass. Afterward, I went and gave her a giant hug.
I’d like to say everything was perfect after that, and I never had to be sad about her being gone ever again, but that wouldn’t be true. I still miss her now, but it’s gotten a lot easier. I’ve actually made friends with some of those women I thought were crazy old nuns and their advice and prayers have been amazingly beneficial in my life. Realizing that Andrea is doing what makes her truly happy, what she was meant to do, really helped me accept her decision to join the monastery. It also helped me in my life. It encouraged me to stop constantly thinking about what all of my peers wanted me to do and to focus more on what I wanted from life. This also was not an overnight transformation. However, it too got easier with time. The more I realized that my friends would still accept me, no matter what I was wearing, or whether or not my makeup was perfect, the easier it got to be true to myself. And with that, once again my ideals began to evolve. I began to idealize my own true fulfillment in life, rather than the fulfillment of other’s expectations…”