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An Inside Look at the Life of a Cloistered Nun

Dominican Nuns NJ

courtesy of Dominicans of Summit, NJ

Regina Magazine - published on 03/17/15

A revealing, candid interview with Dominican Sister Mary Magdalene

Meet Sister Mary Magdalene. She’s part of a vibrant new wave of young sisters entering traditional religious Orders around America. The Dominicans of Summit, New Jersey are a cloistered Order which remained loyal to their foundations, and today they are increasingly blessed with young novices like Sister Mary Magdalene.

In this revealing interview, Sister Mary Magdalene discusses her vocation and her experience thus far.

REGINA: Sister, how did you learn of the Dominican Nuns of Summit?

I actually found them online, but first I had discovered them in the “Blue book." I was praying a lot about where God wanted me to be, and I kept seeing this word “cloistered." I thought they’d all died out in the Middle Ages. I had no idea they were still around. I visited some nearby Carmelites and as I was driving home thought to myself, “Those women are crazy.” After a long pause, I said, “I think I’m crazy, too.” Then I started looking into the Dominican Nuns and everything started coming together.

REGINA: Did you know you had a vocation for a long time before this?

I was certain I had a vocation, even before I knew where. I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a nun, but it took a lot of prayer and grace for me to accept that. I did a lot of praying, and the hard part was accepting it.

From the first time I contacted Summit, I had only known for about three months. In April of 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium so I made a point of arranging a visit here beforehand. At my first visit I was 20, and 21 when I entered.

REGINA: What were your first impressions?

Hmm…. I loved the magnificently huge church! I also really wanted to see the other side of the grille. I was also impressed by their hospitality — when they picked me up from the train station all the stress of traveling was soon forgotten. I also love the diversity of the sisters.


REGINA: What would you say drew you to the Monastery?

Ultimately, God’s grace drew me in. Next, it was really funny things. I loved meeting the Novitiate in the parlor, the tremendous amount of laughter and joy, and the excitement. It was a very brief visit overall, but I remember thinking I could see myself fitting in here.


I also recall this extremely strong desire to want to get inside.

You can really only tell so much about cloistered life from a conversation — experiencing it is something completely different. That pull to go deeper was really strong for me. I like to describe Dominican Spirituality as very balanced. I think our monastery is also like that, balanced.


REGINA: How did your family react?

Just like any controversial subject, you have the extremes. Some acted as if I’d just told them I was volunteering myself to catch a fatal disease and concluded I must be mentally disturbed. Others reacted as if I’d just won something better than the million dollar jackpot (and in ways I have). The ones who were able to be most happy for me weren’t thinking about themselves.

Also, I’ve always been an energetic, lively and outgoing person, so I think the “cloistered nun” idea shocked basically everyone. My father, who is not Catholic, said, “Well, it wasn’t what I would have imagined you would do, but if that’s what you think will make you happy, go for it! We support you.” 


Many people think cloistered nuns sit in a corner and pray all day. We do pray a lot, but the day is very dynamic.


The “most” surprising thing to me is, and I think will always remain, human nature: the incredibly generous things that people do and the incredibly selfish things and the same goes for myself. The incredibly selfish things I do, and the real moments of grace. 


I think sometimes people think you enter and give your heart to Jesus and that’s it. However, you have to decide everyday to give your heart to God, because it’s easy to slowly, piece by piece take it back. That daily surrender holds a true freedom. 


When you spend a lot of time around the same people, usually you get to know them pretty well. For example, when you see a sister, whom you know to be extremely impatient, being patient with someone else, then you see fallen human nature conquered by grace. You only notice because you have a greater insight into that sister’s struggles. It comes in these tiny moments that look like nothing on the outside. These moments are the real victory of God’s love. I find a real joy in that.


I believe that the culture of today’s youth (which I would still partly consider myself included in) are looking to give meaning to their lives. We want to make an impression. We want to make a difference and leave something behind. We want to radically accomplish and succeed. 


All the worldly pursuits will leave one feeling empty and confused. So, we ask the deeper questions, “What is the meaning of life?” The world is so full of lies and vanity; we seek Truth.


The world is so full of noise that we seek a radical silence. 


The world is so full of seeking sexual pleasure, so we seek chastity.


The world is so full of lawless irresponsibility; we seek obedience.


The world is absolutely obsessed with material goods, and we seek poverty.


The world loves instant gratification, and we are thinking about eternity.These eternal truths never fade. God remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever.


REGINA: Are there families coming to your Masses as well? What attracts them? 

It’s always God. To be more specific, I think some would say the beauty of the Liturgy. Throu
ghout the entirety of history, people have always sought after Truth, the Good, and Beauty. In the end, it’s always God we seek. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O God.” 


REGINA: What do you think draws so many vocations to the Monastery? 

It’s different for every sister. No matter what, the core has to be a genuine love of God. You have to fall in love with God, and that love becomes what motivates and drives you. It gets you up in the morning. You do it for Him and that Love transforms you.


This article originally appeared in Regina Magazine and is reprinted here with kind permission.

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