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21 years old, and entering a cloistered convent? An interview with my little sister


Jeffrey Bruno for Aleteia

Anna O'Neil - published on 03/20/17

Nuns are just real human beings with ordinary happy days.

On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we offer you this interview from a young woman who is hearing God’s call to give her life to Him completely.


My little sister, who grew up right next to me — always singing, sketching, and stealing my clothes — is cutting off her wild, curly hair, donning a habit, and becoming a cloistered, contemplative nun.

I’ve been grappling with this fact for months, and I finally sat her down and asked her the questions that were burning in my mind.

When did you start thinking you might have a vocation?

I remember when I was 12 or so going to daily Mass, and thinking about how I would think about God in the morning and then forget him for the rest of the day. I kind of wished I could just stay in church and not forget God, and I think that was the beginning of the desire. Of course that desire wasn’t really well articulated in my heart, but it grew over the years.

You’re only 21! How do you know you’re ready for this kind of life decision? 

Well, I don’t know that I’m ready. But the convent is a place of formation; St. Benedict calls it a school of love. You don’t go to a school because you know everything already; you go to a school to learn. I feel like I’m ready to learn. I’m ready to be formed. I don’t feel like I’m already formed. So in a sense, I’m not ready for the convent because I’m not a nun yet, I’m not the way that I hope to be after I’ve been a nun my whole life.

It’s easy to see why active orders are so needed–they teach, they take care of the dying, they do so much good work. But why does the world need contemplatives nuns? 

Because God listens to our prayers. He wants us to pray. So God made us with the ability to pray for each other and to help each other out. We’re all connected in the human family through the Body of Christ, and because of this connection of love, we can offer each other to God and be a channel of God’s grace to each other.

There are so many needs in the world that can’t me met, except by prayer, which is why the world needs contemplatives.

What do you hope to offer the world through this vocation?

Well, I don’t know what I can do for the world. That’s really up to God. I can’t really do much unless God lifts up my prayer and makes it useful to someone somewhere. Jesus promised that if we abide in him we will bear much fruit, so my plan is just to abide in him and maybe in heaven I’ll see what fruit God has brought from my life.

Is there anything about this choice that scares you a little? 

Yeah, of course. When people hear I’m going to be a nun in a penitential order they tend to assume that I must totally love getting up in the middle of the night, eating plain bread, going around with bare feet in the winter, etc. And I don’t love these things.

But I’m hoping that after a lifetime in the school of love that this will grow and develop in me. So I am a little scared of the hardship of the life, which I’m not used to, on a human level.

Aren’t you afraid of getting bored?

Boredom is definitely a cross that you have to struggle with, but in the same way that a mother struggles with stress. Contemplative nuns don’t have any stress. They do have a lot of boredom.

But that being said, there’s a very nice rhythm to their life with prayer and work, and there’s a lovely hour of recreation in the evenings where they all get together and talk and sing. And there are such incredible friendships. So they have a lot of joy with their simple and austere lifestyle.

Did you ever second-guess your vocation? What helped you work through those doubts?

I definitely got cold feet at different points. I guess what helped me was actually going to a convent and meeting some nuns, and finding out that they are real human beings with ordinary happy days. That helped dispel all the idealistic images that I’d formed in my head.

Once you start thinking that nuns don’t live like ordinary human beings, you start thinking, “Oh, I could never live like that, because I’m an ordinary human being.”

Nuns don’t always like [praying]! They have distractions like anybody. They are not in the heights of contemplation all the time. But you go to the convent to give yourself to God in your own human nature, to just live with him day by day.

How do you feel about leaving your family and friends?

Oh my gosh, that’s very hard. I really love my home. I love my family. And this is hard because it’s so absolute, going behind the cloister grille.

It’s definitely the biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made to God. What makes it a burden that is light (Mt 11:30) is that I’m moving from one family to another. I’m not just striking out on my own into hardship and suffering.

I’m going into a wonderful family, with a mother and sisters. And Jesus.

One last question. So … since you won’t be needing them, can I have all your pretty clothes when you leave?

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