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Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Daughter and the Socialite who Became a Nun…

Sister John Mary
While picking up the dishes after dinner one recent night (yes, underneath this tough man’s man exterior is a soft and gentle interior that is afraid of my wife!), my eleven-year-old daughter and wife got into a conversation at the dinner table about her friends and boys in her fifth grade class.

After listening to stories about how many of her friends are going to the One Direction concert (hint hint), who likes who, pranks the boys play and coed dance parties that will be starting next year, I couldn’t help but asking my daughter from across the room, “Do any of your friends talk about wanting to be nuns?”

All right, maybe, I could have been more tactful but, we are sending our kids to Catholic school, for goodness sake!  It would be nice to know (at least for me!) that my soon-to-be "tween-age" daughter, who is blossoming faster than Impatiens on Miracle Gro, was hanging out with, at least, with a couple of friends who want to be nuns, wouldn't it?

“They’re too young,” my wife yells back, “That usually happens later.” I quickly pointed out that St. Therese of Lisieux always wanted to be a nun and joined the convent by the age of fifteen. (Of course, she made a personal appeal to Pope Leo XIII for permission to do so but that wasn’t the point!)

“But, she is a saint!” my wife shot back. I hate it when she makes more sense than I do, which unfortunately, in our household, happens way too often.

Anyway, since God is bigger than the boogieman, as my son often sings, and has a great way of making a point, the next day, as I was sifting through some Catholic blogs, one caught my eye, “PM Former Girlfriend Becomes a Cloistered Nun."

Excuse me?

Laura Adshead
It was the story of Laura Adshead, a former girlfriend of British Prime Minister David Cameron and Press Secretary to Prime Minister John Major (in other words, well connected), who came from a privileged background, was educated at Oxford University and the exclusive Cheltenham Ladies’ College, was an English socialite and political insider (and to top it off, an attractive blond), who decided to leave behind her worldly ambitions to become Sister John Mary, a Benedictine cloistered nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis Convent in Connecticut.

Talk about drastic change!  Now, instead of attending charity balls with the Prince of Monaco (as she had), vacationing in The Hamptons and attending polo matches, Sister John Mary is dedicated to prayer and worship, mopping the chapel floors and tending cattle in the abbey grounds.

I'll be honest, that takes more faith, love, commitment and sacrifice than I can even begin to imagine.  I mean, one thing is becoming a nun, or religious, and another is choosing a monastic life, where you completely shut yourself off from the outside world.

Then again, I guess it’s all about perspective. In his classic autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton calls the monastery, where he was to spend the rest of his life on earth, “enclosed in the four walls of new freedom,” because it was where he found the peace and freedom from all the distractions that kept him from God.

Dolores Hart with Elvis
Anyway, although Adshead became a novice nun at Abbey of Regina several years ago, her story hit the British press more recently, after she was featured in a documentary, titled God is Bigger Than Elvis (my son would agree), which has been airing on cable movie channels. 

The film is about a former Hollywood movie star, Dolores Hart, who also left her up-and-coming Tinseltown career, which included a co-starring role in her movie debut, Loving You with Elvis Presley, to become a cloistered nun (which I just so happened to have watched several weeks ago with my 11-year-old daughter).

After reading Sister John Mary's story, and looking at several articles on her life and conversion, I remembered the exchange I had the previous night with my wife.

Obviously, Adshead and Hart, like many religious, including the principal of the all-girls' Catholic high school my wife attended, and Merton, who became a monk, got their calling later in life (and not in fifth grade!).

However, the more I thought about it, the more I considered the point God was trying to make to me and became somewhat apprehensive.

For all the faith and desire to serve God's Will that I profess, there is still a lot of fear and trepidation about where God is leading me and what His purpose for my children may be.

Now, in all honesty, although at this point in her life, the convent appears to be a long shot for my oldest daughter, I sometimes wonder if my seven-year-old daughter, who despite her playfulness and mischief, has an innate spirituality about her, or my four-year-old son will be drawn to a religious vocation.

Would it be easy to consider that one of them was called to religious life?  I'm not sure.  Obviously, as a father of daughters there are some built-in benefits involved and, if my son were drawn to the priesthood, I would be proud, but, depending on the religious order, what if they got sent to some remote part of the globe?  It might be just as hard to think of them living a monastic life and having limited contact with them. 

It's funny, in a previous time, where many American Catholic families were larger (and I'm thinking about the biography I'm reading on Vince Lombardi), there was an unwritten expectation that, at least, one child may be called to join a convent, seminary or monastery.

However, as families shrunk and values changed in more recent generations, parents are more reluctant (maybe, for a variety of reasons, including, like my case, a bit selfishness) to encourage their kids to pursue a religious vocation.   

In other words, it is easier for me to think that my oldest daughter is hanging out and being influenced by other girls in her school who want to be nuns, than it is to think that she is the one wanting to become a nun. 

I still have a lot of growing to do in my faith...   

So, how would you feel if your child felt a calling to religious life?


newburyarts said...

***** of my daughter's did join the convent, but only after my insistence of an undergraduate and graduate degree. she is a felician and extremely happy...heading for her final vows soon. no matter what you child chooses, support them and love them, because if they are happy it
will rug off on you! peace, peter

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Peter.
You're absolutely right. It's easy to say God's Will not mine but it's sometimes harder for me to do it.
God bless...