September 18, 2017
A year ago, one of my best friends became a nun.
If you’re picturing “The Sound of Music,” “Sister Act,” or an old ruler-wielding schoolteacher, I understand.
I used to have no idea that this was an option women still chose. I didn’t know there were multiple convents in Minnesota, and how happy that this life could make someone my age. But I’m here to shed some light on a topic I never thought I’d know this much about: becoming and being a religious sister, otherwise known as a nun.
My friend Meg, now Sister Teresa Rose, entered the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in August of 2016. Recently, she celebrated her one-year anniversary and took her first vows, which came with her new name and trading in her vest for a full habit. See the before and after pictures below. The first is a few months before Meg entered, the second is Sister Meg as a “novitiate” in her vest, and the the third is Sr. Teresa Rose. I can’t get over how beautiful her new name is!
All convents are different and each has their own charism, or chosen mission. The Handmaids’ charism is to echo Mary, to bring her presence to the local church by imitating her as a handmaid and mother. They’re devoted to their community of families in New Ulm, Minnesota. Whether through leading faith formation, liturgy or music coordination, domestic care of churches, visitation of the sick and elderly, or education in Catholic schools, they live out their lives in prayer and strong sisterhood.
Last spring, Meg told me that she felt a call to explore religious life and started spending weekends at different convents around the country. She lived their daily life, prayed about each one, and questioned if she was meant to be there. When she decided on the Handmaids, she submitted a full application and was subsequently accepted. She then had the difficult task of telling her family and friends and giving away most of her material possessions before joining the sisters last August.
As a sister, Meg can visit her family once or twice a year and can only communicate with family and friends through handwritten letters. She doesn’t have a cell phone, a computer or television. The Handmaids are also dependent on donations for food, clothing and home supplies. I couldn’t imagine living this way, but in one of her letters Meg wrote, “Being poor is awesome! Being dependent on the Lord and your community is so beautiful.”
The separation was difficult at first. If your best friend moves across the country, you’d still see their favorite songs playing on Spotify, their dog-filtered face on Snapchat and vacation photos on Instagram. This is so different because Meg’s living this whole new life and discerning her choice to see if this is what she’s really called to, and I understand she needs space away from her old life to do so. For the first three years, Meg can leave at any time if she feels this isn’t right for her.
To break down some of the stereotypes about sisters, they do sit in prayer quite a bit, but they also have a lot of fun. Sister Teresa Rose has written me about the sisters playing cards, canoeing, swimming, and getting so competitive playing volleyball, basketball and ultimate frisbee. They’re always a presence at high-school sports games, and some have even been talked to about yelling at the referees. Meg even wrote me once that they were planning a flash mob for the bishop. That’s not something you hear everyday. They’re such strong women. They live in a beautiful renovated elementary school, and since they don’t have much income, they do all renovations and building themselves — habit, nail gun and all.
Hopefully I’ve debunked some nun myths for you. It’s a unique life, and I often miss my friend, but I’m thankful that she’s happy and proud of her for following her heart, even if her path is a bit unconventional.