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Why I Envy Young Nuns

Sep 22 2010
What a remarkably large class of young Catholic nuns-in-training taught this Protestant.

I have a vinyl sticker on the back window of my car that reads, Jesus Inside. It's an effective conversation starter because it frequently invites teasing: "So, where does Jesus sit?" "Hey, did you know Jesus is inside your parked car?"

That decal came to mind while I read this weekend about young Catholic women who have joined the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. This year, the traditional convent, replete with flowing black-and-white habits, is accepting a novitiate class that, at 27 women, is the largest in the U.S. The women are joining a convent whose median age is 36. At the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, another thriving and traditional convent in Ann Arbor, the average age is about 28. Sisters of Mary reports a highly educated new class of 22 candidates, including one Harvard graduate who spoke in Latin about her decision to take vows during her commencement speech. These young nuns-in-training are taking a modern path back to a traditional way of serving God.

Many Protestant women lack a precise spiritual equivalent to joining a convent. Many, of course, have shown sacrifice and dedication in various ways, such as overseas missions work and teaching at third-world schools. But others of us, including myself, lack a clear path to establishing lives of devotion. I am a woman devoted to God, and, incidentally, chaste. But I wonder how many situations I have been in where nobody knows that about me. Is my vinyl decal acting as my Protestant nun's habit?.

Some of the older sisters quoted in the AP article theorize that young women want to do something "radical" for God. As a young woman trying to figure out the fundamentals of life—where I'll live, who I'll live with, where I'll work—I get that. Jesus doesn't naturally come up in my day-to-day conversations any more, and I occasionally feel as though I blend in with the world without trying.

I drive my car into a lot of situations, and my Jesus sticker is always there to catch others' eyes. I put it on my car after I graduated from a well-known Christian college in the Midwest. Since graduating, I've realized that while there, I took for granted that everyone knew I was a Christian. I didn't have to work to appear to be following Christ.

I think we Christians could put a little more work into standing out for Jesus. Sometimes, we have to make a point of separating ourselves for God to get others to even notice.

I hope that's the drive behind so many young women joining U.S. convents (and not because it's radically interesting to give up Starbucks and personalized clothing). One of the sisters at Sisters of Mary called this year's novitiate class "a vocation explosion." These days, when it comes to choosing a vocation—a choice many of us think we are making in college—economics are creating problems for a lot of recent college graduates. Last year, more women earned PhDs than men, yet only 51 percent of college graduates under age 25 are working in jobs that require college educations. So when a Harvard graduate joins a Dominican convent, maybe it's an acknowledgment that higher education is not going to help a 9.4 percent unemployment rate.

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