Nuns on Oprah

I don’t watch daytime TV, so I can’t tell you for sure that Oprah has never had a story about nuns, but my guess is that yesterday’s show featuring a group of Dominican Order sisters was a first. Correspondent Lisa Ling interviewed a congregation of the Dominican Sisters of Mary based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She even spent the night at the convent, just outside of Detroit, and you can view her experience in this video.

This particular congregation is only 13 years old, and represents a trend occurring across the landscape of faith – young people in search of a more traditional way of living out their relationship with God. Whereas some of the older congregations of religious sisters are dwindling in vocations, these newer congregations are attracting many young women wanting to follow what they see as a call to be in the world but not of the world; the Ann Arbor congregation has nearly 100 sisters in various stages of formation.

Like all religious women and men, these nuns take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (to the church and to their religious superiors). Unlike religious men and women who came of age during Vatican II, the average age in this convent is 26 and the women fully embrace outward signs of their religious status, such as the habit, that many older congregations have set aside.

I think it is very cool that the Mother of Media decided to feature women focused on modeling themselves after what Christianity teaches is the Mother of God for a number of reasons. First, Lord knows daytime TV could use a few fresh faces and a story line not based on the seven deadly sins. Additionally, there is so much misinformation out there about what it is to be a nun or a sister (and, among people older than 55, some really bad memories of pre-Vatican II schooling featuring nuns who were anything but loving).

But most importantly, the show demonstrates to young women that there are options in the world besides marriage or the single life. If a woman feels a call to serve her fellow humans, the religious life is one way she can do that.

My late cousin was a nun in a religious congregation in California. She became a nun during a time when religious life was the best choice for brilliant women. Few universities were accepting female students, especially those of limited means, and if you wanted to be a physicist you were in for a long, hard road trying to convince what was still a highly patriarchal society that you had the brains to do it. You didn’t have to convince religious congregations, because they were frequently the repositories of brainiac women. Kathy eventually lived out her religious calling as a sister who was also bio-physicist and professor at one of California’s Catholic universities.

The intellectual rigor of a religious life is often overlooked or unknown. People readily forget how Catholic nuns helped shape America, and it is far to easy to imagine religious life as dull, dreary and lonely. Yet every nun I know frequently seems happier than my married and single friends. (To get an idea of religious life nowadays, visit A Nun’s Life.)

Entering the convent is a calling, just as entering the seminary is a calling. And like all life choices, following a religious vocation requires sacrifice. But as I observed in my cousin and other nuns, it rewards in a joy in service and frequently, a life of action on the front lines (see this). To the shame of the Church, sometimes religious life involves being forgotten by the Church you’ve served (see this), but as more people become aware of that, more pressure is brought to bear on the heirarchy (usually by fearless women) to take care of nuns and sisters who’ve served long and hard. The key here is that a calling to religious life is a calling that too few smart, young women consider out of ignorance of what it is. Perhaps the Oprah segment will change that.

As for other interesting stuff today – see here for a discussion of overdiagnosed, overmedicated kids in special education.


8 thoughts on “Nuns on Oprah

  1. The investigations have been discussed in another post and this congregation is one of the congregations that would have no problem with the investigation, in fact, most likely, is supportive of it. And remember, please, no name calling (Herr Pope). Thanks!

  2. Hello Renee,
    I have no knowledge of religion and would consider myself not religous so although I often read your blog, I don’t usually comment.

    But I did actually see that Oprah show and I found it very enlightening. I knew nothing of life inside of a convent and never really thought about it.
    The young women on the show were absolutely lovely, smart and articulate about why they were doing what they were doing, and they seemed to be completely comfortable in front of the audience and the camera, and also quick witted.
    They were quite different than I imagined, or as portrayed in movies.

  3. azmouse, I do consider myself religious/spiritual, and I’ve spent time with an order of religious sisters for two summers now, and had a lovely experience with them. I am a mother of five, so not considering the religious life myself. Instead, they offered me safe harbor at the end of a busy summer with my children, and it was definitely a peace-filled time. I have a lot of respect for religious sisters, had it before this show but the show was really great in revealing the truth about this vocation, and not supporting all the rumors and misconceptions. It’s fun to make fun of people who look different than ourselves, but something, the truth of it is enlightening. Glad you saw it that way as well. They were very lovely! Even without makeup. 🙂 That’s because true beauty flows from the inside out. The way they described their faith and the joy that comes from following Christ is how I feel, and I’m not here to evanglize, but to affirm that it’s not fake, as some people think.

    1. Hello Roxane,
      Thanks for your comment, and for sharing your story and feelings.

      I was pleasantly surprised to get a peak into their lives. I don’t know what I imagined that their lives were like, or if I ever really gave it more than a passing thought. I guess I assumed inside an actual convent would be much more stoic and stuffy and a little scary with all that I thought the ladies had to live up to.
       It was great to see the reality of it.

  4. Good article, I wish I would have seen the Oprah program.  My aunt has been a nun for 60 years, and we have always been able to see the personal side of this life.  As kids, we always thought she was pretty cool, especially since we got her to try waterskiing.  Even my husband has said that knowing a nun personally has changed his perception of what they are like.

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