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Convent Stereotypes

This fictional letter and its response addresses the stereo-types that many people expect to find in girls who have vocations to the religious life.

Dear Sister,

You must know by now that P. has applied to enter the convent next month. After all these years, she’s really going to do it. It’s hard to believe!

Sister, I need you to settle something for me once and for all. Yesterday P. and I were laughing about how different our lives would be a year from now. Then she stopped laughing and said, “You know what? I think you have a vocation too.” I brushed it off, but she kept insisting, to the point that I got irritated. Just because she’s always wanted to be a nun doesn’t mean that I have to be one too!

Sister, P. and I are exact opposites. She’ll be a perfect nun! She doesn’t like to be around people and she spends a lot of time praying. And she doesn’t care much for boys. Sometimes I think she was born a nun. But me? I love to be with people and I have a lot of friends! And I like boys! I look forward to getting married and having children. Prayer doesn’t come easy for me like it does for her. Sometimes I even get in trouble at school because I’m a little TOO fun-loving. Sister, you know I don’t do things that are really bad and I’m careful about the friends I choose — I just love to talk and laugh, that’s all. Even though I won’t get involved in things that would offend Our Lord, and I really love my Faith, I’m a pretty normal, active teenager. I think Our Lady has protected me because I pray her Rosary every day.

Okay, it’s true that sometimes during Mass, and at other times when it’s quiet, I wonder what it would be like to be a Sister. But it’s obvious I’m not cut out for it! For one thing, I could never keep the silence. The only things I know how to do well are the things that nuns aren’t allowed to do. Besides, I just KNOW that I would still be able to do a lot for God and for the Church if I get married. Who knows, maybe one of my children will have a vocation?

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. I know I’ll feel a lot better once you tell me that I’m right — that I’m just not cut out for life in the convent.

Sincerely, L.

Dear L.,

I couldn’t help smiling as I read your letter. But your consternation is perfectly understandable. You are at a point in your life when you want to — and need to — take charge of your own future, and it’s only natural and human that you resent someone’s trying to tell you what vocation to follow. But P. is human too, and she did mean well after all. I’m sure you can give her room to be a bit over-enthused about her chosen vocation.

It is a strange thing, but the idea of religious vocation conjures up certain stereotypes of the types of girls who “should" enter the convent: girls who are ladylike and reserved, or who don’t quite fit with the “in” crowd; girls who are shy and show no interest in boys; girls who are known for being deeply spiritual and devout. Yet religious vocations come in many forms — just think about all the Sisters you know. Some are quiet, others are outgoing; some are lively and energetic, others always seem perfectly unruffled and serene; some are outstanding leaders and “go-getters,” others are good at listening and supporting and showing compassion. Some have wanted to be nuns since they were very young; others came to the decision more quickly when they were adults.

True, there are some basic signs of a vocation, but they can be found in almost every temperament. I think the simplest way of putting it is the 4 H’s: Head, Heart,
Humor, and Health.

So, as you see, these 4 H’s can be applied to the whole gamut of temperaments and personalities. Of course, a girl also must want to become a Sister — not necessarily in the same sense that P. does, but she must truly be willing to embrace this life if that is what God is asking of her. It must be her free choice. She should not enter the convent simply because she is expected to, or because she doesn’t know what else to do, or because she thinks no one will ever want to marry her, or because everyone tells her that she would make the perfect nun. Above all, she should not enter the convent to escape life’s hardships.

But as for you — well, what do you think, now that you’ve become acquainted with the 4 H’s? Is a vocation, perhaps, not so unthinkable after all?

In Jesus and Mary,
Sister Mary N.

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