The Other I

September 11, 2007

Becoming a Maryknoll novice

Filed under: Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 8:44 pm

After Mom died I returned to Maryknoll, and four weeks later was accepted into the Novitiate.  For the uninitiated, this means we were novices, admitted to the next stage in the process of becoming full-fledged Maryknollers.  We were given new names and began to wear the full Maryknoll habit, covering us from head to foot, but were distinguished from nuns who had already taken vows by a white instead of black veil.   My new name was Sister Bernadette Mary.  It was a day of celebration, but it was going to be several years containing some surprising revelations about what life in this convent was really like.

The ceremony admitting us to the Novitiate was attended by our families, and my Dad brought my brothers and sisters to New York to be there.  We had several hours to visit afterwards, and that is when he told me he and Aunt Mary were getting married.  Aunt Mary had been my mother’s best friend since college, and she had been married to mom’s brother who had died severl years earlier.  He had also been my father’s law partner. She had four daughters, the youngest of which was my age and we were friends.  I used to love to stay over night there and listen to the wonderful stories Aunt Mary told us.  

So Aunt Mary was not a stranger.  And clearly my family needed a new mother.  What I didn’t understand then was that Dad needed a wife just as much as his children needed a mother, and that, paradoxically, was a problem.  My two oldest brothers, Tom and Dick, had both seen what I had seen over the years when Mom was still alive.  Aunt Mary fascinated my father.  There was some electricity between them for years that none of us ever saw between our parents.

So the fact that the marriage was announced and took place within months after  Mom had died made it feel like a betrayal.  In retrospect, I do not believe it was.  In fact, I am now convinced that Mom knew, even approved, the marriage.  She was an extraordinarily generous woman who would have cared most of all that her husband and children were cared for.  It also explains to me how she could have told me so clearly that I was not to return home for them.

From this day onward I embarked on a double life.  One was in Maryknoll where I tried hard to be the nun I believed I had been called to be.  The other was with my younger brothers and especially my sisters who wrote me anguished letters of pain and conflict.  I wanted desperately to go home to help them, but it took eight more years before I finally found a way to convince myself that God did not want me in Maryknoll. 

For better or worse, by that time, my brothers and sisters no longer needed an older sister to be there with them, and I did not return to live in my family home.

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