The Other I

September 21, 2017

A vocation of love

Filed under: Just Stuff,Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 4:30 pm
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When I entered the convent of Maryknoll nuns in 1958, about 70 of us spent our first three years in training at the Motherhouse in Ossining, New York.  Another 25 or so were trained for that time in Valley Park, Missouri.  The two groups met each other for the first time when most of us were assigned to the Motherhouse after taking our first temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The two groups were very different.  We from the Motherhouse group mostly felt that the Valley Parkers were too rigid, too rule oriented.  We, on the other hand, were more rebellious, many of us having immersed ourselves in the encyclicals and theological writings surrounding Vatican II.

It was during this time that I met  Jean Pruitt by the name of Sister Raymond Claire.  In those days, nuns were expected to leave their families and all our past behind us.  The Maryknoll Sisters have since changed this mandate, on the grounds that we were not dedicating our lives to cutting out loved ones but rather to broaden our love to all humanity.  With the change in rules, many Maryknollers, including Jean, returned to their family names.

Jean was a Valley Parker and although we got along well enough, we never became close friends.  I always assumed that she believed that holiness required doing what our superiors told us to do without dissent.  She was, I thought, someone who honoured obedience above all else.

Sister Jean with the children of Dogodogo

Jean, was finally sent to the missions in Tanzania, Africa, in 1968 and I pretty much lost touch with her activities until about ten years ago.  By that time, not only the Roman Catholic Church, but even more so, the Maryknoll Sisters had changed dramatically.  I learned that Jean was supporting not only herself as an artist but had legally adopted four African boys and was caring for many more as, for years she fought to defend children’s rights.  Today, at least two of those adoptees have earned college degrees and made Jean a grandmother.

I have been deeply saddened to learn that Jean died suddenly and unexpectedly last week.  It is a small consolation that she will not be forced to return to the Motherhouse in New York for retirement.  She had made Tanzania and its people her home, and felt more like a foreigner in the States.  Her funeral is being celebrated by the African bishop of Bukoba, Tanzania, with whom Jean had become good friends.  She will be missed by many.

Since my day, the Maryknoll sisters have changed substantially.  But in some ways, I think Jean was more tolerated by the institution than encouraged.  For me, Jean became my ideal of a Maryknoller.  What mattered was not slavishly obeying the rules.  What she did was to see orphaned children in need of care, and she gave it to them.  She didn’t ask if this was what other Maryknoll Sisters were doing.  She saw what she could do, and used all her love and creativity and ingenuity and energy to do it.


1 Comment »

  1. Jean lived a meaningful life and accomplished so much, brought so much good to the world.
    May she be singing with the Angels!
    Thank you for this wonderful illuminating article Terry!


    Comment by Beth — September 22, 2017 @ 6:09 am | Reply

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