This nun has a blog but no veil

While I was away at my intercommunity novitiate program, Time Magazine came out with an article subtitled: "More young women are entering convents. How they are changing the sisterhood." Interesting ... Of course the main title is "Today's Nun has a Veil - And a Blog."

I'm a bit tired from two days of classes on Personal Integration & the Vow of Consecrated Celibacy (light hearted topics!), but I can't NOT comment on the Time piece - and I've already had 2 folks e-mail me about it!

The veil ... this reminds me of telling my 9 year old niece that I wouldn't be wearing a habit. "But," she said looking very concerned, "then you won't be a real Sister." I patiently explained that yes, I would still be a real Sister. Being a Sister, I told her, is about giving your life to God and helping people in need. Some Sisters wear habits and some don't, but they are all committed to God. 'Ok," she said very dubiously. "But will you at least wear black?".

The irony of course to those who know me is that 75% of my wardrobe is black. At this exact moment I'm wearing a black sweater, black tights and a jean skirt. I'm also wearing the Peace Cross, the symbol of identification with my community. Obviously, my community does not wear a habit, which is a good choice for me.

I've written about "the habit question" before. I find it so interesting that talk of something as radical and countercultural as giving one's whole self to God is summed up by the accompanying fashion choice. When I was coming out the closet as a nun-to-be, I was constantly surprised by peoples' deeply held opinions on the habit question. Like my 9 year old niece, many felt that real nuns wear habits. Others felt that habits were a relic of antiquity whose days had passed.

My experiences these past two months in the intercommunity novitiate program (where half of the women wear a habit and half don't) have led me to believe that it's a both/and not an either/or proposition. I respect that some women religious wear the habit. For them and for those they come into contact with, the habit is a visible symbol of their consecration. It is a "God sign" in the world. Other women religious wear simple everyday dress. For them and for those they come into contact with, their everyday attire is a symbol that they are approachable signs of God in the world.

God calls us all. God needs us all. And the people of God need us all. For some, they need to see a Sister in the habit to remind them, give them comfort, or who knows what. For others, the habit would be a barrier that would prevent them from getting close to this woman and experiencing God through her. Which is why, even today God is calling women to BOTH types of communities. And they are answering, as the equal division of habit/simple dress in my intercommunity program attests to.

I'm rambling. Like I said, I'm tired and it's time to head downstairs for evening prayers.

In closing, even though the article focused in on the fashion question, it's a good article. Anything that helps people realize that yes, people still do this, is a good thing in my opinion.

Bloggy friend Julie is quoted in the article and her blog is linked. She's got her own perspective on the habit question that I recommend checking out.


Theresa Coleman said...

Ah! But your next door neighbors are in the habit of wearing a Habit, thus the veils in the picture below.

And most everything I wear is black and denim. We'd match. =o)

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Yes, some of our elder sisters next door do wear a veil. But the thing is as a community we don't.

Our Constitutions simply say: "In keeping with our heritage and mission as religious, we choose to dress simply."

Some of our elder Sisters in the East & UK choose to dress simply and interpret that to include a veil. That is more comfortable to them in keeping with our heritage. Out West far fewer of our elder Sisters wear a veil - I can think of 4.

It's interesting though, I'll admit.

Susan said...

I am veil free, having worn one from 1964-1971. It is not a big issue in our congregation any more. A few of the c.400 women wear one and it appears as one of the style choices, along with Alfred Dunner or earrings or jeans or....

Anonymous said...

I'd just read the article (alerted by an e-mail) and when I turned to your blog you were ready with the reflection! Impressive!

As a Sister who entered after the days of the habit in our community (and was profoundly glad not to have to put one on), I recently got a different perspective as I read stories of Muslim women choosing the hijab. They seemed to be making that choice to be modest and to claim who they are. That doesn't make me want to don the habit, but gives me a much clearer understanding of why a young woman might make that choice.

Such a pity, Susan Rose, that they didn't feature your blog!

Anonymous said...

What a great post, Susan. Thanks for the heads up about the Time Magazine article... I'm quite behind in my reading and haven't made it to the motherhosue library since I moved in almost a month ago!

I love love love your summary of the issue, even if claim to be dog-tired while writing it. I love keeping up with your novitiate adventures and hearing your take on things as you grow into this life! *HUGS*

Fr. Gaurav Shroff said...

I was wondering if you'd posted your thoughts on the article ... I too think it's not an either/or. And the question of clerics/habits is also alive in men's communities. Very broadly speaking, the younger ones tend to be more "into" the habit and a distinctive attire. As long as this doesn't lead to intra-community sartorial wars, I guess it's not a biggie ... :)

Anyway, overall I thought the Time piece was pretty balanced and brought out the radical nature of the religious life well.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article in Time and very interesting responses. I am using it in a talk I am giving tomorrow to this region's (NY and NJ) vocation directors. My favorite comment on the question of religious dress comes from the great moral theologian Fr. Charles Curran who, when asked by a reporter why he did not wear clerical dress and why people called him by name rather than title, he replied, "In imitation of Jesus."


Anonymous said...

Off topic:
I've been enjoying your blog, and I did a search about gays and lesbians, because my lesbianism chased me out of the church 35 years ago. You talk a lot about gay priests. How do you feel about lesbian sisters? A subject that should be much closer to you, living in community. And how are women who prefer women-but are celibate-treated these days?
Thanks, Jordan

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...


It's been a while since I've tackled that topic. The short answer would be that the question to me seems to be, is someone faithfully living the vow of celibacy. We've just started looking at the vows the past couple of weeks. Celibate chastity is much more than just not having sexual relationships. But that's for future posts when I've delved into the topic more.

Michelle said...

Oh, I'm so glad you mentioned the hijab, Susan d., because your discussion, Susan Rose, made me totally think of the issue of veiling in Muslim society and how similiar the conclusions among Muslim women are. For some it's a visible sign of their devotion to God and their identity as a Muslim (one who submits to God). Others see it as an old fashioned thing or a culturally-specific thing. Mostly, women just don't like being told they either have to wear or can't wear it.

At any rate, very cool, topical post! :)