I've been "Sister Susan" since August of 2006 - the first two years as a Novice, the last few months as a temporary professed Sister. When I first went from just plain Susan with the last name no one can pronounce to "Sister Susan," I wasn't used to it. It just sounded so strange, but just as I've grown into and through religious life, I've grown more used to the name. I've also become more comfortable with using "Sister Susan" in ministry settings, more than two years after I first introduced myself that way as a pastoral care volunteer during the novitiate.

While I prefer that friends and family just call me "Susan," I do see some value now in the "Sister" preface. For one thing, I think it's a good thing for people to know that there are some younger Sisters out there. I don't wear a habit, and lots of people wear crosses. The name is a definite clue. For another, it's who I am and it helps people relate to me in my role and identity as a Roman Catholic women religious.

I'll also admit that I do have some concerns about what I call "nun privilege." What I mean by that is sometimes, people treat you differently because they know you're a Sister. Not only do they clean up their language considerably, they sometimes will go a little farther in helping you out or giving you what you need. I've noticed this for example when cold calling a complete stranger to request information on behalf of my ministry. Sometimes I use the "Sister," sometimes just "Susan" - and there is a pattern in the response I get depending on which one I use. Of course, as in most situations, there's a flip side to the privilege as well - there's a great deal of expectations and responsibility that goes with being a Sister as well.

As you can see, I'm still sorting this all out for myself. Generally I'm becoming more and more comfortable using "Sister" ministerially, and I see a great value in that. Where I'm less consistent in what I do is out in the world just being me. When my hair dresser or doctor or seat mate on an airplane asks me what I do for a living, what do I tell them? Do I tell them that I work for a non-profit that does social justice education and advocacy? Or do I tell them I'm a Catholic Sister who works for a non-profit that does social justice education and advoacy? It's about 50/50 which one I do in those situations.

Today I got my hair cut at the Aveda Beauty School. I had a great woman working on my hair. She asked what I did for a living. I told her I was a nun. She dropped the bottle of aromatherapy liquid that was in her hand. She wasn't expecting that! We ended up having a great conversation. She asked lots of questions, and we talked about the small Christian Church that she's a part of. We never would have broached that topic if she hadn't known my nun-status.

Well, those are my rambling nun-disclosure related thoughts for this evening.

(Sister) Susan Rose, CSJP


Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

I am a deacon (preparing for the priesthood) - though I never introduce myself as "Deacon Adam." I do tell people I'm a deacon if they ask what I do for the very reason that you stated. For many people the religious life or catholic faith is foreign to them. If I can give them an opportunity to ask a question or air a concern, though I may not like it, if I listen with inventiveness and love, I hope that God can use that opportunity to touch their hearts and bring them healing and peace.

I also have to continually reflect on my "being" ad deacon even when I'm "functioning" as one.

I hope this helps - I enjoy reading your blog, thanks for the insights!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your "rambling nun-disclosure related thoughts." I think they're interesting.

Garpu said...

I could see where it would backfire, too, with the lingering trope of the "mean nun," too. Thankfully it seems like perceptions are changing.

Sarah said...

Thanks for a great post Susan. I agree that it's a tricky question and it's one I've struggled with since starting novitiate.
This week I've been setting up a new community in a convent which hasn't housed a community for some time. We're in a small community and when I need to get a plumber or electrician it makes the process so much quicker if I introduce myself as Sister Sarah on the phone... but I have to psych myself before making the call because it still feels so odd.
In two years time I'm sure I'll feel different but right now it feels strange. A bit of a privelege and a lot of challenge too.
Thanks, Sarah

Sister Juliet, RSCJ said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Sister Susan. I had some funny reactions when I was doing the application forms. The nurse at the doctor's office said, "yeah, we get these all the time." (???) But another one was really pretty amazed. I always love the follow-up questions, too... anything from "so will you wear a habit?" to "does that mean you can't have a boyfriend?"

I do wonder about that in-between time, in formation but before vows. It seems like that requires too much explanation. I like what you said about varying the answer, depending on the situation.

Much peace!

Anonymous said...

When I left Holy Cross in the 1970s in New Orleans, my first job out was at the local Catholic hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy. They really felt sorry for me, as I pretty much had nothing, so they gave me a job as a "plumber/electrician" in training. I kept the job until I found a teaching job three months later; during that time, however, many of my parishoners would be hospitalized and ask me to pray with them. I gently had to tell them I was no longer "Br. Seraphim", but they insisted. With the permission of the sisters, I became know as "the praying plumber"! For years after that, whereever I went in New Orleans, it wasn't unusual to be greated with a cheerful "hey, Br. Seraphim"; how are those wings doing"!

Anonymous said...

What was it like being a Novice? I myself am discerning and wondering what your thoughts, feelings, and experiences where as you grew in your vocation.

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Hello discerning anonymous friend. If you click on the label on the side bar that says novitiate, you can read all my blog posts about the novitiate journey. If I had to sum it up in a few words, I'd say it was hard but a transformative period in my life. But it's very hard to get into a few words ... hence the blog.

If you (or anyone out there) who is discerning would ever like to connect via e-mail "off blog", my e-mail address is also located on the sidebar.