When the novices left the infirmary, we discovered that all the Sisters had gathered in the cloistered walkway between the chapel and the refectory. Each of them welcomed us, in their own way, with smiles, greetings, or warm hugs.
“Welcome to the Agnes club!” said Sister Agnes Marie, a sweet sister in her forties. “Sister Mary Agnes and I are so excited.”
“Sister Mary I-nez,” said the elderly Sister Mary Kevin. “That was the name of one of our sisters.”
“Yes, I think I’ve seen her name in the cemetery,” I said. “What was she like?”
Sister gave me an appraising look. “Well, she didn’t look like you,” she replied. “Sister Inez was fat!”
I laughed. I loved that I had been named after one of the Sisters. It was kind of like getting named for your great-grandmother.
A Perilous Meal
For our first meal in our cream-colored habits, the Sisters served us spaghetti with red meat sauce. The other novices and I examined our plates with dread.
“How are we supposed to eat this?” asked Sister Margaret, picking at her plate.
I examined my spaghetti. I didn’t want to bring my clean new sleeves anywhere near that bright red sauce.
“Best to get used to it, right away,” advised Mother from the front. The other Sisters laughed. They had received spaghetti on their first evening as novices, too.
Just go for it.
With every twirl of my fork, tiny flecks of spaghetti sauce splattered onto my brand-new collar and sleeves. No matter which way I tried to eat it, my white habit was in peril.
I guess I can try some wine…
“Watch out!” called Sister Natalie, as my habit descended into the pasta. I yanked up my sleeve, avoiding my dinner plate just in time.
“Phew! Close call,” I nodded my thanks to Sister Natalie. Then I imagined having to eat spaghetti like this for the rest of my life.
How does anyone get used to this?
I spent the rest of the meal becoming more and more frustrated with my habit.
In honor of our special day, the novices sat together on the same side of the refectory. This meant Sister Lucia (now Sister Felicity) was no longer beside me. The Sisters immediately to my right and left turned in conversation to Sisters Kristy and Felicity, leaving me mostly out of the conversation.
Not that I could have heard what they said, anyways. My new veil, which felt ready to fall off my head at any moment, snugly covered my ears like a permanent set of sound-cancelling headphones. While the veil blocked out most outside noise, I could hear every rustle of its fabric whenever I turned my head.
How does anyone get used to this?
Since no one had included me in their conversation, I focused on conquering my plate of spaghetti. Really, though, it was hopeless.
I set down my fork and kicked at the floor. I hadn’t expected this day to be…well, so difficult. Within the cumbersome folds of my habit, I felt isolated from the other sisters. I struggled to hear through my veil, and all my movements felt heavy and awkward.
I had longed for this day all summer—for this white Dominican habit, and what it symbolized. My entrance to the religious community. My betrothal to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. The meaning behind this habit was so marvelous, but the physical sensation of wearing it was frightening.
Yes, that was it. The frustrations of convent spaghetti sauce I would master and overcome. But the pounding of my heart in my chest, in my veil-compressed ears—this fear—I did not understand it.
As I watched the other Sisters smiling, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company, my sense of dread deepened.
I wanted this. I wanted to become a novice, engaged to Jesus Christ. To surrender myself completely to Him, and to become His bride.
Not only did I want this, but in my heart, I believed that the Lord wanted this, too. He had called me out of the world to be His bride.
If this is God’s plan for my life, I thought, then why am I so afraid?
A Late Night Surprise
After the evening meal and prayers were done, I headed wearily upstairs to my cell. I was eager to take off my habit and veil and put on my night clothes. When I reached my dorm room, I saw that the curtains of my cell were already pinned closed. A beautiful print of the Mother and Child, holding a lamb, hung from the entrance.
Behind the curtains, what a surprise! A rose floated in a little round vase, and petals were scattered across my desk and bed. Dozens of notes and cards, from both novitiate and professed sisters, filled my quiet cell. Each note held a message of encouragement, well-wishing, and prayer. A few were printed, but most were handmade and specifically addressed to “Sister Mary Inez”.
Sister Mary Inez. That’s me. That’s my new name.
I neatly hung up my habit and veil, changed into my white pajamas, and turned on my lamp to read the messages. My fears from supper faded away as I read about my “Cinderella gown”, and the “Heaven-Haven” where
no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., “A nun takes the veil”
Thank you so much for reading my final convent post for Monastery in My Heart!!! Thank you especially to my friend Lisa for allowing me to share my stories here for the past two years. It has been a wonderful, transformatie for me, and hopefully a useful and encouraging one for the many visitors to Lisa's website.
Although I will no longer be writing about my convent journey on Monastery in My Heart, I will continue writing new stories at https://maryrosekreger.com. I also plan to archive my blog posts from Monastery in My Heart on my author site, so that you can continue reading and enjoying them. As many of you know, I am compiling my convent blog posts into a single book, which, God willing, I hope to have completed and available to you as early as next spring.
As a special treat for my final post, I'd like to share a few of the notes I received on my reception of the habit day. These "convent artifacts" offer a tiny glimpse into the community life of the Sisters. Thank you, hope you enjoy! :)