The weekend before Halloween, a sign went up on the novitiate whiteboard:
Meet outside the Oratory tonight for the “Secret Secret”.
- 2nd Year Black Veils
The other postulants studied the sign, apparently posted by the senior novitiate sisters.
“What's that supposed to mean?” asked Sr. Margaret.
“Maybe it’s a costume party?”
“I hope it’s a movie,” I told Sr. Lucia*, who had come up beside me.
After being in the convent for two and a half months, I'd started to make friends. I'd spent many pleasant evenings with Sr. Mary Frances, enjoyed chats with my angel, Sr. Joanna, and walked with the other postulants around the Motherhouse grounds. Of all the postulants, the one whose friendship I sought the most was Sr. Lucia.
Yes, the same Sr. Lucia who'd been so distant and serious on Entrance Day. The same sister I followed while serving in the refectory, and raced with during outdoor recreation. The one who sat across from me in the Chapel, and beside me in the refectory.
My peer, my tablemate, my sister, my friend.
One Week Earlier, during Sunday Dinner
During “talking meals” in the refectory, especially on Sundays, Sr. Lucia and I liked to talk about our families. Although Sister was from Europe and I was from Michigan, our families were very similar. Sister had three siblings; I had four. Our youngest siblings were even the same age.
Today, I gave Sister the update on my siblings' most recent activities, according to the letters they sent me.
In turn, Sr. Lucia told me about her mother, a ballet teacher, her good relationship with her dad, and how she wished she could be taller.
“You’re not short,” I said, as we both spread Sunday butter on our dinner rolls. “One of my good friends is only five feet tall—and amazing.”
“I know.” Sister Lucia sat up even straighter, as if to increase her average height as much as possible. “But I’m short compared to most of the people in my country.”
I didn’t care if Sister Lucia was short or tall. She was energetic, quick-witted, kind, and…well, she noticed me. In a convent with three hundred Sisters, I often felt invisible.
When the other sisters talked to me, they saw the awkward postulant Sr. Mary Joan, but not the true Mary. They didn’t know who I was, on the inside. Not because they were mean or uncaring, but because the opportunities for one-on-one conversations were so limited.
No one here knew who I was before entering. They hadn't heard about Texas and Charles, or how the Lord comforted me beneath a sky full of stars. They didn’t know about the novel and watercolors I’d left behind, or the publishing dreams I still kept in my heart. They didn't even know about the things happening in the convent's silence: the words the Lord whispered to me in prayer, the poems I wrote in my journal, or how I was learning not to think without Him.
These were the things I most wanted to talk about. All the precious little things. All the tiny secrets.
“What’s the matter, Sr. Mary Joan?” Sr. Lucia asked, noting my silence. “Is your back bothering you again?”
I set down my silverware and smiled. Sr. Lucia sees me. She cares.
“Thanks for asking, Sister,” I said, wiggling a little in my chair. “Today, it’s not too bad.” I paused. “It’s so nice talking with you. I look forward to it every week.”
Just then, the serving sister came by with a tray of ice cream. Sr. Lucia and I chose our flavors, then dug our spoons into the sweet concoction.
“Mmm.” I licked the end of my spoon, savoring every bite. It was our only scoop until next Sunday, so I wanted to make it count.
“It’s good talking with you, too,” Sr. Lucia said, then sighed. “And thank you for praying for my family.”
There was one other thing Sister Lucia had told me about her family: they didn’t support her decision to enter the convent.
"Did you hear from your parents this week?" I asked.
"I did." Sister poked at her ice cream cup. "Nothing's changed."
My heart ached for her.
She's so brave, to have entered anyway. I admired her determination, and her certainty that the Lord had called her to Saint Cecilia's.
“I’m so sorry, Sister.” I wanted to console her, but what else could I say? I knew the Lord was watching over Sr. Lucia, and would bless her fidelity to His call. I just didn’t know how, or when.
All I can do is pray...and try to be a good friend.
Nighttime, the Following Weekend
Autumn leaves crackled beneath our feet as we gathered outside the Oratory. The nighttime air was crisp and chill. Far above us, a black veil sister had propped open a window. After shouting something to get our attention, she read a long-winded message on what appeared to be a parchment scroll.
Sister Lucia and I stood up front, right near the action.
“What is Sister saying?” I asked, with a giggle.
“Not sure,” she shrugged. “Something about a ‘Secret Secret’.”
A gust of wind cut across my cheek, making me shiver.
So what is this Secret Secret?
After her proclamation, the Oratory sister shooed us away to the other side of the building.
My curiosity built as we walked around the sewing room and stairwell, climbed the green hill, and gathered by the back porch. I zipped up my fleece to keep out the cold.
Just then, a black veil Sister appeared on the fire escape. She held up a sign with a cartoon monster on it, which she began spinning in a circle. Another Sister appeared on the balcony above her, also carrying a monster sign. A third appeared on the lowest level. Soon, all three of the Sisters were spinning their signs in a very spooky, mysterious fashion.
"Get ready for...the Secret Secret!"
I laughed with the other sisters. It was like watching something from a grade school play. Which made sense, as I’d joined a community of teaching nuns.
“The time has come,” announced the lead black-veil, moving her monster sign in a frenzy, “For the Secret Secret!”
A senior novitiate sister opened the door to our left, making us jump. "Come on in! If you dare..."
We pressed towards the door, giggling with anticipation.
"It's something to do with monsters, I guess."
"Yeah, like in the skit," I said.
Then I entered the Common Room and gasped.
The Common Room had been transformed. All the rocking chairs and couches were lined up in rows to face the projector screen up front. Purple and orange Halloween lights hung neatly from the ceiling, and heaping bowls of Halloween candy were scattered across the room. Semi-spooky Halloween music played over the loudspeaker.
“It’s a movie night!” I said, grinning. “Yes!”
“Which movie?” asked Sr. Margaret.
I smiled. The Sisters had been so clever. All the moving monsters, the opening and closing doors…it was like a miniature production of tonight’s film.
“It’s Monsters, Inc!”
When I glanced back at the rocking chairs, I saw a familiar face.
Sr. Mary Frances sat on the right side of the room, beside a huge bowl of Halloween candy. I waved and headed over to her corner.
“Wow, this is amazing!” I said.
“I’m so glad they picked a cute Halloween movie,” said Sr. Mary Frances, “instead of a scary one.”
“I guess I’ll stay near you, Sister, since you have the candy bowl,” I teased.
She gave me a smile that reflected the happiness and excitement I felt in my own heart. I loved Halloween and movies, candy bars and secrets.
Especially when they're Secret Secrets.
As I leaned back in my rocking chair and opened a Snickers, I preserved the memory of this night in my head. A memory of laughter, mystery, and fun. Of friendship and belonging.
Yes indeed, Lord, I prayed. Make this a night to remember.
Thank you so much for reading! Please join me next week to hear about Thanksgiving and Saint Cecilia Day in the convent!
*Sr. Lucia's name has been changed for privacy.
About the Author:
Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy for teens, and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during, and after the convent. Mary also shares faith and fantasy quotes on her Instagram account,@faithandfantasy1.