August 15, 2012: Entrance Day
Early in the afternoon, my family and I arrived at the Motherhouse. My parents and sisters had taken the 600-mile drive with me from Detroit to Nashville.
We parked in the visitor's lot and stepped out into the humid Tennessee weather. My family helped me carry my new convent things: sewing supplies, "sensible shoes", my violin, an arts and crafts box, a suitcase with aprons and socks. We headed towards the same front steps I’d ascended earlier, during my March retreat.
So much had happened since then. So much had changed.
The first time I visited the Motherhouse, I came here to escape my life. Today, I enter to begin a new one.
I’d said good-bye to everyone at home. I'd sold or given away most of my material possessions, everything from my car to my Star Wars collectibles. The night before, I’d even canceled my Gmail and Facebook accounts, as directed by the Sisters. “It’s all part of the letting go,” the vocation director had told us.
Now all that remained was to enter the convent’s front doors.
“Mary Moses!” A friendly sister called in greeting, as my family and I entered. We were in a hallway set between two elegant parlors. “Here, let me find your angel…Sister Joanna!”
Sister Joanna appeared. She was shorter than me, and dressed in the white veil of a novice sister. I’d received a beautiful card in the mail from her a few weeks back, welcoming me to Saint Cecilia’s and promising me her prayers.
Today she took my suitcase firmly in hand. “Come with me, Mary. We’ll get you ready and then bring you back downstairs to your family.”
She turned around and faced the great wooden staircase leading up to the second level. I watched my family grow smaller and smaller below me as I climbed after Sister.
Up the stairs, and into the cloister.
Although the Sisters had been welcoming, the daunting prospect of what lay ahead this year, beginning with this steep ascent up the grand staircase, both challenged and intrigued me.
As we rose to the third level, the noise and chatter from the entrance hall faded into silence. The stairs ended and we reached a hardwood landing.
I took a deep breath.
This was it. I was leaving my old life behind, and entering the cloister.
New Name, New Home
Except for the groan of the old, polished floors, the convent's cloister was whisper-quiet.
Rows of cells filled each of the high-ceilinged rooms. Sr. Joanna led me through all three dorms before stopping at my new cell.
Sr. Mary Joan, it read, on a sign hanging above the closed white curtains. A picture of Saint Joan of Arc was pasted on the handmade sign. I smiled at the personal touch.
That year, there were three women named Mary Rose entering the postulant class. Since I was the last one to be accepted, I’d been given the name Sr. Mary Joan—my first name and confirmation name.
“It will be like having a religious name right away," the vocation director had told me over the phone. "Very good practice for you.”
I didn’t mind. I loved Saint Joan of Arc, and it was my mother’s name.
“Your postulant clothes are hanging up inside,” Sr. Joanna whispered. “I’ll wait out here while you put them on. Then we can go downstairs to your family.”
I nodded and pulled open the curtain to my cell, carefully securing it with clothespins once I was inside.
Getting into my postulant outfit had sounded easy enough, but I struggled with the process. The slip, the socks, the “sensible shoes”. The white blouse, the long polyester skirt and vest. I was so focused on getting dressed properly, I didn't pay much attention to my new living space, until now.
The cell was furnished with a twin-size bed, desk/dresser, and chair. My cell was along the west wall of the Motherhouse, so it had a window looking out on the convent grounds and further off, the city of Nashville.
Wow, I thought. The cell was tiny, but I loved the view.
Quick! Sister Joanna’s still waiting for you!
I buttoned up my blouse and stepped outside the room. If I’d taken an embarrassingly long amount of time, Sister showed no sign of it. She just nodded at me kindly, then led me back downstairs.
The Grand Reveal
Conversation and laughter greeted us as we reached the main level. The classically decorated hall was packed with Sisters, new postulants, and their families. I surveyed the room, smiling at the Sisters I knew, and searching for my parents and siblings.
“Mary!” my younger sister said.
“Sr. Mary Joan!” my dad corrected.
I turned to the right. My family moved forward, admiring my new outfit and giving me hugs.
"We're so proud of you," my dad said. I remembered what he'd told me in our hotel room that morning: Trust in the Lord Jesus at all times. His last piece of advice before I entered religious life. The words I would reflect on, time and again, during the months ahead.
Soon my dad started a conversation with Sr. Joanna, while my younger sisters went to grab lemonade and cookies.
I patted the sleek pockets on my black polyester vest, then adjusted the collar of my blouse.
This outfit is definitely going to take some getting used to.
The other new postulants looked uncomfortable in their polyester outfits, too, I noticed. There were twenty of us that year, answering the Lord's call to the convent.
What are they like? I wondered. Will we be friends?
As I surveyed the crowd, I spotted the postulant mistress, Sr. Anna, standing off to one side. She was the one who had told me, God would not deceive you.
Leaving my family in conversation with the Sisters, I ventured across the room on my own.
“Hello, Sister.” I grinned with nervous excitement. “I made it!”
She graced me with a sweet, simple smile.
“Hello, Sr. Mary Joan! Welcome to Saint Cecilia’s.”
Thank you so much for reading! We finally made it to Entrance Day! Please join me next week to hear about my sister postulants, my first attempts at the Divine Office, and my first lesson in what it really means to be a Sister. (Hint: it's not about doing everything perfect!)
Bonus Photo: A picture of me on Entrance Day, sporting my new postulant outfit and "Sr. Mary Joan" nametag.
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.