Taco Night: Day in the Life of a Postulant, Part IV

5 PM – Vespers


Evening prayer began at 5 PM. After a busy afternoon, I was hungry. Not pleasantly so, the way you might feel waiting for a fine meal at a restaurant. No, I was weak-at-the-knees, hard-to-concentrate, hands-shaking hungry.

And this was happening every day.

I’d eaten a big breakfast and lunch. I took an apple from the fruit bowl in the Common Room. I tried not to overdo it with exercise during my hour of free time.

It didn’t matter. Despite my fervent desire to eat the same as the other Sisters, my body was still famished.

I pushed through Evening Prayer okay. I didn’t have to move much, and the beautiful psalms and antiphons offered a wholesome distraction:


How can I repay the Lord / For his goodness to me?

A cup of sacrifice I will raise / I will bless the Lord’s name.


My stomach rumbled, but if the Sisters heard it, they didn’t react.

After chanting Mary’s Magnificat, Vespers was over.

Feed me, my body demanded. I need food to function!

But I was a postulant with the Sisters of Saint Cecilia, and postulants didn’t eat dinner until after they served the community. It was the way we helped the older Sisters, since we couldn’t teach in the schools yet.

I wanted to help. I was happy to help. But today I was just. So. Hungry.

When the community Rosary began, I lifted myself out of my stall, my sore back protesting, my stomach empty. I fell into step with the other postulants serving.

Keep on walking, keep on walking.

With hands still shaking, I marched down the cloistered hallway to set up for dinner.


5:15 PM – Rosary / Dinner Preparation


"Taco night,” whispered Sr. Marisa, “and that means toppings.”

I nodded, hoping I didn’t look as weak as I felt. All the energy I’d used to play ultimate frisbee was long gone.

“I’ll start lining up bowls and trays,” I volunteered. It was a repetitive, mindless job, one that I could hopefully handle even while hungry.

“How many tables?” Sr. Lucia asked, as she swept into the kitchen behind me.

We were standing in the kitchen’s serving area. On the right side, long metal tables for preparing and serving food lined the tiled wall. On the left was a row of food warmers with glass doors. The head cook, one of the Sisters, was preparing the taco meat on the other side of those doors.

Taco meat. Sour cream and salsa. Lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. Tortillas and a side of corn.

Totally delicious. And totally a ton of work.

“41 tables,” said Sr. Marisa.

“So…164 side bowls? And, I don’t know, 15 trays?”

She shrugged. “That sounds about right. Okay, let’s go for it.”

Sr. Lucia gracefully pulled out the trays, while I placed the little white serving dishes, a dozen on each tray. We soon filled the entire row of metal tables with trays.

Further down, other postulants were ladling toppings into the dishes, then carrying them out to the refectory. Once I finished setting them up, I took a tray and followed them.

The refectory was quiet and peaceful, the lights dimly lit. Its golden wooden floors muffled the sound of my “sensible shoes” as I placed sour cream at each table. The tables created a “U formation”, with novitiate sisters on the lower end, the professed sisters on the higher end, and Mother Superior at the head. Each group of four chairs created a table setting, and 41 settings took a bit of time.

Especially on taco night.

I kept unloading side dishes until I heard the soft rumble of the Sisters approaching.


5:30 PM – Dinner


The other postulants and I disappeared into the kitchen. The Sisters prayed in the De Profundis hall, then moved to their seats.

“…and God grant eternal life to all who do us good.”

“Alright,” Sr. Marisa said, peering through the window. “Let’s go!”

The head cook loaded the warmers with trays of taco meat. We served these into rectangular bowls, then carried them out into the refectory.

A few of the postulants went to serve Mother first, then the older Sisters.

I balanced a tray of taco meat in my hands. Its hearty, flavorful aroma made my mouth water.

Add this to a tortilla, with a pinch of cheese. Smother it with salsa and sour cream and then…

I blinked, tearing myself out of my hungry daydream. I’d forgotten where I was supposed to go. Youngest to oldest? Top to bottom? Left or right?

Okay…just follow Sr. Lucia.

That worked pretty well. Again, if I was messing everything up, the Sisters made no sign.

Once all the food was placed, Sr. Lucia and I gathered the extras for the Sisters’ second helping, or “second pass”.

A few lone tortillas sat forlornly in their serving bowls, practically begging me to unite them with my stomach.

Come on, Sister. There are people who only eat a cup of rice each day.

My tummy did not care. It wanted food. Now.

Carry the empty serving bowls to the dish room. Offer second pass to the novitiate, then the professed. Bring back second pass, put it on metal trays in the warmer.

“Sister, can you take out the cookies?”

I nodded mutely, pulled out a tray of chocolate chip cookies from the kitchen. Their beguiling, chocolatey scent taunted me as I offered them to the Sisters. The novitiate took most of them, but some of the professed took the cookies, too.

More dishes, more trays to send back to Hobart, our dishwashing unit. Clean up second pass, put away the extra desserts.

Then, the sweetest sound in the world: the bell to end dinner.

The Sisters rose, prayed, left the refectory.

The postulants slid off aprons, picked up plates, and sat down to eat.

Dinner, part two.

My body sagged wearily into my chair.

I did it! Thank You, Lord!

I ate my first taco with fork and knife, just as we’d learned from the “Manners” video in postulant class. Then I took a long sip of iced tea and sighed.

This is beyond a doubt, I decided, cutting another slice, the most heavenly taco in the universe.


6:30 PM – Evening Recreation


The hallway was cool and quiet on the way to the Common Room. The only sound was the clink of dishes going in and out of Hobart.

The other postulants and I walked on in silence, watching the golden glow of the Common Room grow closer. Inside, Sisters were talking freely. Another step, and we reached the spot in the hallway where silence ended.

“Hello, Sr. Mary Joan!”

“Hi Sr. Jennifer!”

“How was your day?”

“Fine, until taco night – so glad it’s just stir fry tomorrow.”

“Yeah, ten times easier when there’s no side dishes…”

I paused as we entered the Common Room, letting Sr. Jennifer come in before me.

The long room was packed with novitiate sisters: postulants, novices, and first and second year "black veil", or professed, sisters. Sisters played a lively game of cards at the table to my right; another group played Blokus, a game with colored, Tetris-like tiles; still more Sisters sat and chatted together around a circle of couches and rocking chairs.

I walked straight ahead, smiling at the Sisters I knew, but not committing to a “pod” yet. I wasn’t up for card playing today. I wanted something quieter, more low-key.

My eyes drifted to the very last grouping of chairs.

“Sister Mary Joan!” A "black veil" sister with warm brown eyes and a sweet smile waved at me from the back corner.

“Hello, Sister Mary Frances*!” I worked my way around the puzzle table, and claimed the free seat beside Sister. “I’m so happy to see you!”

“Me, too!” she smiled shyly.

Sister Mary Frances was two years ahead of me in religious life, a newly professed sister. She was also Sister Joanna’s angel.

“Which makes me your arch-angel,” she’d told me, when I first met her on Entrance Day.

“An arch-angel? I can definitely use one of those!”

Not only was Sr. Mary Frances my archangel—she was fast becoming a sister mentor and friend. The Lord always seemed to bring us together at just the right times.

“Oh, are you making something?” I nodded at the tools in Sister’s lap.

Sister was running wire through a wooden bead, creating a circular hoop on one side, then connecting the other side to a long strand of Rosary beads.

“Just fixing Sr. Therese’s Rosary,” she explained, as she deftly connected the next bead to the strand. “Some of her beads went missing during outdoor recreation, so I was adding a few more to replace them.”

I liked watching Sister work with her hands. She had a soft canvas bag full of her crafting supplies, like crocheting and Rosary making.

Unlike my little black beads, which could easily slip into my vest pocket, Sister's Rosary was long and permanent-looking.

She saw me ogling the beads. “You’ll have your own next year, Sister. When you become a novice, you’ll start wearing one of these on your belt.” She adjusted her collar to reveal her own Rosary hanging down at the hip.

“We wear our Rosaries on the left side, where they used to hang swords before a battle.”

My eyes widened at this explanation.

“The Rosary is a Sister’s main weapon. When we’re encountering difficulties, with ourselves or with others, we fight back with prayer.”

“Spiritual warfare! Cool!” I waved an imaginary sword through the air.

She nodded, giggling at my sword antics.

Our conversation moved onto other things. Sister told me about her family in California, and all her siblings. We discovered that we had both studied graphic design in college. I enjoyed listening to Sister's stories, and hearing her joy and peace. It was just the thing I needed after a stressful evening.

The bell rang again, signaling the end of recreation. I smiled at Sr. Mary Frances as she left for spiritual reading.

The convent is certainly filled with nice surprises, I thought. Like having Sister Mary Frances for my arch-angel.

#



Thank you so much for reading! Please join me next week to hear about my first All Hallow's Eve (aka, Halloween) with the Sisters! And how my convent friendships continued to grow.


*Sr. Mary Frances was Lisa's religious name at Saint Cecilia's! Here is a picture of us, as a black veil (Lisa, on the left) and postulant (me, on the right).


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.


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