The Things I Couldn't Leave Behind

Once all the postulants had arrived, the Sisters invited us to sit down in the hall with our families. They showed a presentation of the twenty young women in our group—snapshots of them volunteering, playing sports, studying abroad in Austria or France. I looked at the pictures, but my brain hardly registered them. The stunning reality that my family was about to go home and I was going to stay here, permanently, made everything else seem trivial in comparison.

Besides, it felt callous, disloyal even, to try making friends with the postulants when I'd just finished saying good-bye to everyone at home.


Flashback - Three Weeks


The brief period between my acceptance at Saint Cecilia's and Entrance Day passed by in a busy blur. Three weeks was just enough time to sell or give away most of my possessions, say farewell to family and friends, and gather the supplies I’d need for religious life.

It wasn't, however, enough time to tie up my loose ends. The fantasy novel I'd been working on for 11 years remained at home, unedited and unpublished. My chronic back pain was no better by Entrance Day, and I knew the structured life of the Sisters would likely make it worse. And while my possessions would not grieve my absence, my friends and family certainly would.

“You’re supposed to get married,” my best friend insisted, when I called to tell her the news. “You’ve always talked about how you wanted to get married and have a big family. Not about being a nun.”

Her words filled me with anxiety, because she was right.

"I do want to get married," I answered. "I just want to marry God more."

I scowled, sure that this sounded ridiculous. I didn't know how to explain why I was going. And even if I could have explained, it didn't change the fact that I was going where I couldn't call, text, or visit my best friend. The first year I could still send her letters, but after that, all I could do was send Christmas cards.

“I know it won’t be the same as it is right now,” I told her, trying to sound reassuring. "It’s going to be so hard not to talk on the phone together. But being in the convent can’t keep us from being friends.

"And if you need anything, just let me know, and I will pray for it," I promised.

“Thanks, Mary," she sighed.

When we ended our conversation, I flung my cell on the bed and stomped across the room.

You can’t have it both ways, Mary. You can’t make this radical change without first leaving your old life behind.

“But she’s right,” I muttered. “Going to the convent doesn’t really make sense.”

I trusted God and His plan for me. I really did.

But still…

My unpublished book. My back pain. My family and friends, whom I was abandoning.

I walked to my bedroom window, stared forlornly into my parents' neighborhood. The sky, fuzzy with summer haze. The lawn, parched from August heat.

Lord, I know You want me at Saint Cecilia’s. I nudged my forehead against the windowpane. But how is this ever going to work out?


The Common Room


At last, the presentation ended. We all said good-bye to our parents, siblings, and friends. Then Sister Anna, the novice mistress, led us downstairs to a new area of the Motherhouse I’d never seen before.

It was a large room in the lower level. Assorted pieces of furniture were arranged in groups across the long, rectangular space. Most of the furniture had a clean, but lived-in look to it. Mismatched armchairs were placed beside rocking chairs with scuffed-up legs and lumpy seat cushions.

“This is the Common Room,” Sister Anna explained, as she ushered us to a cluster of grey couches in the room’s center. “The novitiate sisters gather here each evening for recreation and other group activities.”

We watched her in silence. One of the other postulants sniffed and rubbed her face with her sleeve.

I imagined my parents, leaving out the convent's front door, driving back to their hotel. What were they thinking about? What were they feeling?

“You’ve all been through a shock this afternoon,” Sister said, slowly and gently. “So we are going to take the next few days for you to rest, gather your strength, and learn some of the basics of our way of life here. Afterwards, you will be formally introduced to our community at the Postulant Pinning Ceremony.”

My ears perked up. The pinning ceremony sounded interesting. Another opportunity to become more of a real sister.

She rose from her chair. “Please, rest. I’ll return in just a moment.”

Once she’d left, a few of the other postulants introduced themselves to their neighbors. I turned to the young woman sitting to my left.

She was about my age, with perfect posture and a very serious expression. Her long, braided hair caught my attention first. It was a rich auburn color, flecked with red, gold, and chestnut strands. Beautiful.

I glanced at her name tag: Sister Lucia.

“Hello,” I said cheerfully. “I’m Sister Mary Joan. It’s nice to meet you.”

Ha, I'm Sister Mary Joan! Awesome!

She gave me a curt nod, then straightened her postulant vest. If possible, she sat up even straighter. “Hello."

I tilted my head.

“I’m from Michigan,” I offered, not giving up. “Where are you from?”

“I’ve been staying in Philadelphia with my friends,” she explained, glancing briefly in my direction, “but my family’s from Europe.”

Europe? That piqued my interest.

Before I could question her further, however, Sister Anna returned.

"Sisters," she said warmly, "we'll say Evening Prayer together in the Oratory. And then," she smiled, "you'll have your first meal in the novitiate."

We all rose from the couches. I followed in line after Sister Lucia and the others, climbed the stairs to the Oratory, found my page in the Liturgy of the Hours. Well, actually, my angel Sister Joanna had already bookmarked my page for me. I tripped over the antiphons and mumbled the unfamiliar hymns. My prayer was as far from perfection as possible, but my heart was happy.

I'm finally here, praying with the Sisters, I looked up at the stained glass window of Saint Cecilia and smiled. She forgot everything in this world to find Jesus, too.

You drew me here, O Lord. And I have come!

#


Thank you so much for reading! Join me next week to hear about the joys and struggles of a postulant's first month in the convent. From shower scrubbing to rosary walks, to serving in the Sister's refectory, I've got it covered...with bleach and spilled iced tea, that is!


Note about the photos: The first picture above is titled "Adoration", a watercolor illustration of a scene from my fantasy novel. I gave this painting to one of my sisters before entering the convent. The cover photo is a watercolor painting inspired by the Song of Songs.


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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