The astonishing discovery of Sister Wilhelmina’s incorrupt body at the Monastery of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Missouri ought to raise interest in—or at least questions regarding—religious life, particularly in the life of nuns and sisters. What in the world could inspire women to cast aside all natural goods, such as marriage, children, or for some, even the hugs of their parents, for the rest of their lives?
Of course, the answer follows that nothing in this world could inspire such sacrifice, but only the call of deepest love from Him for Whom all souls thirst. That is all. As Jesus said to Martha, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”
If you would delve into this mystery, here is a selection of books that will shed light upon the manner of life in different religious orders, and the other-worldly joy experienced by women called to be spouses to the King of Kings.
True stories about sisters or nuns:
The Deliverance of Sister Cecilia (New American Library/Signet, 1957) as told to William Brinkley. Sister Cecilia grew up in a poor farming town in Slovakia, surrounded by a culture of Christianity, then witnessed Communism tear her country apart. You will laugh out loud at the antics of this wild child, and the hilarity which ensues when she throws herself whole heartedly into the call to religious life as a sister in the teaching order, Daughters of the Most Holy Savior. She pranks her fellow religious, she loves the Lord, and she ends up working in the underground to help others escape Communism, until she herself must seek escape. If any book combines comedy, inspiration, tragedy, and thrills, this is it.
The Ear of the Heart (Ignatius Press, 2018) by Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., and Richard DeNeut. Dolores Hart had all that the world could offer: beauty, talent, rising stardom in Hollywood, and a wonderful man who wanted to marry her. She left it all to enter a cloistered Benedictine Monastery, of which she eventually became abbess. She herself unravels the mystery of her call to greater happiness, and her departure from the world.
A Right to be Merry (Ignatius Press, orig. 1956) by Mother Mary Frances. Walk through the liturgical year with the cloistered Poor Clares this time. This book will delight and nourish your soul, as well as illuminate the mind. Poor Clares eat no meat, wear no shoes, nor see loved ones face to face. At final profession the nun comes out from behind the grille to give hugs to each family member, only to retire from the world again completely. She may come out once more at her 25th anniversary and give hugs again—to whomever of her family still lives. Beautiful, happy, talented, and mentally stable young women choose to do this. Read A Right to be Merry, and you will begin to understand why. And you will love it.
A Memory for Wonders: A True Story (Ignatius Press, 1993) by Mother Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard. Mother Veronica shares the wild, the weird, and the wonder of her adventurous life leading up to finding love at last in the heart of Jesus. Raised by intellectual parents who considered themselves too intelligent for Christianity, Mother Veronica’s grandparents were actually forbidden to speak to her of their Catholic Faith, even when she asked questions such as, “Who is that man on the cross?” Yet God worked literal wonders for his future spouse to reach her even as she drifted through arid wastelands of worldliness. In fact, she was a card-holding-member of the Communist party when she abandoned all the allures of secular life for the Poor Clares’ enclosure. Fun fact: Mother Veronica and Mother Mary Frances, authoress of the previous title, eventually knew one another!
Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (First published 1898). Everyone should read St. Therese’s autobiography for the good of their spiritual life as well as for the glimpse into cloistered Carmelite life. This is a great one to read in adoration, with Jesus.
Novels about nuns:
In This House of Brede (Viking, 1969) by Rumer Godden. Godden weaves a masterful tale following Philippa, an older-vocation to the cloistered Benedictines. Philippa has already experienced marriage, loss, and professional success. Yet the drama that unfolds within the monastery enclosure will keep you turning pages well beyond the time you should have gone to bed! Godden researched intensely in order to present an accurate depiction of Benedictine monastic life.
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy (MacMillan, 1979), also by Rumer Godden. Another very well researched novel based upon the Dominican Sisters of Bethany, which were founded in 1866 with the motto “The greatest saints have a past, and the greatest sinners have a future.” Their mission was to minister to and accept imprisoned women-often former prostitutes. This time, Godden crafts the story of Lise, her fall into prostitution, then worse entanglements, until her redemption through the aid of the Sisters of Bethany. If you think of religious life as one big bore, this book will squash such misconception.
The Song at the Scaffold: A Novel (Ignatius Press, 2011; orig. 1931) by Gertrud Von Le Fort. Described by novelist Michael O’Brien as “One of the great Christian classics of all time,” this harrowing but inspiring story is set during the French Revolution and based on the true story of the sixteen Carmelite nuns of Compiègne, who died for the Faith in the summer of 1794, executed by the guillotine.
Find these books, read them, and ask Sister Wilhelmina to pray for you, for me, and pray with her for more vocations!
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