By Carrie Gress
After being dismissed as relics of the past, nuns and women religious have been making a social and spiritual come back over the last several decades. While Catholic media has been watching these women closely, the secular media is finally beginning to take note of these remarkable women.
The remarkable tale of starlet actress, Dolores Hart, who left a bright career as the next Grace Kelly to pursue a vocation as a cloistered nun, was recently in the news again. Mother Dolores Hart, now 80, was featured in May in Vogue Magazine.
In the article, entitled Meet the Hollywood Actress Who Cut Off Her Bombshell Hair to Become a Roman Catholic Nun, Mother Dolores explains some of the appeal of cloistered life:
These days, the actress turned Roman Catholic nun can be found in the monastery, tending to the community as well as her chickens and cows and llamas, not to mention her African gray parrot, Beau, who is currently whistling into the phone. Mother Dolores also meets her sisters seven times a day and once at night for prayer. “Stability is one of the significant factors of the rules of Saint Benedict,” she says, admitting it was also what attracted her to becoming a nun in the first place, given her difficult childhood, in which she was shuttled back and forth between Los Angeles and Illinois. “My parents divorced and married three times over,” she says, matter-of-factly.
It was not an easy transition for Hart, with rumors flying about what had really motivated her to flee her rising acting career. She also had to secretly rid herself of all of her beautiful possessions, including furs, clothing, jewelry. “It was really sad, like what purgatory may be like,” she said with a laugh.
Mother Dolores Hart recently celebrated 50 years of Vowed life at the Abbey of Regina Laudis and has written an autobiography, The Ear of the Heart, talking about her fascinating life.
San Francisco Socialite
Another dramatic vocation story was featured in the San Francisco Gate some years back. From High Society to a Higher Calling was about Ann Miller, a Bay-Area socialite, who found a late call to the Carmelite Order of nuns.
The article emphasized her dramatic transition from socialite to Carmelite:
Ann Russell Miller was a wealthy San Francisco socialite -- her father was the chairman of Southern Pacific Railroad; her husband's father founded what became Pacific Gas and Electric. She lived a crowded, gregarious life -- chaired benefits, yachted in the Mediterranean, had separate glasses to match many of her outfits, and went to Elizabeth Arden four days a week. She had 10 children and 18 grandchildren.
In addition to leaving a life of luxury, Miller also left behind a vibrant social life:
Ann Miller was never alone. She took a gang of priests, celebrities and children on every trip. She counted Loretta Young, Nancy Reagan and Phyllis Diller among her friends. There were often 40 for dinner at the Millers' nine- bedroom mansion on Divisadero between Pacific and Broadway in Pacific Heights.
Ann Miller's husband, Richard, passed away in 1984. After throwing herself a lavish going-away party, Ann joined the Carmelites in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1989, taking the name, Sister Mary Joseph. Many people, including several of her children, expected Miller to leave the order, but she hasn't budged, staying true to her decision and vows.
Sisters in L.A.
Movie stars and socialites aren't the only nun stories getting attention. The L.A. Times just featured a piece on young women in Southern California answering the Lord's call. The article, Young Women Seek a Nun's Life with a Joyful Vietnamese Order, features the vocational calls of many young women to one order, the Lovers of the Holy Cross. The order originated in Vietnam and then moved to the United States in 1975 after the Communist takeover in the Asian country.
The Lovers of the Holy Cross established their motherhouse in 1989 in Los Angeles, California, and are now attracting both women born in the U.S. and immigrants.
Cinthya Velasco, who will soon take her final vows and will be the first Mexican-American sister, said that, “When people see us sisters, they don’t see that suffering. We radiate joy.”
Now with 85 women with an average age of 30, the community is blooming, like many other orthodox orders of Religious women, such as the Nashville Dominicans, the Sisters of Life, or the Norbertine Cannonesses in Tehachapi, California.
Football Fullback to Franciscan
Last week, Fox News featured the story of a star athlete who gave up everything to become a Franciscan:
A former bone-crushing fullback in a women’s professional league is set to take her final vows in Ohio later this month to become a Franciscan nun.
Sister Rita Clare Yoches was known as Anne Yoches when she played for the Detroit Demolition of the now-defunct National Women’s Football Association 10 years ago, and before that she was a basketball point guard at Detroit Mercy.
Now, she’s just days away from continuing her religious journey, the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday.
Sister Rita Clare explains that her drawing closer to God was quite hidden and therefore a big surprise to her teammates and family members (see video below for more of her story). Despite living a life of dissipation, she began to hear God calling her, and beckoning her to something more.
What is striking about all of these stories is that none is from a diocesan paper or a Catholic site. For decades, the notion of becoming a nun has been culturally scoffed at, but the tide seems to be taking a turn for the better. Secular sites are taking notice of the real gift that women are making of themselves to religious life.
Those who know women religious know that their stories are as varied and fascinating as any of the above. It's nice that their stories are getting beyond Catholic print.