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Revelations column: Learning from hanging with the sisters

By By Jennifer Preyss
May 11, 2012 at 12:11 a.m.
Updated May 12, 2012 at 12:12 a.m.


Sometimes I like to hang out with nuns.

Yes, that's right, I like to hang out with nuns. What? It's not weird.

If you're not already aware, the Crossroads is home to a community of sisters who live in convents around the area, among which include the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament convent.

I met the crimson and white habit-clad sisters at Incarnate Word about two years ago, when I first moved to Texas.

I was assigned to write a story about a death penalty protest near Dallas that a few of the Incarnate sisters attended.

From that moment on, I was captivated and intrigued by convent living. I was also inspired by the women, many in their 80s and 90s, who were still passionate about serving the Lord decades after entering religious life.

Growing up, as a non-Catholic (and non-Christian, really), I had no exposure to priests and sisters off the big screen.

Before visiting Incarnate Word two years ago, I based almost everything I knew about the Catholic Religious on the Whoopi Goldberg "Sister Act" films and tales of my Catholic friends' experiences with what they described as "mean, ruler-spanking, nuns" in Catholic school.

Neither depiction was entirely accurate, I learned.

Since my first encounter with the sisters, and the occasional interactions I've had with them in the past two years, I have always been welcomed with kindness and generosity. Spending an afternoon at the convent is like visiting your favorite grandmother, with 100 of her friendly grandma girlfriends showing up and feeding you cookies.

No rulers, or meanies anywhere.

They're always smiling, and laughing, and curious about my life.

But as a reporter, I'm always curious about theirs.

In our discussions, they never fail to inspire me with their stories of travel, work and academic accomplishments.

You wouldn't really think about it, but many of the sisters have grand tales to tell. They've lived, and worked, and traveled - all for no money or personal gain.

I visited the convent twice last week to interview Sister M. Alberta Novosad about her recently released a book, "Texas Footprints: In the Sands of Time," about the history of three Incarnate Word foundations.

I hadn't spent much time with the 89-year-old author in my previous visits, but I remembered her kind face, and the soft internal giggle she offers at the end of most of her sentences.

While interviewing Sister about her book - a chronology of the foundresses of Incarnate Word Order dating back to 1600s Lyon, France - we engaged in a side conversation about religious life for women.

Sister familiarized me somewhat with the women of her generation entering religious life. She entered at 14 years old, she said, and has served God and the church ever since.

I remember what 14 was like, and there's no way I would have been mature enough to commit my life to faithful service. I'm now 30, and I'm still not sure I could do it.

For a moment during our conversation, I pondered all the milestones Sister had to give up to live the life she chose: no children, no grandchildren, no husband - a commitment to lifelong celibacy.

I imagine those were difficult to give up, and I'm sure there was a lot of prayer and questioning involved in the process.

But I realized how profoundly brave Sister must have been from an early age, and how deep-rooted her faith was in the Lord.

I knew then, I could never be that brave.

As I drove away from the interview, I thought about all the Christian women of my generation, including myself, and I questioned how brave the future generations of women would become.

Would we be bold and dedicated to service and sacrifice like the sisters of Incarnate Word? Would I? Could I?

In the face of a society that often views religion as a weakness, liability and in some cases, even weird, I knew it would be hard.

That's why I applaud the sisters of Incarnate Word. They continue to stand in gentle opposition to the views of secular society, all the while praying for unity and blessing among their dissenters.

And each moment I hang out with them, they continue to hone my understanding of what it means to be brave, and what it means to live out your faith.

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com.

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