cover image The Calling: A Year in the Life of an Order of Nuns

The Calling: A Year in the Life of an Order of Nuns

Catherine Whitney. Crown Publishers, $23 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70854-5

Whitney grew up steeped in strict Roman Catholicism and was fascinated by the nuns who educated her. Estranged from the Church and a self-professed ""radical feminist non-believer,"" she returns to the sisters of Saint Dominic of the Holy Cross to write an expos of the ""piety and pretense"" of religious life. She traces the lives of several nuns from childhood to their entrance into the novitiate and, in some cases, their decisions to leave the order. She describes Sister Claire, who emulates Jesus' suffering on the cross by wearing a girdle of thorns under her clothes; Sister Carmen, who escaped abusive drunken parents to join a loving convent school; and Sister Elizabeth, torn between her vows to the Church and her love for a man whom she finally decides to marry. These women, her teachers at Holy Angels Academy during the 1960s, had inspired the adolescent Whitney to become a nun. But, when Mother Dominic told her to wait, go to university and make sure she was hearing God's call, the young girl was stunned, and thus she began a journey away from the Church toward disbelief and cynicism. To a great extent, this memoir is Whitney's attempt to unravel her feelings about Roman Catholicism, faith and the nuns who encouraged and challenged her creative spirit. As she rediscovers the nuns of her youth, she finds a group of women who, like her, struggle to live in community, to love one another and, committed to a single purpose, do the work they feel called to do. (Apr.)