Thursday, December 29, 2011

In defence of Catholic nuns

Disclaimer: I am catholic. I like nuns. My views on this post are therefore heavily biased in their favour.

I would go out on a limb and declare that at some point in the life of many catholic women, the thought of becoming a nun crosses their mind. I might even go further and say most.

I would know. I would be one of the most.

Risk factors of the above affliction include:
1. Being raised catholic (obviously).
2. Going to catholic school, especially convent school.
3. Being traditionally-minded.

The first two are obvious. The third might surprise some people.
For afterall, to be traditionally-minded is to aim for husband and family, not the nunnery, surely!

It has to be said: those who know, know that being a nun is remarkably similar to being a wife and mother. The two paths are in fact on the same trajectory, the only differences being in the practical details.

Come again?

Let me explain.

My former headmistress from my old convent school died this month. I remember her fondly. She was a tall and stout woman. She must have already been well into her fifties when she was headmistress at my school. She almost appeared masculine in her appearance, as I recall. She was of an order which was not required to wear a veil or habit, so her visible short, greying hair added to her androgenous appearance. She even had one of those masculine first names, like Sr Ambrose (not her real name).
However, she was surprisingly soft-spoken for such an imposing figure.
But when she barked at you, you knew it. It was not a pretty sight to behold. Thankfully, her barks were rare.

She could also be one of the gentlest people I have ever known. She knew just what to say to you if you had a problem. She knew exactly how to get a girl to maximise her talents whatever those talents were. Some of the best mantras and phrases of motivation I have hung onto in life came from her. She was deeply spiritual and you could feel her desire to bring out the very best out of every girl that passed through her school. It went beyond a teaching vocation. I felt 'mothered' by her and all the other nuns at my school. I always wondered how women who had never been physical mothers could excel at 'mothering' so well.

They say the one who has to learn a trick is the one who beats the 'natural'. No-one 'trains' to become a wife, at least not in the modern era. Finishing schools, home economics classes, relationship courses and good mothers/grandmothers/aunts/sisters set women well onto a nice path to success in the marriage jungle, but it is not a strict entry criterion.

A lawyer friend of mine went deeper into religious life than I ever dared. Law school is a breeze compared to 'nun school', I hear.

But then again, to become a bride of Christ should entail being taken to task. It is, afterall, not an easy life.

People who mock nuns have either had a personal bad experience with a particular nun or group of nuns (I agree there are bad nuns just as much as there are bad people everywhere) or have a gripe against the catholic church in general, of which nuns are a ubiquitous and visible reminder.

Most people (women in particular) who have been taught by nuns would agree that it was a positive experience for them overall. Even if individual bad experiences can be recalled.

A friend of mine whose kindergarten teacher was a nun has been unable to sever the bond over forty years later, and seemingly can never venture too far from the old lady who remains the only contender for the title 'mother-substitute'.

An old man I know who was not even catholic, being fully aware of the reputation of nuns for being overly strict and possibly even slightly sadistic insisted on all his daughters being sent to catholic schools, just so they could be raised by nuns.

For there is no better teacher for a girl on how to be a good wife and mother, than a nun, this man had told himself. He was no fool.

Mother Teresa was known to many simply as 'mother'.

A traditionally-minded catholic girl who wants to be a wife and mother and who has been in contact with nuns will know that, amongst others, nuns are a wonderful role-model for the task ahead.

Who better to emulate than a bride of Christ, afterall.

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