::Literate Blather::
Monday, December 10, 2007
5 Questions About: Nuns
An Interview With Sister Julie Vieira

DaRK PaRTY can’t think about nuns without Hamlet’s famous quotation running through our twisted minds: "Get thee to a nunnery; why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” Of course, Hamlet didn’t mean an actual nunnery – where nuns reside. But we digress. Nuns hold a certain fascination for our society – especially our modern society. The cloistered lifestyle seems so antiquated – and, well, runs counter to the way the world seems to be unfolding. But even nuns have started to modernize. Take, for example, Sister Julie Vieira (see photo), a nun who admits to slight addiction to coffee, runs and bikes and – gasp! – blogs (her blog is called A Nun’s Life). This was too much even for us! So we decided we needed to speak with Sister Julie immediately so she could fill us in on what it was like to be a nun in the 21st century. She happily and politely agreed to join us for a quick interview).

DaRK PaRTY: Why did you decide to become a nun?

Sister Julie: The short answer is that I decided to become a nun because I feel most truly myself as a nun. I feel like the possibilities for my life are limitless and that I am free to go wherever God asks me to go. The real story, however, lies not so much in the decision itself but the process of coming to that decision. I never wanted to become a nun. It was a lifestyle that seemed out of touch with reality. My source of information, however, was not real live nuns but a popularized image of nuns that was neither real nor accurate. Who would ever want to become a cartoonish Nunzilla or freakishly joyful Sister Act nun? As I get to know nuns and learn about their life I realized that I was attracted to this way of life. I could see myself as a nun and already I felt that just being with them was helping me be more of myself and a better person. It was like falling in love -- some of it just defies explanation but you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is the right thing for you.

DP: What order are you and what are the differences among the many orders of nuns?

Sister Julie: I am a Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan. We are usually referred to as IHM Sisters. My nuns are related to the IHM Sisters of Scranton and Immaculata, Pennsylvania. We are also related to the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, the community from which all three IHM communities emerged. The IHMs were founded in 1845 by Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin and Father Louis Florent Gillet, a Redemptorist priest.

Every religious community is founded through a unique inspiration of the Holy Spirit to address a particular need in the world or church. Therefore no two communities are exactly alike. We might do the same ministries, wear similar habits, and pray in similar ways … but each charism (that original gift of the Holy Spirit) is unmistakably unique.

One of the main differences in religious life is between active religious communities and contemplative communities. Active religious communities (such as my IHM community) were founded to be present in the world by actively tending to people's needs and working for a world of love, compassion, justice, and peace. Nuns in these communities typically live in the midst of the world and may work in church jobs or in non-church jobs -- wherever they are called to live the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. Contemplative nuns were founded to be a prayerful presence in the world. These nuns minister to the world through prayer and living a more ascetic life. Many of these nuns may be cloistered or live in enclosure which means they are physically separated from the world. Still they are deeply connected with the world because they devote their lives to prayer for the world.

DP: What is a typical day like for you?

Sister Julie: Most days I wake up to the quiet hum of my clock radio at 5:00 a.m. I head directly to the coffee machine. Once the coffee mug is in hand, I settle in for morning prayer. I pray for all of my IHM sisters, the other two communities of IHMs, and the Oblate Sisters of Providence. I pray for my family especially my parents and siblings and their families. I pray for all those people who have asked me to keep them in my prayers. I conclude by praying for all those who do not have someone to pray for them.

After prayer I head to the computer with my trusty mug of coffee. I check my email, write on my blog, and do other computer tasks. If I have time, I might go for a run or engage in some other athletic endeavor. Then it’s off to Loyola Press, my place of ministry. Loyola Press is a nonprofit publisher serving the Catholic community in faith formation, education, and spiritual growth. We were founded by the Jesuits in 1912.

After work I head for home. Unpack, get my mail, visit with my cat Chloe, check in on my IHM Sisters, and do ordinary domestic things. In the evening I read — theological texts, spirituality books, novels, whatever peaks my interest at the moment. I occasionally turn on the TV or listen to NPR. Sometimes I do some writing. I conclude my day with the Examen. I learned this form of prayer from my Jesuit friends when I studied in Toronto. It is a prayerful way to review one's day and get a sense of God’s presence in one's life. Then it’s off to bed!

I have learned from my sisters what it really means to “pray without ceasing” as Saint Paul calls all of us to do in his first letter to the Thessalonians 5:17. We are to make the whole day a prayer — coffee rituals, caring for God’s creatures, working out at the gym, doing our job and chores around the house, sitting around daydreaming — all of these things can be opportunities to open ourselves to God, to experience his love and to radiate this love to others. This is what I strive to do every day of my life.

DP: Where does your faith come from and why are
you so sure there's a God?

Sister Julie: My faith comes from God. By myself, I tend to be something of a skeptic about intangible things. I like to research things, test them out, and systematize them. It's very hard to do that with intangible things like faith. I think that is why I studied theology to see how faith "works". While gaining valuable knowledge about God and faith, I somehow managed to embrace faith wholly and unreservedly. I encountered a God who calls me to not just know about God but to be in relationship with God. So in a way my faith comes from God. I nurture that faith by praying, being part of the Catholic community, participating in Mass, ministering to others, caring for God's creation, and reading the scriptures.

My faith was also deeply shaped by my family. I grew up in a Catholic family and loved the rituals and prayers and sacramentality of the Church. These things helped me to develop the habit of finding God in all things.

I'm know that there is a God because I've experienced God. I've seen how God has worked in the world and in my life. I know that some things could just never have come from me. As I mentioned above I'm somewhat of a skeptic and I never wanted to be a nun yet here I am, deeply committed to my faith and a Catholic nun. The crazy thing is that it's the best thing that ever happened to me.

DP: What is the most difficult part about being a nun and what is the most rewarding part?

Sister Julie: The most difficult part about being a nun is that it's a very counter-cultural way of life. It can be difficult to live a life of simplicity and of faith in a culture that is highly materialistic and competitive. That's why living as a member of a community of nuns is so helpful -- sisters support and encourage one another. I could never live as a solo nun because the life of the community is what sustains me and helps me negotiate the tougher parts of being a nun.

The most rewarding part about being a nun is, well, everything. I am so grateful to be able to serve the Church and world in this way. Being a nun is not a job or even a lifestyle. It's more like who I am, just like I am a daughter and a sibling. There's no part of me that is not a nun. I love that I can expect to find God in all of life, even in unseemly situations. I pray that I can bring a little of God's light to others no matter who they are or where they've come from.

Read our essay on God and Atheism

Read our 5 Questions interview about the art of reviewing movies

Read our 5 Questions interview about happiness

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