‘Habits are the new radical’

First it was the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, on Oprah; now, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville are taking over NPR.

Or, at least, “All Things Considered”: A segment on last night’s program profiled the Dominican sisters who, like their counterparts in Ann Arbor, are theologically orthodox, live in community, wear the traditional habit…and are absolutely bursting at the seams with young applicants:

Twenty-seven joined this year and 90 entered over the past five years.

The average of new entrants here is 23. And overall, the average age of the Nashville Dominicans is 36 — four decades younger than the average nun nationwide.

What is it that draws so many young women to this life?

Sister Anna Joseph Van Acker says she’s weary of shallow relationships rooted in texting and Twitter — and finds the depth she’s looking for in God. “He has the love you don’t find by someone leaving a message on your Facebook wall,” she says. “It’s way better than someone saying, ‘I’m eating pizza for dinner right now,’ or whatever your Facebook status says right now. You don’t get fulfilled by that. Ultimately, all you want is more. And here, we’re thirsting for more, but we’re constantly receiving more as well.”

Van Acker, who’s 23, says her generation is hungry for absolute truth and tradition — ideals they found in the messages of Pope John Paul II.

“Our generation is thirsting for orthodoxy,” she says. “And I know it because I’ve seen it in university settings. I’ve seen how young people … love JP2 not only because he was a nice-looking old man and he gave great hugs or something — but because what he spoke and wrote was the truth and it spoke to their hearts.”

The vibrancy of the Nashville sisters isn’t lost on the students they teach, either:

“You hear stories from your parents about getting spanked with rulers and stuff, and that’s not trueat all,” says Breanne Lampert, one of Clark’s sophomores. “But seeing the sisters here compared to other schools — they’re so much younger. I don’t know, they understand you really well.”

“The young sisters are really inspiring,” says Brady Diaz-Barriga, “because you’re like, ‘Oh, I could never do that. I just love Facebook and my cell phone and my computer too much to give that up!’ But you see how much joy your life can be with less and not having all of that.”

Isabelle Aparicio says the young sisters’ lives have a surprising appeal. “Seeing these young women make these really hard decisions and then seeing so many of them make it, it’s kind of inspiring,” she says. “And it’s actually made me think about it, possibly.”

I won’t excerpt the whole thing — there’s just too much; you really should read it (or listen to the original segment) yourself. I have a soft spot for the Nashville Dominicans; a few friends of mine have entered there over the years, and the article’s description of their vibrancy and sheer joy is no exaggeration. I highly recommend a visit to their mother house, if you’re ever in the Nashville area, to see and experience it for yourself.

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Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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