Sunday, April 15, 2018

Convent Mysteries and Memories

For Catholic girls growing up in the 50's, nuns were mysterious and oddly glamorous -- with the long flowing habits, wimples and veils that hid all traces of womanhood and set them apart as special spiritual beings.

From early childhood, some of us dreamed of joining their ranks. When we were in grade school, my friend Pat and I would play for hours, dressed in our makeshift nun's habits. (My brother borrowed mine one Halloween to wear trick or treating and got a candy bonanza and lots of hugs when he showed up at the door of the local convent. The nuns had no idea who was wearing that habit! But that's another story...)

In my early teens, in singular style of teenage rebellion against my non-believing parents, I used to attend daily Mass, pray in the back yard at sunset with my arms outstretched to the heavens and terrorize my parents by sending away for literature about entering a faraway monastery at 14, garnering enthusiastic replies like "Our next entrance date is September 8. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could join us on that day?" While other parents stressed about keeping their daughters chaste, in school and off drugs, mine strove to keep me from running away to a monastery.

Those attending Catholic high schools got the clear and frequent message that there was no higher calling than dedicating one's life to Christ. Many of us admired our nun teachers greatly and wanted to be like them. And when a schoolmate would enter the convent, it was a major event. When my classmate Sue prepared to become a Dominican sister, I went with her to buy her required orthopedic oxfords, something as exciting in its own way as trying on bridal gowns or a ballet student getting her first pair of pointe shoes.

It all seems to very long ago, lost in the mists of changing times and traditions. But for those of us who lived through the pre-Vatican II era in Catholic schools, there are lingering memories of the mysterious wonder of nuns' lives.

In her new memoir Prayer Wasn't Enough: A Convent Memoir, Dee Ready dispels some of these mysteries, exploring the motivations, the process and the challenges of becoming a nun in the late 1950's and answering some lingering questions.

Why does a young woman, fresh from college and with a lifetime of choices and possibilities ahead, decide to enter the convent?

What process transforms an idealistic young woman into a nun?

What is life like in a religious community?

And what of those who make the painful choice to leave after months or years of striving for spiritual growth and perfection? How does faith continue to grow and thrive after a young woman realizes that the religious life is not her calling after all?

Unlike some of us, entering the convent had not been Dee Ready's dream while growing up in the Midwest. The yearning for perfection evolved during her college years and a transcendent spiritual moment sparked her desire to pursue a path to love and oneness with God and the universe and led to her becoming a Benedictine nun after graduation.


It's a fascinating story of faith and hope, the transformation of youthful idealism and the loss of self taking her down a frightening path of  doubt, indecision, anguish and, eventually, mental illness. She doesn't blame the Church or her fellow Sisters. From the perspective of time, healing and emotional growth, the author pinpoints her own crippling hunger for perfection, her flawed misconception of sanctity and her emotional immaturity as primary factors in her struggles.

In many ways, this is a story with which all can identify -- youthful idealism and a search for meaning that collides with the realities of life, whatever path we might have chosen in our lives. But this excellent memoir also offers a glimpse into the mysteries of convent life -- the expectations, the rituals, the daily experiences -- of nuns in those bygone times.

Prayer Wasn't Enough is a compelling, harrowing, ultimately triumphant tale of hope and despair, pivotal, sometimes wrenching, decisions and unexpected new beginnings. It's impossible to put down -- or to forget.

Prayer Wasn't Enough: A Convent Memoir by Dee Ready is available as an e-book or as a print book at  


  1. Dear Kathy, thank you for this review of the memoir. I so enjoyed reading about your own teenage years and your thoughts on becoming a nun. I never did pretend to be one. And then when I was one, I was never sure that I was really living the life or just faking it. I appreciate your thoughts on all this; they help clarify mine! Peace.

  2. I well remember those days - I am 72 and when I was young and attending Catholic Schools, I wanted to enter a convent and serve God for the rest of my life. I visited convents and dreamed of being there. It must have been encouraged by the nuns who taught us - but certainly not my parents. I ended growing out of that stage of my adolescence, I don't remember exactly when but it probably had something to do with boys. Those were such innocent years and I really enjoyed them. Mary Ellen

  3. This is the second review of this book I have read. Universe trying to tell me something? My experience was quite different. I found nuns curious but had no desire to join their ranks in spite of a strong push from my very religious parents who thought it would be the completion of their mission on earth to send their children off to vocations. Maybe because of a strong push from my parents.

  4. Seems we both learned from this book that lets us peek into a secret life. Interesting about your early years and leaning towards the Order. I had brief moments but am not sure I wasn't influenced by our new handsome young priest. I was Episcopal--as my father called the religion, watered down Catholics. We also had nuns but the priests could marry.

  5. Very nice review of Dee’s book. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Very interesting post. I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic grade school. It never crossed my mind to become a nun at that time. I attended public high school so I was not exposed to any pressures in that direction. But at the end of my professional career, I chose to work for the Sisters of Bon Secours. They were not a habited order - health care was their mission. I was an administrative assistant for the sisters responsible for recruiting and formation of new candidates. I was fascinated about the subject of a vocation to religious life ... as a woman who was winding down to retirement myself ... and often wondered about the path not taken or even explored. I could write volumes on what I discovered. I left that job to care for my aging mother, but I often wish I could have continue with them. I never had a calling towards that life - like I did to become a mother. So I took a different path, but the idea of that life style - why people choose it - still peaks my interest. I will look up this book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. What a fascinating story, Kathy -- both yours and Dee's. I think this would definitely be a book I'd find interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks for recommending it.

  8. I enjoyed Dee's book also VERY much ---and could identify with it in many ways. I am not Catholic --but her story, her weaknesses, her choices, and how she grew into acceptance of self and others really resonated with me... To me, it's not about the wrong roads we go down in life, but in how we recover and go forward from those experiences...

    Hope you are doing well.

    I talked about her new book, on my blog post today....