SUMMIT, N.J.–It’s been a rough year for the mechanicals at
the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary. The lawn mower died, along
with the chaplain’s car, the compressor for the kitchen refrigerator and one of
the “new” washers (that is, a machine bought sometime in the mid ‘80s).
But the 19 sisters who live here are sanguine about these
and other expenses, which include more than $94,000 a year for health
insurance. “Oy,” is how Sister Mary Catharine, the gregarious 46-year-old
novice mistress, shrugged off the recent breakdowns.
On a recent summer morning, the sisters stood in their
chapel and sang the daytime prayer in high, clear voices. Dominican monasteries
are essentially engines of prayer; singing, which the nuns do seven times a
day, is a deeper, fuller way of praying, Sister Mary Catharine said, “because
we are using our whole person.”
Outside the choir door, a bulletin board was layered with a
collage of cards, printed emails and letters, flags of hope and despair, asking
the sisters for an intercession.
“We get them from all over the world every week,” said
Sister Mary Catharine. “We have regulars. If you don’t hear from someone, you
notice and worry.”
A woman fighting depression phoned most mornings and
evenings. “We tell her, ‘It’s O.K. We’re praying for you,’” Sister Mary
Catharine said (now she calls less often). “Sometimes I don’t know what to say.
Some sisters are better at this than others.”
On a table, a handful of LG Tracfones were charging, as
backup in case a sister on an errand has a breakdown (the monastery owns two
10-year-old Subaru Foresters) or an item needs to be added to her shopping
list. Of course, said Sister Mary Catharine, nuns are notorious for not turning
the ringer on.
While the number of women entering religious life has been
in a steep decline since the mid-1960s, it is notable and even startling that a
contemplative order like the Dominican Nuns of Summit–where the sisters live
in cloister and practice a life of prayer–would be able to attract young,
In the last decade, 15 aspirants have entered this tiny
order, nine of whom stayed and are on track to take their final vows or have
already done so. Two more will join the community before the end of the year.
Built in the 1920s and ‘30s on a busy street in this bedroom
community of Manhattan, the monastery was imagined as four-winged cloister
until the Depression curtailed its scope.
What surrounds the brick and stone chapel is a kind of
architectural afterthought, a ring of rooms housing the sisters’ bright, spare
cells and their kitchen, dining room, offices and choir.
Underneath, a warren of spaces includes the woodworking and
soap making shops–sales of their products help defray the sisters’ growing
expenses. In a windowless storeroom, a few donated exercise machines huddle
together (one sister’s mother works at a Y.M.C.A).
The Dominican sisters of Summit have finally outgrown their
Some context comes from a study published last fall by the
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (or CARA), charting the decrease
in the population of women’s religious orders, to less than 50,000 today, from
their peak of 181,421 sisters in 1966.
In postwar America, “a vocation to a religious life was one
of the few ways for Catholics without resources to get an education and to
exercise leadership,” said Mary Gautier, a senior research associate at CARA.
Yet even at the peak, a vocation to a contemplative order
was pretty rare. (Active or apostolic nuns, by contrast, follow a service
ministry out in the world, in teaching or health care, for example.) “Their
purpose is very special,” Dr. Gautier said.
Paradoxically, it’s the Internet and, increasingly, social
media that have helped replenish the Summit sisters and other orders, with
blogs like A Nun’s Life and elegant websites like the one Sister Mary Catharine
built for her order using Squarespace.
You can search the phrase, “How to be a nun” and find
substantive answers. An Ohio order invites you to text your queries.
One sister looked at the Summit blog for two years before
she got in touch. (Sister Mary Catharine put the blog up in 2004 without
permission from the prioress. “I knew I couldn’t explain what a blog was
without actually making a blog,” she said. Permission was quickly granted, she
added.) Communities have Twitter feeds that you can follow, and Facebook pages.
In 1991, when Sister Mary Catharine entered the Summit
monastery, she was 22 and the next youngest sister was 39. Back home in
Massachusetts, where she was still known as Sharon Perry and working as a
pharmacy technician, there was no one she knew who was even contemplating a
Raised Catholic, Sister Mary Catharine had spent two years
as a teacher in an active order in her home state; she was stunned to be called
to a cloistered community in Summit, N.J. “Of all places,” she said. “It was
the ‘80s, this non-time. Lots of big sleeves and hair.” But after a visit to
the Summit monastery, Sister Mary Catharine couldn’t shake the pull of the
Now, she is mentoring six women under the age of 30; this
summer, she welcomed four aspirants, three of them in their 20s. “You now have
a whole generation that’s been given so much,” Sister Mary Catharine said,
pondering the recent flurry of inquiries to the monastery.
“With all the technology, I think they’re just saturated,”
she said of the curious. “And they see this life as really radical and they
have a desire for it. Maybe their families are fractured and they see our life
as really stable. Of course, people come to it from all different places. One
of the friars told me his novice master decided to become a friar because
friars had their own bedrooms and he hated sharing a room with his brothers at
home. That is why he came, but it’s not why he stayed. If God is calling, you
can’t be happy doing anything else.”
It was YouTube that figured into the discernment process of
Sister Maria Teresa, who took her final vows here last year,
was a junior at Drew University majoring in religious studies and biology when
she felt the call to some sort of service. Cloistered life was not on her list
of life choices, though she was considering a religious vocation in an active
After praying for guidance one day in her dorm room, she put
on her head phones to listen her favorite song, “Only Hope,” by Mandy Moore on
YouTube (the theme to the Nicholas Sparks romantic comedy, “A Walk to Remember”).
Instead of the familiar lyrics, she heard the phrase, “Will you marry me?” and
understood, she said, that she had to give herself more radically to God.
She had been at the Summit monastery for just three weeks
when the photographer Toni Greaves visited in the winter of 2008, joining a
writer who was working on a story about how nuns were using the Internet to
market their communities.
Ms. Greaves was so moved by what she saw there that she
asked the sisters if she could stay and document their daily life. “There was
an exuberance and vibrancy to all the young women,” Ms. Greaves said. “It’s the
energy that we embody when we’re in love, and it was amazing to me.”
She spent the next seven years visiting the monastery,
sleeping in the tiny guest quarters in the basement. Her luminous images marry
the quotidian with the divine in all sorts of ways: a young novice dribbles a
basketball in full habit; a jar of Vick’s VapoRub nestles a bottle of holy
water; a group portrait of all 19 sisters, whose ages range from 25 to 90,
includes Sabina, the golden retriever, splayed flat on the floor (Sabina had
trained to be a guide dog, said Sister Mary Catharine, but she was perhaps too
friendly for that work).
“We got used to stepping over Toni on the floor as we left
chapel,” said Sister Mary Catharine, who now calls Ms. Greaves a close friend.
Her book, “Radical Love,” out this month from Chronicle
Books, is a collection of images that document Sister Maria Teresa’s journey
from her first weeks in the monastery to her solemn profession seven years
later. “To focus life on the thing you care about the most,” Ms. Greaves said, “I
equate their happiness, in part, to that.”
In the skinny passage that serves as the monastery’s front
hall, Sister Mary Cecilia stopped to share her vocation story. She is an extern
sister, which means she works outside the monastery and is the face of the
community to the outside world.
Sister Mary Cecilia drives sisters to the doctor, and picks
visitors up from the airport and grocery shops, among other things. (For a long
time, Sister Mary Catharine was the only sister here with a driver’s license. “I
thought I’d write a book,” she said. “‘I Go to the Airport: My Life as a
Cloistered Nun.’ “)
In 2007, Sister Mary Cecilia had graduated from business
school, taken her securities exam and begun a plum job. “A religious life was
not on my radar, but I was completely miserable,” she said. “I remember asking
God what to do.”
She was touring active orders when a scheduling mishap brought
her for a night to Summit. Meeting with Sister Mary Catharine in the small
parlor that is the public room here, she said, “I think I have a contemplative
vocation,” and burst into tears.
Cloistered life requires stamina. Sisters are up at 5:20,
and work hard during the day: studying, praying and performing all manner of
jobs according to temperament and talent. There are printers, publication
directors, database managers and cooks; there are four organists, a liturgy
directress, a bursar and more than a few seamstresses.
Laundry must be done, and many sisters have a garden.
Mending (and making) the habits is a constant challenge, said Sister Mary
Catharine, because their fabric sources keep drying up, and “we demand a lot
from our clothes.” (The holy grail of fabric is a poly/wool blend that doesn’t
pill, wears well and breathes.)
The sisters used to make their own shoes, too, but these
days they buy them at Zappos. “Free shipping,” said Sister Mary Catharine.
Novices go through physical changes, she said, as their
internal clocks adjust to the routine: “They are used to being up late at
night. There’s no, ‘I’m going to sleep in this weekend.’ When I entered, I
thought I would never get over the exhaustion.”
The first six weeks are pivotal, Sister Mary Catharine said:
“It’s when they get over the romance of it all. If they make it six weeks, they’ll
usually make it a year. And if they make it through a year, they’re probably
going to make solemn profession.”
The soap, candles, room sprays and cosmetics they make by
hand are part of a serious operation, though its retail presence is just a
small closet inside the front door of the church.
There are hits and misses. Chocolate soap was not a best
seller. “None of us have any professional experience in marketing so we just go
for it,” Sister Mary Catharine said. In a recent meeting to plan next spring’s
scents, the sisters nixed a patchouli flavor because it reminded them of an old
A capital campaign is underway to build the sisters a
5,500-square-foot addition with handicapped access, something the church is
Stretching off to one side of the church, the space will
more than ease their growing pains, and will finish, in effect, the job that
was started here back in the 1920s. Inside, there will be larger guest
quarters, a proper gift shop and more workrooms for the handmade products,
which in turn will free up more space in the original structure for the new
Sister Mary Cecilia, the extern, is now 31 and still in her
first vows, the formative period that follows the two-year novitiate program.
After six years here, Sister Mary Cecilia, a native of
Canada, remains mystified by certain United State rituals.
“I still don’t get the Electoral College,” she said.
“Nobody does,” said Sister Mary Catharine. (Cloistered nuns
do vote, by mail-in ballot.)
The contemplative life, Sister Mary Cecilia said, “has been
more than I could ever have imagined. God surprises you.”
What I think about all MBTI types from what I have observed so far part 1- NJs
What the title says. I had some close relations with almost every type so far I think, or had enough observation to make a post on them. Tell me if you see anything inaccurate.
INTJ: They are actually fairly sensitive when you get under their Te resting bitch face. They tend to be rather soft hearted, despite giving a reverse aura. One of my classmates is an INTJ in Ni-Fi loop with Se grip showing now and then- And even if this causes her to feel not at ease with most of the class, getting mocked, I remember her defending a girl despite acting rather asshole-ish to her before (Though, from what I have gathered, she often times tries to make a joke at those times yet her PoLR Fe is seriously horrible. She isn’t aware of it when she does something really socially inappropriate. Even my Inferior Fe facepalms, it can be that bad. I try to translate things for her though, so we tend to get along well despite tension between her and rest of the class.) Not all INTJs are as obvious though. There is also this small thing I realized while I was checking forums- Most INTJs tend to have a different view on functions and their relations than INTPs. Check any forum and if there is an INTP and an INTJ arguing, chances are they actually define and interpret whole system in on entirely different way. More often than not good willed, with their Ni often hid behind Te, they can be and tend to fairly good at sciences though I see that most tends to prefer art (from painting to playing an instrument or writing) more than cold hard sciences. It feels like they often show their Ni-Fi in such areas, perhaps? Their Se often seems to draw them towards ESFPs, or at least makes them have shadow moments under Se grip. Unlike stereotypes, they are often simply off to doing their own thing- They don’t really care about taking over the world more than their current project- Be it a story they are writing or scientific research they are doing or perhaps trying to figure out their current crush, who knows?
ENTJ: Okay, so we all know that they are dictators of the MBTI, right? Wrong. Actually, more often than not, their Inferior Fi kinda makes them “protector of underdog”. While they are striving to achieve their goals, I find that they actually rather like it when people asks for help and they can help. (Given that situation actually is challenging and the person asking wasn’t too lazy to do a ten seconds google search or something. This would just annoy them, I suppose?) It might or might not be true but I saw a few healthier ENTJs whom kept saying that as they get older, they spend more time with young people becase they learnt most they can from people at their age- Their Auxilary Ni and Dominant Te drives them to understand and use new things and technologies- Which can be done easier if you interact with people who grow up with those new things. Their tertiary Se seems to give them a love for aesthetics as well? They also can seem scary at times to other types, but as long as they are not choking down their Fi too hard, most of them are fairly nice people, despite stereotypes. They can be rather harsh on themselves. It is okay to feel and it doesn’t mean you are weak if you feel things, guys/girls/whatever you identify as. I like how you are actually quite open to new ideas as long as one can prove or give a good reasoning for it. Can be quite ruthless and machiavellian if unhealthy, but when healthier they truly can bring change to a society- or make their own dream company.
ENFJ: This might be simply me thing, but I often get a manipulative wave from them. They are one of the easiest types for me to recognize- Their Dominant Fe and Auxilary Ni softens their voice in a certain way that I can’t explain through text. They often have smiley faces and I sincerely believe that they mean well, but when combined with Ni, they can come off as a bit… fake. Their Fe-Se can sometimes seem narcisstic too, despite all the stereotypes showing them as angels from the heavens. Their love for Se often shows as much as it does with ENTJs, yet Fe seems to add a different “feeling” to their Ni-flavoured aesthetics/taste. A bit more on the morbid side, perhaps? While healthy, they can keep many groups together and be an incredibly inspiring leader, while when unhealthier they simply manipulate others to survive/get what they need. With males, I see that they get often underestimated due to softness they carry outside, but they can read people fairly well, so I would not suggest thinking little of them, really. Their Inferior Ti actually pokes its’ head at times, but perhaps due to Ni, they often tend to see “only good solution” to things than multiple ones. They actually need affirmation and trust in them so much that it can be crazy, which is likely the reason if they ever end up coming manipulative. Not exactly out of bad intention, more of security thing from what I understood? They also seem to hold rules in a high regard- the system they are in.
INFJ: While, if they desire, they could be as manipulative as ENFJs, they tend to prefer not doing that unless it is too necessary. (ENFJs may use Ni to get their Fe quota met, but INFJs have their Ni as their main process. They can use Ni-Fe for manipulation but this would be more of long term thing for a specific goal than simply be loved and other Fe goals.) They often pick an interest in reading and writing just like INTJs, they are also rather interested in politics/power structures to some point from what I see? Though, again, nature is prefered over such structures if possible. In their writing, you can see their readers shine through- A close INFJ friend of mine often addresses struggles of her readers as well as throwing in some certain inner jokes- Ni also tends to make her give answers earlier but not the question- She likes BAM! The truth revealed! A bit too much. Like INTJs, they tend to have strong guts feelings. Also rather mother bear-ish. Not just because theya re FJs and stereotypes says so- But because they can see what people feel due to Aux Fe and dominant Ni helps quite a bit for seeing things from other’s angle. Tertiary Ti makes them quite the perfectionist- though it is often hidden due to them mostly applying it to themselves. Inferior Se comes and goes in a similiar fashion to INTJs. They may be aware of really subtle details like how many steps a stairs have, or how many minutes does it take for their schoolbus to reach from X to Y and knowing the time down to the minute without checking their watch to simply wanting to burn everything they worked so far on- With INFJs it is often connections they made, with INTJs it takes more of self destructive stance due to tertiary Fi. Fairly afraid of being corrupted. Their Fe seems like a headache at times- It makes them sensitive and aware of other people’s feelings and Ni-Ti perfectionism might end up making them try hard to fit into their self image of how they think they should be/desire to be. They actually have strong moral convictions- Even if they tend to keep it to themselves, they often can’t help but spill it out if they see someone going againist it painfully hard? Overall, nice people though they can be one of the most paranoid at times due to Dominant Ni.
I think that’s all I have for NJs? Again, tell me if I got something wrong.