It’s not something you’d expect to see taking up the entire page above the fold of the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times: a group of four cloistered Catholic nuns, running and smiling in their backyard while playing with their dog.
The headline is simple – The Nun’s Life – the photos and story, beautiful.
And this is the paper’s second story about this order of sisters this week, following the piece in their Lens blog with this killer quote:
“We think of monasteries as these quiet places, and they are quiet, but I was surprised by the happiness, joy and love I saw there,” Ms. Greaves (the photographer) said. “We tend to think of these young nuns as having given something up, but what I saw was the opposite. It’s like being around a bunch of young women who were in love.”
Many Catholics who’ve had the experience of having good sisters and nuns in their lives – whether as teachers or family members or part of their parish – often gush about how beautiful and joyful their presence and witness can be. We also love when a good photo captures the joy of sisters and nuns. Here are just a few of our favorites:
A photo posted by Catholic News Agency (@catholicnewsagency) on
But how did the New York Times fall in love with Catholic nuns?
It started in 2008, when a New York times reporter visited the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey on assignment.
The story? How nuns were using the internet to advertise their communities to young people. The reporter was joined by photographer Toni Greaves, who found the lives of the nuns so inspiring and intriguing that she asked if she could come back and document their daily lives.
The sisters agreed, and Greaves spent the next seven years glimpsing a life that even most Catholics only ever wonder about – the life of a cloistered nun. Throughout her visits, during which she’d stay in the cloister’s guest rooms in the basement, she documented Sister Maria Teresa’s journey from postulant to solemn profession. The beautiful, intimate photos are compiled in her new book, “Radical Love” (that title, am I right?!), which will be available through Chronicle Books at the end of September.
What’s striking about the two written pieces – the blog by David Gonzalez, the Sunday Styles feature by Penelope Green, both of whom quote Greaves, is that they really seem to get religious life – they get that it’s about love, that it’s a radical but joyful life, a life chosen in full freedom by women from all walks of life.
“There was an exuberance and vibrancy to all the young women,” Greaves said in the Sunday piece. “It’s the energy that we embody when we’re in love, and it was amazing to me.”
Although there’s been a significant decrease in vocations to the religious life from its heyday in the 1960s, when more than 150,000 women were living as religious sisters, some communities – including the cloister at Summit – are experiencing a recent upsurge of inquiries and vocations to their communities.
Sister Mary Catherine, who works with the aspirants and novices of the community, explained to Green why that might be:
“With all the technology, I think they’re just saturated,” she said. “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.”
To find these photos and more of Toni Greaves’ work, visit her website at: http://tonigreaves.com/
To pre-order her book, visit: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/radical-love.html
A slideshow of photos with audio from interviews with the Dominican sisters can be found at: http://content.time.com/time/audioslide/0,32187,1873724,00.html