See that picture on the top of this page? That’s where I’m going today. On retreat. On the ocean. For the whole weekend, with the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.
I described the house where I was saying to my sister Liz. “It’s right on the ocean – on a bluff. There’s stairs down to the beach. Actually, it used to be an old inn and the brochure aid ‘seven steps to the sea.'” I had been to this house many times in the last ten years, but this was my first time I was here for an entire week in the summer. I was volunteering as the sous-chef. My taste-testers? The vacationing Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.
Liz still had the image of Sisters from our childhood days in Catholic School: their heads covered in habits, living in a convent the inside of which we never got to see but could only speculate about. We’d wonder if they had long hair or short hair under their habits or if they had to make their own beds. And it was alarming to us when one day, in the school parking lot, we saw Sr. Marie driving a brown station wagon. “They drive?” we asked Mom. “Well, how else do you think they get anywhere?” she responded. Honestly, I’d never thought about it. Nor had Liz ever thought about Sisters vacationing in an oceanfront house.
Liz: Do they go swimming?
Liz: Do they wear bathing suits?
Me: Yes (thinking “What else would they wear?”)
Liz (whispering – even though we’re on the phone): Do they wear bikinis?
Me: Liz – most people their age don’t wear bikinis.
Liz: Oh. How old are they?
Me: Sixties, seventies. I don’t usually ask.
Liz: Well what kind of bathing suits do they wear? Twenties-style ones where they’re all covered up?
Me (laughing): No – regular bathing suits. Most of them where those ones with the skirts attached on the bottom.
I think this was before the point where Sr. Anne showed me how to use a boogie board and ride in on the waves….
So here I am to banish myth number two: that Sisters don’t enjoy a swim in the ocean once in a while – in a bathing suit. Just like you and me. Who knew?
It was two years ago that I did my first stint as sous-chef at Villa Marguerita – the vacation home on the Rhode Island coast belonging to the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. They work hard in their various ministries – at schools, hospitals, and other non-profits – and then come here for some R&R.
Many people have a view of “women religious” as stern women in habits. That was my image from Catholic elementary school, and when I talk to others about my week here cooking for these sisters I find that a lot of people still have that image. Most people have never thought of Sisters not dressed in habits, let alone sunning on a beach.
When I was here two years ago, I had a funny conversation with my sister Liz that brings home this point. Liz has no bones about speaking her mind nor about verbalizing the questions others only think of but are too scared to ask. The conversation went like this:
Liz (in a whisper – even though we’re on the phone): Do they drink?
Me (with a slight giggle): Yes.
Liz: Do they get drunk?
Liz: Well, how much do they drink?
Me (matter-of-factly): A beer or two with dinner.
Liz (incredulously): They drink beer?!
Me (laughing): Some of them. Some have wine, or a mixed drink.
Liz: Like what kinds of alcohol do they have?
I named off some of things that had graced the drinks cart at dinner. And with that, banished the myth that Sisters are stern, mean women who never relax with a drink:)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying some of the first supplies for my Camino trip. I still have not picked dates or solidified anything, but have had a few signs that my timing is perfect.
In yesterday’s mail I received the quarterly newsletter from the Congregation of Notre Dame. My first experience with the CND’s was when I did a Spring Break Service Trip in 1996 in Vicksburg, MS. A week working at the Good Shepherd Community Center with Sr. Cathy Molloy made me a lifelong supporter of these women and the work they do. Sr. Cathy now lives in Cameroon and does amazing work on things like the OK Clean Water Project. But prior to her leaving, she introduced me to other CND’s who have enriched my life. I now participate in a yearly retreat run by the CND’s each June in Quononchataug, RI and had the pleasure two summers ago of being a volunteer cook at their retreat house for ten days.
Each season, I look forward to the CND newsletter. I met many CND’s while cooking at the retreat house and have been invited to Golden Jubiliees where I met more of these incredible women. So now when I open up the newsletter, I can see what inspiring things they are now doing. Well, in this Spring’s edition there was a story about the Camino! It turns out Sr. Ona walked the Camino last year. And the best part? She wrote a blog about it! I spent this evening reading every post, and then sent the link on to my mother who, upon reading my blog, wondered recently what other kinds of blogs are out there.
Then, today, I was driving home listening to my Sirius satellite radio. I’m no hard-core Catholic, but there’s a show on the Catholic Channel called Busted Halo that I’ve heard is quite good. However, I’m rarely in the car when it’s on the air (7pm). But tonight, I caught the introduction. And guess what? One of their guests this evening was someone just back from walking the Camino! And not only did this guest write about it, but the group he was with even has some videos on their web site. I have yet to watch these because as I write this post it is nearing my self-set “turn off the computer” time (10pm). But I will watch in the coming days I’m sure:)
I get lots of “signs” about things. Call them whatever you want. Some say coincidence. But I’d rather like to think the universe lets me know when I’m on the right path. It’s so much easier than feeling like I’m on my own:)