I arrived in Rhode Island for the summer program and found it just as I'd expected it -- like a much bigger version of the camps and retreats I'd enjoyed. Everyone was really nice, and the schedule was nonstop fun.
There was a little bump the first week where I didn't think to call home and my mom kept calling me. But instead of getting me, they would give me these little phone messages that said she had called. I didn't know what I was supposed to do about them so I did what I generally did about homework assignments I didn't understand or instructions I couldn't follow ... kept quiet and hoped the problem would solve itself. Luckily it eventually did, as one of the consecrated came and got me, saying my mom was going to call back and she was going to stand there until I answered it. Everyone seemed so upset with me, but I just felt sheepish. No one ever told me how I was supposed to deal with the situation.
Other than that, everything was sweetness and light. We were a group of about 60 girls or so divided into teams. Each team had maybe eight girls, two team leaders -- who were junior or senior precandidates (students) -- and a consecrated woman. We slept in the same section of the two giant dorm rooms, ate at the same tables, and played sports together. We really bonded a lot, and I loved those girls. It was like having instant friends, which, for a girl who had tried all her life to make friends and only succeeded with difficulty, was like a miracle.
Many other things seemed just perfect, too. The performance choir sang a really pretty polyphonic piece that made me cry. We went to Narragansett Beach at least once a week and would swim and get ice cream. The chapel was lovely, and the girls were all trained to sing in three-part harmony for every song -- so every single daily Mass was this huge rush of loveliness and emotion. One night we had all-night adoration in turns, and everyone got their chance to spend fifteen minutes in the chapel, lit only by candles. The only thing I didn't care for was sports -- we played a ton of basketball and Ultimate Frisbee. But I mostly just hung to one side and tried to learn the rules. (Yes, I reached 14 years old without ever learning the rules of basketball. I think I've mentioned how uncool I was?)
During the day, we followed a schedule posted on the bulletin board, from waking up to prayers to breakfast to courses like public speaking and etiquette. We were constantly doing team-building activities, and we got to do some apostolic work, too -- running a kids' carnival at a parish picnic is the one I most remember. I couldn't figure out when I was supposed to do anything not on the schedule, though. We kept being told "wash your stockings in your free time," "write letters in your free time," but I didn't know when they meant. We never had more than ten or fifteen minutes of free time at once, and that was how long it took to get from one activity to the next. (Later I found that was when I was supposed to do things. Just none of us summer program girls had developed that kind of efficiency.)
Near the end we had a silent retreat. That is -- as silent as we could manage. We still whispered to one another from time to time, but we were trying. We wanted to pray. So that was what we did. I wrote a ton in my journal (in secret code because I'm silly that way) and pretty much ignored the impassioned meditations given by the Spanish priest. It was always my way when around adults -- say yes to everything, but do my own thing whenever I had the opportunity. My whole school career, I had daydreamed and doodled away all the class time, and it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with this.
A few rumors drifted among the summer program girls that the life of the precandidates was not exactly like what we had been experiencing. There were more rules. I heard that the "PC's" were not allowed to talk in the dorms, that they weren't allowed to talk in the halls, that they often weren't allowed to talk at meals, that the underclassmen couldn't talk to the upperclassmen, that their spiritual directors read all their mail. But I staunchly defended the PC's from these rumors. "No way any of that is true," I said. "That would be crazy!" There weren't many PC's around to verify these rumors, except for the team leaders -- most of the others were either at camps around the country or working like crazy to keep the school running in everyone's absence.
At the end of the silent retreat, we went down to see the candidates -- the women who had spent the summer directly discerning consecrated life -- make their consecration. After the 8 week program, they made temporary promises; two years later they made permanent promises. I didn't know at the time that most religious congregations have discernment periods measured in years rather than weeks. In any event, it was very exciting and we all couldn't wait. I was very moved seeing these women promise away their whole lives. At the same time, though, I was a little disappointed by the lack of ceremony. I knew that many religious orders have an individual ceremony for each nun, with a wedding dress, a habit, cutting of hair, and many other rituals. For the first time, I felt a little doubt that this is what I was called to.
As all this went on, there was a moment where I imagined God asked me to be his bride. I can't tell you exactly how I knew it was God or not. I didn't have the kind of total certainty that some people say they do. It could have been God or my own head. But I decided it was God, and that to doubt this would be to hesitate to fulfill God's will! I also felt very sure that, rather than being consecrated with these people, I was going to be a real nun. A Poor Clare, because I had read about them and was very impressed. But, since Poor Clares don't take 14-year-olds, I was going to stay the precandidacy for now and develop my vocation there. After all, the consecrated had said that we would be prepared for all vocations, not just the consecrated life, so we would be prepared for whatever God called us to.
Afterward, in the parking lot, I had five minutes to talk to my spiritual director. She'd been supposed to fit me in during the retreat, but hadn't had time. "So what do you think?" she asked. "Do you think God is calling you to stay?"
"Yes," I said, "and I really really want to."
"Then I think you should stay," she answered, "and also, I don't think you should go home before the school year starts. You should change your ticket to visit at Thanksgiving or Christmas, because if you go home in between you might lose your vocation." I knew there wasn't a chance of that, but it was exactly what my parents wanted me to do anyway, so I agreed.
Those five days while everyone else went home and I stayed at the school were really weird. I got to meet a lot more "real" PC's, people more my age rather than the older team leaders. That was when I discovered -- not by being told officially, complete with explanations, but from my peers -- that every single rumor I'd heard about the PC's was true. Later I heard the explanations, but I still felt a little miffed that no one had told us. I was walking down the stairs once and cheerily greeted one of my favorite consecrated, only to be told, "If you don't need something, be quiet." It was kind of a shock. Not to mention that all the "discernment" everyone had done had been without much knowledge of what our life would be like.
Still, I had no regrets, because I wanted things to be harder. That would make me holier faster. I was so excited for the year to begin so I could get going on it all.
Continue the story here.
Continue the story here.