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Sister, sister

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Monday, October 31, 2011

I spent the summer before my senior year of college living in a convent. In Kansas City, Mo., 1,500 miles away from home. And it was one of the best summers of my life.

No, I am not on my way to becoming a sister or entering religious life. Faith is an important part of my life, but I want to live and share my faith in different ways. The experiences I had this past summer, the stories I brought back with me and the women I met, however, will forever be a part of my life and brought a new perspective to it.

Over the summer, I participated in the Summer Service Learning Program through the Center for Social Concerns. My site was Cristo Rey Kansas City High School, where I worked all over the school, helping out in classrooms and with different administrators, but mostly in their Corporate Work Study Program office.

I won’t lie — I was a little nervous about my decision to head to Kansas City for eight weeks of my summer and my apprehension only grew when I learned I would not be living with an alumni family there, but instead in a convent with a group of sisters. Succumbing to stereotypes, I pictured myself living in a tiny room with a bunch of stern women who were always in their habits and never smiled. I was terrified.

I could not have been more wrong about my time in Kansas City.

When I arrived at Xavier House, a convent of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, I was greeted with open arms and wide smiles. I wasn’t entering a stone dungeon, but rather a converted preschool. Sure, my room was small, but I’ve lived in smaller and it was all I really needed.

Over the course of the summer, Sister V, Sister Mary Rachel, Sister Mary Geraldine, Kate and Denise treated me as a part of their family. I worked with them. I learned to cook and grill with them. I prayed with them. I painted with them. I roadtripped with them. I celebrated birthdays and jubilees with them. I laughed with them — harder sometimes than I ever have in my life.

If you had told me in May that I would have left Xavier House with such a heavy heart, I would have laughed at you. But leaving that house, knowing that I would not be able to watch “Glee” with V on Tuesdays, knit with Kate or do countless other daily activities with all the other sisters I lived and worked with was one of the saddest goodbyes I have ever experienced. Pulling away from that house for the last time on July 15 brought tears to my eyes.

I was terrified to spend my summer in Kansas City. But working at Cristo Rey was one of the most fulfilling jobs I have ever had, and I will never forget the summer I lived in a convent.

Contact Mary Claire O’Donnell at [email protected]

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.