General Question

Jude's avatar

What would possess someone to go into the convent, become a brother or a priest?

Asked by Jude (32134points) January 6th, 2012

No smart-ass comments, please.

My Grandma (who would’ve been 97 now) went into the convent when she was 18. She only lasted a year. After she got out, she got married, became a school teacher for a short time, and ended up having 8 kids. I often wondered why she entered in the first place.

What do you think?

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33 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Some people feel the pull to serve others. (And I so had a great smartass remark)

Jude's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Not so much smartass comments, as religion bashing. Not what I’m looking for. :)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Ok, I wasn’t going to bash religion. I was going to say the inability to get laid.

KatawaGrey's avatar

For some, the call to devote oneself to one’s faith is really that strong. The idea is that without a marriage or a biological family, there will be no distractions from serving God by serving as much of humanity as possible.

Seelix's avatar

Some people are pressured by their families. According to TV and movies, which, I know, aren’t accurate, in a lot of Italian families, a couple of generations ago, at least one son was expected to become a priest.

I had a teacher in elementary school who was a nun for years, but while I was at school she was a single mom. I’m not sure what the story was there, but it confused me, too.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with pressure from family religious affiliations/programming , along with a desire to “serve” humanity in a way they have come to believe is the ultimate path of self sacrifice towards serving humanity.

I think there are plenty of people that discover that this ascetic life of discipline and sacrifice is more than they are cut out for. No shame in that.

laureth's avatar

Disclaimer: I’m a big fat atheist.

That said, I think if I had been born in the Middle Ages, I may well have joined a convent. They were a haven of peace in a war-torn world, a place of quiet introspection, of service, and a place where a woman could actually do something other than be Mrs. Husband. There’s also something to be said for being part of something bigger than oneself, of living a simple, less-complicated life, and of being safe behind convent walls.

Also, back in the day, it was a place where people could go when they were second sons, or unmarriageable daughters, who wouldn’t really inherit or have an independent source of wealth. It’s better than being a beggar, in other words.

While I’m no longer sure this is the case, I can see where it might serve the same purpose for nuns and brothers today. It gives life a purpose, a reason. Lots of people seem to crave that.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
thorninmud's avatar

I’m a priest. The “why” is hard to express, but I got ordained as a way of clarifying things. Our order doesn’t require celibacy (which would have been a deal-breaker for me, since I was already married), but there is necessarily an element of renunciation that goes with ordination.

What gets renounced is self-interest. In taking on the priesthood, I formally gave up the idea that I am living for my self, pursuing my own agenda, feathering my own nest. In actual fact, one has to have reached that conclusion way before ordination, and have lived accordingly for some time. If someone hasn’t already been living up to the ideals of the priesthood, then they’re not ready for ordination.

But there is value in making it official and public. It explicitly removes other options from the table (which is where the clarity comes in), and enlists the support of others in holding you to your commitment.

It’s a lot like marriage. That public commitment clarifies by removing other options. There’s nothing magical about it, and it’s often not easy, but there’s a lovely freedom that comes with the commitment, as counter-intuitive as that may seem.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

I worked at a hospital ( forty years ago ) and one of my supervisors ( an RN ) was a nun for fifteen years. She was in the convent and was teaching at an elementary school next to the convent, she got “burned out”.
She went back to school for nursing and received a bachelor’s degree and RN.
She came from from a real religious family, an aunt was a nun and older brother was a priest.

marinelife's avatar

Many people have a religious calling and want to spend their whole lives immersed in religion.

gailcalled's avatar

@thorninmud: Fascinating. Are you, as a priest, permitted to eat chocolate?

thorninmud's avatar

@gailcalled Yes. In fact, my robe has many wonderful hidden pockets.

zensky's avatar

Good question. Religion aside (i.e., let’s think of a convent type place) I’d attempt it in a New York minute. Why don’t I? I’d say lack of courage. That would be my definition of going in – courage and committment.

JilltheTooth's avatar

The religious that I have personally known have had a very real avocation, and found enormous satisfaction in the sacrifice. I would like to visit from time to time but I don’t think I would like to live there.

john65pennington's avatar

Sometimes, a convent is a good hiding place for wanted criminals. I know your grandmother was not a wanted person, but maybe she just had a “calling from the Lord”, to see if the convent way of life was for her. Apparently, she did not like that lifestyle and thus returned back to the general population.

In any event, she appears to have had a full enjoyable life and that is a good thing.

gailcalled's avatar

There is a wonderful couple in our community; they volunteer for and run almost all of the activities here… organizing the public events for the local historical society, rounding up volunteers for poll sitting at elections, and front and center at the little church on the village green.

He is a former priest and she is a former nun. They treat each other very sweetly and have been known to whisper in each other’s ears and giggle. Both in their early seventies.

GladysMensch's avatar

My uncle was from a small town, and had a fairly religious upbringing. He had no interest in marriage or starting a family, and wanted to serve others. At the time, he believed himself to be asexual. He took this as a sign from God, and became a priest in the early 1960’s. According to everything I’ve heard and know about him, he was a very good priest with a loyal congregation. He even baptized me.

Then then sexual revolution hit. My uncle realized that his disinterest in sex and marriage was not due to any biblical intervention, but rather an interest in men instead of women. He never acted on his desires, and kept his vow of celibacy. He was concerned, so he went to his bishop for guidance. He was promptly kicked out of the church and told he was going to hell.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@GladysMensch I gave you a GA for that, but the results in that story really sucked.

Jude's avatar

Not sure if they’ll get flagged, but, here she is after having 8 children. I am pretty sure that this is from the 80’s.

After she got out of the convent, she spent some time as a teacher. She met my grandpa “a tall Scottish rogue” at church. He enjoyed a highball or two and cursed like a sailor. She said that she was going to do her best to tame him, haha!!

I remember her saying the rosary daily. She also had a nephew who was a priest and she was quite close to him.

In her safety deposit box (that family opened after she passed away), there was a note left to the family. The last line, “I would hope that you all continue going to church. If not for yourself, then do it for your the souls of your father and I. See you all in heaven! Mom”.

(My one uncle, Vaughn is missing from that picture)

GladysMensch's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Thanks. I wanted to give an actual story of someone who went in due to sexuality outside of the societal norm. The priesthood is a perfect occupation for homosexuals who wish to remain in the closet. A priest upholds a job as a prominent and respected part of a community without the expectation of getting married.

Jeruba's avatar

My aunt joined a convent after graduating from nursing school and working for a time in hospital administration. She had been brought up in a religious (but very low-church) Protestant family, and she became an Episcopalian nun, which is still Protestant, but just barely.

My mother always said that her sister felt that her own headstrong nature ought to be curbed and so she wanted the discipline of a religious order.

It was also clear that she enjoyed the sensation she created and the deference she commanded in our predominantly blue-collar Catholic neighborhoods south of Boston. The neighbors were in awe of our household whenever Aunt M. came to stay for a couple of weeks. My mother said she loved to go shopping with her. (My aunt didn’t point out their little doctrinal differences to the good folk who made a fuss over her wherever she went in her long, sweeping gray habit.) I never thought she was especially holy.

My own sister, who resembles my aunt in many ways, also took a degree in nursing. When she conceived a yearning for structure and discipline, she joined the Air Force.

It seems as if a similar impulse were behind both of their actions.

My aunt lasted for 17 years and then left the convent and went back into hospital administration. She never married but lived for many years with her fellow refugee and best friend from the convent.

My sister married and has three children, now grown. She works in public administration.

Pandora's avatar

I imagine the reason so many people have a problem with the idea is that they think it is weird because its not something they would do. Why do some people choose a life of travel and have no desire to settle or why do some people choose to be married if they don’t need to financially be taken care of?
It is simply different strokes for different folks. Not everyone wants marriage in the conventional sense, not everyone wants or even desires sex and not everyone is all about themselves. Some people wish to live a simple life where they can help others without any distractions. I’ve known some people in my life that love helping others so much that they destroyed their marriages because they simply didn’t know how to seperate their personal life from one of service. Some enter the service and then find that its not a job for them because they have other desires as well. And some find they can easily sacrifice the idea of having a personal life because they feel more fulfilled in helping others.

JLeslie's avatar

I think there are many reasons.

Some just feel a very strong calling to serve their God and others.

Some hear their whole life how proud other members of the family are of the Uncle who became a priest, or see them practically idolizing or showing incredible respect for priests and nuns, and so they see it as a position of honour and respect. I think this happened much more in the past, the typical stereotypes for this are Irish families back in the day proud of their son who became a priest.

Another reason was, and I say this seriously, and in no way to be offensive, it was a good place for gay people to go when society was very unaccepting. There is actually some jokes told about the Irish family who is so proud of their preist son, but not realizing he is actually gay. Most of my Catholic friends and family know their priest is gay. Not that all priests are gay, but many many are.

I also think some people who have a difficult time transitioning from school to adult life might choose religion as a vocation because it is very structured and there waiting for them. Much like joining the military they are happy to have you volunteer. I still think the people who partly do it for this reason, also do really have a strong faith and connection to their religion. If they were raised attending church, it probably feels like a very comfortable place for them. But, then after they start training they might realize the committment is not for them.

Some women become nuns much later in life, and I can understand it. As a woman I can see the attraction of being surrounded by other women, helping others, feeling safe and provided for.

Jude's avatar

My Mom is no longer alive, so, I can’t ask her why my Grandma joined the convent, but, I can ask her sisters and brothers. I think that I’ll do that and get back to you all.

bkcunningham's avatar

@Jude, what a lovely photo and story. Five girls and three boys. There are four boys and four girls in my family. No nuns though. I wonder who kept that precious note?

Jude's avatar

@bkcunningham I am not sure who has the original, but, we all have a copy of the note.

She was such a wonderful woman. Always rooted for the underdog; smart ass a whip; witty; loved history; had a green thumb; was obsessed with the Kennedys; did crosswords and read, even in her late 80’s; was a feisty one!; had such wonderful stories of her childhood (she was 1 of 14 children).

She said that after 60, you can say what you want. She called it a ” privilege card”. Haha!

She was Asatian (German/French), but had a thing for Irish names. Her children: Bryan, Sharon, Lynne, Michelle, Vaughn, Maureen, Shayne and Lauren.

I was lucky in that I lived two doors down from my grandparents growing up. I have 24 cousins and loved when they would come over to my Grandparents for a visit! Lots of playtime! After my Grandpa passed away, I helped my Grandma with her yard. She used to call me her “weed boy!” :) I miss her a ton!

(move this to social. We’re getting chatty. :))

Jude's avatar

Just got an email back from Fr. Beachey (my Grandma’s nephew):

Your grandma entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in Peterborough. After some time there she knew it was not what she wanted in life. It was very hard for her to leave because, in those days, a dowry was paid to the sisters from the family of those entering. She knew that it had a been a real sacrifice for Great-grandma and great-grandpa Beachey to make for her. However, they were fine with it because they wanted her to be happy.

I knew Great Grandma Beachey as a child for she lived right next door for some time. She was great lady and loved a good argument. Aunt Ida often reminded me the most of Nora. Nora was practical as well and she would not want any of her children doing something that they did not want.

In the end, I would say your Grandma was more holy than any nun I have met. She was a good woman, a good human being. She loved her grandchildren. She showed me all the pictures and told me a bit about everyone of you. She was very proud of her family. So I guess the Lord wanted her to be a mother and not a nun.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jude It didin’t really answer for you why she orignally thought she wanted to be a nun though, did it?

wundayatta's avatar

A lot of people are “seekers” in their late teens and early twenties. They are looking for a place to belong where they can do work they find meaningful. For some, a religious order provides both belonging and meaning. It also provides fellowship and practice.

By practice, I mean both spiritual practices (prayer, yoga, meditation, etc) and work. The work might be any kind of thing including menial work like farming, but often craft work like broom making, bell making, wine making, beer making, and on and on. Other work includes teaching and healing—professions of service to others.

I think that religious organizations provide a place for a lot of people to make sense. That is, for them to make sense of their lives. They help others and they do the “right” thing. They get support in not being “selfish.”

For some, they also help make sense when your natural erotic proclivities are frowned upon by society. You love your own sex, yet society hates that love; where better to hide in open sight than in a place where society approves of a band of men or women. I have heard so many stories of gay men or lesbians who live an easier life in an order of some sort.

In addition, I used to hang out with a lot of gay men when I was just out of college. Several were roommates at one time or another (back in the day when “roommate” meant inhabiting another room). Oddly, many of these men were Catholic, and they used to tell stories about their church and the choir and the priests that made it seem like a den of iniquity.

One Jewish gay friend of mine ended up become an Episcopalian lay priest. Another gay friend of Protestant background ended up a professor. A Catholic gay roommate ended up as a poet. He was a voice major in college. Still another chorister was big into politics. All survived the AIDS scare, afaik, without ever contracting the disease.

I think that the sacred orders provide a place for people who need one.

submariner's avatar

It’s a push and a pull. The pointlessness of a life that revolves around getting, spending, and chasing tail leads some to look for something more, and religious life seems to offer that. At least, that’s how it was for me. I spent two years in discernment and finally applied for admission to a Catholic religious order. I was turned down. They were not convinced I was serious. I think in my case they may have thought there was too much push and not enough pull. They told me to go back to grad school where I belonged and finish my degree (they didn’t really, but that was the message I took from the experience). BTW, I’m not gay, so that had nothing to do with my interest in this way of life.

ryan_nishant's avatar

I think just that she didn’t had the “Call.” When someone joins a convent they are admitted as a “Novoice” and they are free to leave at this stage, after this you are called priest and Nun only after 12–15 years you have joined a Convent/Monastery and that a pretty long time for being sure.

Further, people do join religious institutes because they have a yearning for the ‘Lord’ and they have want to serve God by all means that includes through Prayer and working for the good of society like Religiously affiliated schools, universities and Hospitals as well. There are Catholic religious Congregation which have just ‘Medical Ministry’ i.e they work as Doctors, Surgeons and Nurses ( All of them are Priest, Nuns or Brothers).,,And Much of them work in third world countries where people see them in respect because of their help , love and care. Everyone has high regards for ‘Mother Teresa’

LogicHead's avatar

To show you how much your question betrays your view that what you are and think is the only way—Consider why you don’t ask What would ever possess a person to marry ____?

Because there are millions of examples where you would be completely befuddled—yet it is none of your business, is it?

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