1200 Days of Sister John Martin
Copyright 2019 by Kathryn Lynch
(back row on left - Sister John
Martin, aka Kathryn Lynch)
of us experimented with lifestyle alternatives when we were young. In
later life some freely discuss those experiences. Others bury the
memories deep into their core personalities, benefiting from lessons
learned, but never discussing them with others. This is the first
and only time I have shared the story of my entrance into and exit
from religious life sixty years ago.
Mom's family were all practicing Roman Catholics. Catholic families
considered the dedication of a son or daughter to the religious life
of the Church as the ultimate sacrifice as well as a success which
entitled them to a respect unattainable by others. It was almost an
admission ticket to Heaven.
of Catholic families attended Catholic schools which provided
education from kindergarten level to the advanced degrees issued by
Jesuit universities. From these large numbers of students came those
who would eventually become priests, brothers, nuns, and sisters. Entry
into the religious life was called a “vocation”, or literally a
calling. No one did any calling of course. A
vocation was an internal calling.
was not considered a religious child. As my years in high school
passed by, my interest in learning resulted in critical internal
assessments of the teachers. I pictured myself doing the job better
than they were doing. So was born my desire to be a top teacher. The
Sisters of the Holy Names were a teaching order. It followed
then, (in my mind at least), that I had a “vocation”.
it was, that a month after I graduated from high school, I entered
the convent. For six months a new entree became a “postulant”. I wore a
long black serge dress, with head hair pinned back away
from the face. Postulants had a short black veil which was worn in
the chapel, in the refectory (dining room), or any time postulants
mixed with other members of the community. A postulant was silent
unless spoken to by a superior who would allow her to speak. At
night, all sisters entered the Grand Silence when no one spoke at
were spent studying, praying, and sewing the habit which would be
worn at the next step. These habits were completely hand sewn, made
up of several yards of black serge, and were much heavier than
clothing worn by other persons.
a series of discussions with Superiors and the required six months
having passed, postulants were allowed to enter the next step called
the “novitiate”. Novices wore the habits they had sewn
topped by white veils. They were now shut down from the outside
world. studying church and community history, and other spiritual
books, attending lectures by spiritual, learned priests, learning the
art and skill of meditation from their superiors. Talking was
limited to one hour of “recreation” after the evening
months later, a novice was admitted to full membership into the
community wearing a black veil and the crucifix hanging around, the
neck. The magnificent ceremony was overseen by the local Archbishop
who gave each novice her new name to which she replied “Deo
Gratias” (Thanks be to God). The new Sister took three vows of
poverty, chastity, and obedience. I found poverty to be the easiest
since I had no interest in the accumulation of money or other
material things. Chastity was also easy then because I had no
interest in men. Obedience could present difficulties. The best
solution was to keep my mouth shut.
the normal routine resumed, I expected to join my Sister-peers who
were students at the college next door, training to be teachers.
Instead, two days after the ceremony I was driven to the railroad
station for a trip 300 miles to the north. The following morning, I
walked into a fourth grade class in a
school. I was a full time teacher. My class had 56 children—40
boys and 16 girls. I had 8 college credits and I was 19 years old.
done what I had earlier imagined I could do—out teaching the
teachers. After three years in the community, I remained on the
faculty of a school at all times, even for Summer School. It was
becoming clear that my own personal education was of very little
concern. I imagined myself in 50 years much as I was then. I knew
that I did not have 50 years of the same left in me. Accordingly, I
petitioned the Holy See in Rome for a dispensation from vows. Six
weeks later I made another trip to the railroad station. This time I
was headed home.
in 1962, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in
Rome. When he died, Pope Paul VI completed the study which involved
discussions with the Bishops attending and the laity making
presentations.. The purpose of the Council was to modernize the
Roman Catholic Church by issuing a number of Directives when it
closed in 1965. One of those Directives concerned Catholic Sisters.
were exhorted to leave their convent groups and go forth to do work
in the community. It specifically addressed the use of comfortable
but modest clothing. The majority of Sisters viewed this as a call
to abandon their habits and to spend considerable time in the
parishes. The Sisters were no longer in the convent to follow the
internal rules. Many moved to apartments or rectory outbuildings.
Convents emptied out and were sold off.
addition, hundreds of women abandoned the religious life forever to
live as lay persons.
some valuable lessons with me when Sister John Martin left religious
life. One is the ability to study. Another is the benefit which
comes from listening to others outline a problems as problems cannot
be fixed until they are defined. Lastly, I learned the ability to
concentrate, that is to shut out other considerations that are not
necessary or useful to reach a goal.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher