Annie Dixon, Special to The Catholic Herald
Frances Adams spent a gap year after high school working in the office, gallery and workshop at Dixon Studio in Staunton. She did research, placed orders, stuffed envelopes, hung a show, priced antiques and even tried her hand at cutting and glazing stained-glass windows.
Home schooled, well read and an accomplished musician, she is diligent, reliable and poised — basically, all things bright and beautiful. But now, instead of heading to college, she is packing and heading to Nashville to be with the one she loves.
Is she just another silly young thing throwing it all away to follow an aspiring country singer? No, she is one of a growing number of serious young women entering the Dominican convent to devote their lives to Jesus.
“What a waste!” exclaimed a fellow musician when I told him. “You mean only nuns will hear her play the harp so beautifully?!”
No, she won’t be cloistered, I explained, and noted that she will receive a college education and will likely become a teacher and have contact with the secular world.
When I relayed that conversation to Frances, she was indignant: “And so what if I were going to be cloistered? Nuns deserve beautiful music too!”
Touché. Let’s add “feisty” to her list of attributes and “debate skills” to her résumé.
So, why would an intelligent and capable young woman tear up her résumé and opt out of all the world has to offer? Ask her. Everyone else has: friends, coworkers and even her eye doctor have questioned her to a degree that would be considered impolite had she announced an intention to make a more common lifelong commitment — like get a piercing or becoming a single mother.
Indeed, declaring her intention to become a nun has prompted a rather impertinent slew of comments and questions, the discussions around which have been enlightening, not just about her choices and expectations, but ours as well.
What if you change your mind? The discernment process takes eight years, longer than most people spend on engagements, higher education or career training. Some postulants and novices will change their minds along the way.
You’re so young! She won’t be in eight years.
You’ll miss out on all the fun your friends are having in their 20s! True. Also true: she won’t enter her 30s with a regrettable tattoo, self-inflicted health issues, a meaningless job, a broken heart or student debt.
Don’t you want to see the world? She spent four years in Africa, has traveled to Rome, New York and Washington. Now she is off to Nashville, from whence she may be sent to any one of a number of missions of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands or Australia.
Women can be anything these days; why would you want to be a nun? A nun is something. It is something rather feminist, actually, living in a community without men.
Don’t you want children? That’s not a very feminist question, is it? Besides, nieces, nephews and students tend to be children.
Why would you limit yourself? Every choice limits other opportunities and gives you time and focus to expand your knowledge and love of your chosen option.
Many of the questions and challenges imply that she has been sheltered or lacks the courage to venture into the world. In her time with Dixon Studio, she worked alongside men and women to make beautiful products and meet tough deadlines, as well as share jokes and make mistakes.
She greeted clients, called suppliers, learned about cash flow and project management. And every day at noon, she went to Mass around the corner at St. Francis of Assisi Church.
Frances enjoyed many aspects of her job and never shied away from the dull tasks or difficult assignments, but now she is choosing to increase the most joyful and meaningful part of her day, making it the focus of her life in a way that requires total commitment.
She is moving away from family, friends and all that is familiar to confront the meaning of life and devote herself to the salvation of souls. That takes courage.
She is packing her trousseau, consisting of plain white undergarments, black socks and sensible shoes.
“I can’t wait!” she beams, with the enthusiasm of any bride-to-be.
Frances is a woman in love, moving very deliberately toward the object of her affection who wants only the best for her. If it doesn’t work out exactly as she hopes, she and Jesus can still be friends. If it does, she truly will live happily ever after.
Meanwhile, she has given our staff a happy glimpse at the future of the Church — and a reminder that we all establish priorities, whether by choice or default, and that we all can choose to view commitment as opportunity in our own lives and vocations.
Dixon is the project manager and gallery curator at Dixon Studio in Staunton. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.