A CHANGE OF HABIT
A Spiritual Journey From Sister Mary Kateri To Sister Mary Vodka
Perfect Bound Softcover
“A Change of Habit is moving and soul-searching …”
— Constance Holcomb, retired publishing executive
“The arduous journey of this teenage girl to womanhood is a profound story containing lessons for all of us.”
— Walter D. Serwatka, retired chairman of the board, MacMillan-McGraw-Hill
“This was a real joy to read! Heartwarming … inspiring … I didn’t want the book to end. I laughed, cried, and cheered you on!”
— Aaron Harper, spiritual counselor
A Change of Habit recounts a spiritual journey that started when a religious eddy hurls seventeen-year-old Patty into a convent in the 1960s. Her deeply embedded guilt drives her to obey the Catholic Church, please her earthly father, and say yes to her heavenly Father. But in the convent, she fails to find happiness in religious rites and rules. Her time in the convent parallels changes wrought in religious life by Vatican II, including changes of names and attire. After leaving the convent following seven years of service, she assumes she can pick up her life and move on. But once the religious habit comes off , long-practiced habits of poverty, chastity, and obedience dog her into married life. Finally facing the reality mirror, she breaks out the debilitating patterns learned in the convent.
In finding true spirituality and finally listening to the God within, she shakes the destructive habit of guilt. Her story speaks to like-minded “guilt sponges,” offering hope on their personal spiritual quests. She shares the seven secrets to guilt-free living learned on her journey. A Change of Habit is not the story of a girl breaking from the convent to live happily ever after; the story’s uniqueness hinges on how ingrained duty lodges. This story of personal reinvention and empowerment that takes place over forty years shows that it’s never to late to change one’s future.
Choosing my own clothing that day was the last decision I made for myself. I selected my blue and gray plaid skirt with matching blue cashmere-like sweater for Sunday church.
Arriving home from Mass that morning in September, I had just enough time to fold the last of my new clothing into the black suitcase. We had purchased all the items on the nun checklist--even down to the industrial black shoes that I’d picked out with seven of my girlfriends on a shopping trip. The convent had sent a list of items to bring with me the day of entry--kind of like getting ready to go to summer convent camp.
While my high school girlfriends crammed trunks with new colorful fashions for their first year of college, I packed the nun list of drab, dire, black skirts and blouses for practical use…not adornment. I left my pink lacy bras and panties in the drawer, folding instead the big white cotton granny-type underpants. Those and a few long-sleeved white blouses provided the only deviation from prescribed black. I pushed the black out of my head, assuring myself that the happiness the nuns exuded would make up for the dour lack of color…
…I had never before pierced the sacred veil of the convent. The double glass doors, while appearing airy and friendly on the outside, bore a reflective privacy coating blocking inquisitive eyes. Contrary to the familiar warmth of the chapel, the cold brick convent looked more like a factory. A wave of panic rose as I realized that this formidable building would be my new home. I longed to ask my parents if it was too late to change my mind, but I had been called by God to be a nun. I couldn’t say “no.”
As Dad pulled up to the imposing convent entrance, I knew I couldn’t reverse my decision. He retrieved my suitcase from the trunk. The three of us looked at the cement steps, hesitated, and then walked on without a word, Mom and Dad flanking me up to the double glass threshold. Setting the lone bag on the ground, Dad rang the bell. Its shrill sound reverberated down the empty convent corridors.
An unfamiliar nun opened the door. Anticipating the recognizable features of one of my high school teachers, I stepped back, jolted by the stranger.
“Come in,” the Sister offered a polite invitation. “We were expecting you. Come this way.”
We walked through the doors. On the inside, a steel panel barred the door’s middle, similar to a mental institution, to prevent anyone escaping from the inside. Bile rose in my stomach, which I squelched by looking ahead into the hall.
The nun led us down an unlit hallway into the stark receiving parlor, where she deposited us. As she departed, she announced in a voice aloof with control that the Novice Mistress would soon join us.
Mom and Dad sat on one of the two couches. I took a seat on one of the adjacent four Queen Anne chairs. We looked around in spellbound silence. Wavering on the edge of sobs, I felt safety in the silence unable to count on my voice to speak. I inventoried the room to divert my attention.
The wooden floors shone like they had been spit-shined by a Navy crew. Two small glass-paned windows filtered light through lacy curtains illuminating a well-worn oriental rug on the floor. The wall held paintings—one of annunciation of Mary and another showing her receiving the dead body of her Son after his death on the cross.
“Pretty somber,” I thought, wondering what the rest of the convent looked like. I hoped the nunnery proved a little homier than this bleak room that could pass for an alcove in a museum. My stomach churned at the contrast with our family home’s walls cluttered with photos of our childhood and relatives.
Looking at my dad’s resignation, I felt submission fall over me, too. “God picked me,” I reminded myself.
In the receiving parlor of the convent, we sat waiting for the Novice Mistress, silence weighing in the room. I wanted to say so much to my parents, but didn’t know where to start. Dad’s pained eyes across the room spoke volumes. No need for words.
Soon, the Novice Mistress floated in with a forced smile on her face. The strained situation hardly deserved the gaiety glued to her face. My stomach clenched in distrust.
As we all rose to attention, she made no move to relax us. She stood as stoic as a statue to introduce herself as Mother Monica and then embraced both of my parents’ hands. Everything about her moved like a robot in precise sharp staccato motion.
“My job is to prepare these young candidates for the taking of their vows at the end of the second year,” she announced with stern eyes. Then she added the qualifier, “Providing they meet our standards.”
The hairs on the back of my neck bristled. “I do have the five qualities that Father Damian listed to make a good nun,” I proudly shot back in my mind.
“Your job,” she instructed Mom and Dad, “is to obey the rules I set down and pray that your daughter will have the strength she will need to endure her special calling.” Both of my parents nodded in silent agreement, understanding the church, and therefore God, made the rules.
“We have very strict guidelines for these first two years,” Mother Monica continued, throwing her shoulders back in command as if lecturing children in elementary school. “This makes it easier for the candidates to make the break from their families and the world they once knew.”
“For the first month, there will be little communication with you,” she directed her comments to my parents. “Trust me. If there is a need, I will contact you.” I fought back the tears welling up and wondered whether my parents knew about the rules.
“Then, there will be weekly supervised letter correspondence,” Mother Monica continued with the rules of contact. “Patty will have no access to a phone, so writing will be your only method of communication. Following the first month, if I feel the appropriate separation has occurred, you may come to visit your daughter for one hour.”
Whoa. The list of rules blindsided me. I never imagined that the nuns would sever ties between my family and me, but none of us spoke up to object. Mom, Dad, and I absorbed the new rules of our relationship as dictated by the convent. We shook our heads in agreement, knowing that the church had the authority to do what was best for us.
Mother Monica’s list of rules concluded my “welcome” into the convent. As she reached out for Dad’s hand, she shook it with confidence, boring into his wet eyes. “Thank you for giving us your daughter,” she enunciated. Those words hung in mid air. Dad’s resounding silence pierced my heart.
After a tearful, rushed good-bye, she ushered my parents out of the parlor. With crestfallen shoulders, Dad reached for Mom’s hand, leading her to the door.
“Wait for me. I want to go, too,” I yelled in my head. But instead, I watched them walk away. Later, I learned that my distraught father could not go to work for two days; he mourned losing his first-born daughter.
Mother Monica wasted no time with chatter. She led me out of the parlor, floating as I dragged behind, my suitcase weighing more with each step. She marched me through golden-varnished doubled French doors that should have felt quaint and cozy, but in the convent setting seemed austere. They clanged and latched shut. Locking out the world and locking me in.
Raised in a strict Catholic family, Patty Kogutek attended Catholic schools as a young girl in Nebraska. After graduating from high school, she lived as a nun behind convent walls for seven years. She and her husband now split their time between Arizona and Montana.
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