Three Stories about Nuns


I managed a July home visit only because my mother was ill. My brother Frank arrived for me in the truck. In the back were 200 chickens in crates. They squatted in the hot wind and I was full of the scent of the farm by the time we arrived. I tried to keep my habit clean. One afternoon I accompanied Frank to the lake. He fished and I read a book. A little boy called down from the ridge, “Hello, Sister!” waving enthusiastically. We didn’t know him. My brother laughed, and I did too, though really I was proud.


Some said it was an important part of our witness to the world. Others said it was just strange to dress as 14th-century French peasants in 1964 America. Some said it made people trust us and respect us. Others said it made people self-conscious and guarded. Some said it was putting on airs, pretending to be clergy. They said we needed more solidarity with the laity. Others said the change would lead to sin. In the end, we took off our habits. For weeks, all you could hear was the hum of sewing machines. My first dress was blue.


I loved the Indians, but I never understood them. They set fire to everything. Old cars, furniture, their neighbors’ houses, their own houses. I’m not racist. I’m just saying what I saw. I taught the reservation children for 20 years. This little guy in the photo, that’s his grandmother bathing him. He was so happy, just like the picture. When he was 16, he shot his grandmother. Poverty doesn’t explain it. Nothing does. When he was seven, he used to hug himself like he couldn’t contain his joy when he came into the school and smelled Sister Luke’s bread baking.

Susan Sink is a poet and writer living on 80 acres in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. She blogs at Right now she is trying to write everything she knows about nuns, sometimes 100 words at a time.

Photo credits: Tim Massaro, Brent Cameron, Rohan Philips

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