Frances Adams spent a gap year after high school, working at Dixon Studio in Staunton, Virginia, in the office, the gallery, and the workshop. 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 off to college, she is packing up 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 things 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 the 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 become 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.
But you’re so young!
She won’t be in eight years.
But you’ll miss out on all the fun your friends are having in their twenties!
True. Also true: she won’t enter her thirties 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 DC. 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 US, 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 tough deadlines, as well as her share of jokes and mistakes. She greeted clients, called suppliers, learned about cash flow and project management. And everyday at noon, she went to Mass around the corner, at St. Francis of Assisi Church. This young woman 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 this week, 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 Adams is a young 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 now 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.
Annie Dixon is the project manager and gallery curator at Dixon Studio in Staunton, Virginia.
This article appeared in the August 26, 2019 issue of The Catholic Virginian.
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photo: Frances Adams poses for a 'Saintly Selfie' at the ' Made For Heaven' exhibit at Dixon Gallery, October 2018.