by Julia Buckley
From the time I entered first grade to the day I graduated from high school, I benefitted from the teaching of Dominican Sisters. I suppose it's no surprise, then, that the second book in my Madeline Mann series, LOVELY, DARK and DEEP, is heavily populated with nuns.
The premise of the book: Madeline is approached by her former high school English teacher, Sister Moira McShane, about the death of a nun named Sister Joanna. Moira fears that Joanna's death--ten years in the past and deemed an accident--was foul play, but her only evidences of this are her own troubling dreams. Madeline, skeptical in her faith and about this case, takes it on merely as a favor to her beloved teacher. In the ensuing investigation, she finds out that even nuns have secrets, and it becomes her task to expose those secrets . . . and a murderer.
So why did I write about nuns? I suppose they are very much a part of my consciousness, and certainly they shaped who I am today. But as Madeline points out in the book, women religious are often misunderstood, and what people don't understand, they turn into stereotypes or caricatures. Yet the nuns Madeline encounters are women of faith and humor; they are regular human beings who are willing to live their beliefs in a structured way.
And their numbers are dwindling. Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders, IHM, wrote that "It is true that the numbers of U.S. women religious declined precipitously, by tens of thousands, from the highpoint (at least 120,000) in the mid-sixties to something around 60,000 today. This was due principally to two factors, not identical, namely, the sharp drop-off in numbers entering religious life and a major exodus of professed religious from the life. These phenomena were largely simultaneous which leads many people to fail to distinguish between them."
I went to a parish school in the 1970s, so I was still enjoying the benefits of a large and diverse population of nuns who had many talents to share. What did they give me?
First, a fine education. The women who taught me were professionals who possessed vast knowledge about their fields.
Second, a belief in excellence. These women did not settle for second best, and that has influenced the way I see the world.
Third, an open attitude toward faith. The nuns who taught me theology weren't horrified by students who questioned Catholic doctrine or vocalized their doubts. They wanted their students to think for themselves.
Fourth, a full investment of themselves in the classroom. These were energetic, joyful, intelligent women who wanted to share their knowledge of Latin, English, math, science, theology, chorus. They were women who believed in the pillars of Dominican life, especially prayer, study and community.
So it's not surprising, I suppose, that Dominican sisters would find their way into my writing.
And if Madeline's encounter with the sisters is something that interests you, you can find LOVELY, DARK and DEEP on Nook and Kindle. ;)