Thursday, January 17, 2013

Women from diverse backgrounds drawn to life of cloistered monastery

SummerThey come from California, Delaware, Pennsylvania and India. 

One is a nurse; another was an assistant manager at a Walgreen's. 

They have different life experiences and span several decades in age. 

However, the four newest members of the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham have one thing in common: They all feel drawn to the life of a cloistered nun. Their calling -- and response -- to this vocation highlights National Vocation Awareness Week Jan. 13-19. 

The week has been celebrated in the U.S. Catholic Church since 1976. Starting next year, the annual observance to promote vocations will be held during the first full week of November. 

The newest members of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary acknowledge they are choosing a life that is definitely different. 

Nestled in the Berkshire Hills, the Monastery of Deux Coeurs (Two Hearts), as it is also called, is a place of quiet. 

There is no cellphone service and life is guided by the ringing of the tower bell as the community of 18 sisters is called to prayer. 

Sister Joanna Armstrong, 28, is a novice who entered last February. She holds a degree in environmental science and chemistry, with a minor in theology, from De Sales University in Allentown, Pa. 

She grew up in Pittsburgh and made her first retreat in Tyringham 10 years ago. She said it took her a while to figure out where she belonged. She did a year of service at a home for homeless, pregnant women in Arizona. 

She then worked with the Little Sisters of the Poor and entered the Carmelite order until she considered returning to the sisters she had known for 10 years and who have been like a family to her.

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