The Nun’s Story by Kathryn C. Hulme, copyright 1956, was a Book of the Month Club selection that reached #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. My friend’s dad, who was our mailman, tucked it in our mailbox addressed to my great-grandmother. I read her books–maybe not when I was 7, but a little older. This was the book that inspired me to be a nurse--specifically a missionary nurse–in Africa. Kenya, to be exact, though Sister Luke served in the Congo. Maybe I was confused by the “K” sound. We once sponsored a Compassion child from Kenya until she moved out of the program area. So far, that’s the closest I’ve gotten to Africa. I did become a nurse and did do some mission work–though not as a nurse.
I also thought I might become a nun–which was interesting since I didn’t grow up Catholic. Well, my mom did, but my dad was Lutheran–so they were married by an Episcopalian. So goes the family story. But my great-aunt was a nun–a teacher in New York–and she wore the black habit. She came to visit once, and we picked her up at a train station. My mom said I exclaimed, “Mom! Look at all the penguins!” That was the only time I met her, but I often wrote to her, and she wrote back. She could only write at Christmas and Easter, but once she got special permission from her Mother Superior because I had written a particularly long letter inspired by Jo from the Little Women. Aunt Emma could not stay with us as she had to stay at a local convent. But Mom cooked for her. I forget what she made, but she accidentally poured rum (instead of what she was reaching for) into the dish. The rum was some my great-grandmother, Aunt Emma’s sister, was saving for a fruitcake. Mom was mortified that she might have sent Aunt Emma back to the convent with alcohol on her breath. Aunt Emma never breathed a word
The editor of The Atlantic Monthly wrote this on the front jacket cover:
“In many of us the need cries out for more privacy, for a less distracted, more dedicated life than circumstances permit. This need for inner renewal so beautifully certified by Mrs. Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea is now illuminated for us by a new witness, The Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme . . . To read The Nun’s Story is to be brought within the radiance of a noble, deeply felt experience.”
Hulme wrote the book based on the experiences of a friend who immigrated to the United States. Hulme sponsored her.
First words from The Nun’s Story – chapter 1
The short black cape hooked at the neck and dropped without flare to the middle of the forearms. it was odd to be thinking about Lourdes as she put it on, as though that recent experience had had something decisive to do with her choosing the religious life.
She bent her elbows and brought her hands together beneath the cape. It was a practice garment of sorts, to be replaced by the nun’s robe after the six months’ postulancy, after her hands would have learned to stay still and out of sight except when needed for nursing or for prayer.
Forty other young women, mainly Belgian like herself, with a few English and Irish girls, stood with Gabrielle Van der Mal in the anteroom to the cloister, putting on similar capes but taking more time about it, especially some red-knuckled girls from farms who seemed to be searching through the folds of their capes for sleeves.
Lourdes, she though, I’m not that impressionable. But quite suddenly she was riding again in the hospital train that made the annual pilgrimage, the only lay student nurse from the training school chosen by Sister William to help escort the convoy of bedridden patients from Belgium. The faith of the prostrate pilgrims that they would survive the journey, and, moreover, return from there cured, frightened her. Her pulse-readings, her diagnostic eyes, even her nostrils that knew the smell of death told her that some could not possibly live until Lourdes and she ran to Sister William crying, Fevers, blood-spitting, cancers advanced to screaming stage and not a sound out of any of them except crazy hopes; I’ve got three in the car who should be receiving last rites this very instant, Sister. And Sister William had stopped her with a look. No one will die en route, my child, they never do, she said. I’ve taught you many things, Gabrielle, but what you are soon to see is beyond my competence to describe or prepare you for. Now say a Pater for having called faith a crazy hope and go back to your duties.
Have you read The Nun’s Story?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Have you ever had any crazy hopes?