A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to visit Santa Catalina School on the Monterey Peninsula. I was supposed to be learning about educating the whole child, about the advantages of single sex education in adolescence, about empowering young women, about the power of community. Instead, I found myself learning about marriage…from a nun. Who knew?
Sister Claire has been Head Of School at Santa Catalina since 2002, but she’s served there since 1972. Feel free to do the math…Sister Claire makes no apologies about her longevity and commitment. In fact, she often jokes that she’s “as old as the sod.” I know that quote offhand because my cohort spent most of our visit writing down Sister Claire’s pearls of wisdom. Few of us were Catholic and few of us had attended schools like this one, but by day’s end we were basically Sister Claire’s fan club. She was frank. She was funny. She was wise. Plus, she gave us cookies (I know, right?). And at one point, she started talking about the school’s history. They re-established Santa Catalina in Monterey in 1950, and – as you can imagine – there have been ups and downs in the 60+ years since. When asked about what kept her there and kept her strong, Sister Claire said this:
The reason you become a nun is very different than the reason you stay a nun. It’s like a marriage. You just have to keep recommitting…year after year after year.
When she said those words, you could have heard a pin drop. None of us had ever been nuns. Only some of us had ever been married. But every single person in that room knew what she meant. Good intentions only last a while, after all. Whether you’re serving a beautiful private school in Monterey or teaching in an underfunded urban school or rearing children or building community with others or loving your partner or simply showing up at work everyday, the reasons you start are different than the reasons you stay. Optimism seems pretty simple on day one, but it often comes less easily on day one thousand or day ten thousand.
Sister Claire certainly understood that. She’s been serving children and living her vocation for a long long time now. And her reflection was pretty simple: Nothing lasting is built easily. We’ve often written about the fact that there’s a stranger in your bed…that your current spouse is not really the person you married. In other words, your relationship means one thing at first and something very different later on down the road. While it’s easy to see that such a journey involves work, we sometimes forget to mention that the journey’s beautiful also. Sister Claire reminded me of that. I think everyone left that visit with a sense that maybe we could stick with our missions a little longer by recommitting over and over and over again. We also left with notebooks full of quotes and stomachs full of cookies. I guess sometimes the reason you visit a place is very different than the reason you remember it.