in my late teens my “hair-burner” older sister did a nun’s coif weekly. a nun? they became friendly. we thought, eww, a nun, having her hair did. we’d gone to a CSC catholic school and never saw a nun’s hair — there were white crowns and paper halos all around. this nun, she was foreign, this “sister r.”
our mother had divorced by then, raising 5 chilluns alone and was being ostracized for doing just that by the very church she had grown up loving. (she was the only true catholic in the family.) she divorced to save us kids from an abusive, alcoholic father. she did the right thing as hard as that was at that time.
older sister brought sister r. by the house for us all to meet.
sister r. didn’t wear a habit — she wore tasteful street clothes with a simple cross necklace. sister r. had her hair did, stylishly. sister r. drank wine. she was inquisitive and interested in all of our stoies. she’d play softball with us. she kept us enthralled in a very conversational, easy way. sister r. did pastoral counseling in hospice care.
sister r. became a family friend, esp to mom, who needed spiritual support more than us pot-smoking teenagers for fucking sure. she still believed in the church.
sister r. entertained us in our time together. she didn’t pull punchs. we we asked questions about god, her faith, family, home and about sexuality. she was open, inclusive, radical even. non-judgmental.
even thought we didn’t realize it, she was a great ambassador but not a zealot for faith. she talked of god’s love, grace, good deeds when asked. she became a counselor, friend and confidant over time.
sister r. developed cancer and died quickly. we missed her something awful. mom eventually started going to a methodist church with her best friend. she never went back to the catholic church, and didn’t care if any of us ever did either.
this story of inclusion and grace is a new and worthy model, though 40 yrs old, for the next catholic church.