Entering Religious Life Doesn't Mean Leaving The World Behind Kristen Daniels is an independent 25-year-old considering becoming a Catholic nun. She spoke with Sister Donna Del Santo, who resisted taking her vows at first, but felt at home once she did.
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Entering Religious Life Doesn't Mean Leaving The World Behind

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Entering Religious Life Doesn't Mean Leaving The World Behind

Entering Religious Life Doesn't Mean Leaving The World Behind

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

When Kristen Daniels was a senior in college, she realized she had no idea what she wanted to do next.

KRISTEN DANIELS: I was freaking out about what am I going to do with my life? I didn't want to go to grad school and I didn't want a real job. So I ended up at a Catholic underground event, and I just kind of felt this real tug on my heart about being a sister. And of course, being a senior in college, that didn't go over great. It made me nervous that this might actually be something - a possibility for me.

MCEVERS: Now, years later, Kristen is still thinking about becoming a nun. She even spent a year volunteering with a group of Catholic sisters in Los Angeles. But she hasn't made a final decision yet. She still has questions about the commitment, the process and the lifestyle. So to help her figure it out, we connected her with someone who knows all about this stuff.

DANIELS: Hi, Sister Donna. It's nice to finally talk to you in person.

DONNA DEL SANTO: You too, Kristen.

MCEVERS: Donna Del Santo was 38 when she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph. And she talked to Kristen Daniels for our series Been There, connecting people at either end of a shared experience. Before Sister Donna entered religious life, she'd already spent years serving the poor, and she was running a health clinic for the uninsured. And she told Kristen that at first, she did not think sisterhood was for her.

DEL SANTO: I just had this experience of God saying, I wanted more from you. And I was like, you've got to be kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL SANTO: I think I've given you more than enough. Pick on somebody your own size.

DANIELS: (Laughter).

DEL SANTO: And it was one of these tugs that I could not get away from. You sound more willing (laughter). You're more available to the question and the exploration. I was running.

DANIELS: Well, it's certainly taken some time. If you saw me that last semester of college, it wasn't pretty.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL SANTO: And when I actually entered religious life, I thought, oh my God, I'm home. Not that I didn't have moments where I was like, is - are you out of your mind (laughter)? But as I kind of gave myself over to the experience - and you've got to know that the process is very long. I wish married couples had a chance to do something as intense. We wouldn't have so many failures of marriage. But we take at least seven years to make a final decision. And so, you know, the first step may seem really scary, but no, it's the beginning of a long process.

DANIELS: Now, speaking of married life, did you have any serious relationships or consider family life prior to joining?

DEL SANTO: Oh, yeah (laughter). Very much so (laughter). In fact, I was engaged at one point.

DANIELS: Oh, wow.

DEL SANTO: I always thought I would be married. You know, that's the model we're raised in, right? And when I was engaged (laughter) a switch went off in me and I realized, oh my God, I think my life would be so small. Not that I didn't love this man, but I felt like I had more love to give than to my own family. And I found that I couldn't make that commitment. When you make a choice for one thing you make a choice not for the other.

DANIELS: Yeah. I think one of my fears is how can you ever be sure? And maybe this is a product of me being a, quote unquote, "millennial," but I do foster this bit of fear of commitment. Am I making the right choice? Am I going to want a family down the line? Is it just me being a spunky 20-year-old who thinks she can take on the world with God and community? How do you deal with those feelings? Because I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling that some of it might not go away magically once you take the vows.

DEL SANTO: Well, I hope it doesn't.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL SANTO: You want someone that's really vibrant and alive and loving and can appreciate and be loving and (laughter) - I often say look - when I see an attractive person, I'll say, oh my God, is he ever gorgeous?

DANIELS: (Laughter).

DEL SANTO: And somebody will look at me, and I'll say, look, I took a vow. I'm not dead.

DANIELS: (Laughter).

DEL SANTO: But it's how you then engage people.

DANIELS: That is a great point. And for me personally, when I did my year of service, I worked doing case management with homeless seniors. And that was really eye-opening and such a beautiful experience for me. But then sometimes when the politics get into it, you know, church hierarchy - how do you deal with that as a sister and continue to be involved in the church and support the church and love the church?

DEL SANTO: Good question.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL SANTO: We're not there to serve the church (laughter). The church is there to serve the people of God. So as a sister, I take the loving and reconciling message of Jesus - and then to recognize that we live in a world that is so diverse and complex. And I work in a jail part time as a nurse. And I'll never forget one time I had a patient that I had - I was - I'm an HIV counselor, and to go talk with her about her results. Thank God there were negative.

But she stood up and she pointed her hand at me in the jail and said, I know who you are and I know what you believe. And I sat down quietly with her and I said, you know, I believe in you and I believe that your life is so hard. You know, 'cause she was having sex for drugs. And it was one of these moments where, you know, she started to cry. And I said to her, I don't know what it's like to live your life. And one of the things that our love can do is to enter into those really hard places that many people are afraid of. And that's what I discovered that I was called to.

MCEVERS: That was Sister Donna Del Santo talking to Kristen Daniels, who's considering becoming a Catholic nun. They talked to each other for our series Been There. If you are going through a life-changing experience and you want advice, let us know. Email nprcrowdsource@npr.org. Put Been There in the subject line.

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