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IgnatiusofLoyola

What Happens When Nuns/sisters Leave The Order?

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IgnatiusofLoyola    1,192
IgnatiusofLoyola
The lives of nuns and sisters are still a mystery to me. (An interesting mystery--but still a mystery.)

Latest question: What happens when a nun/sister decides to leave?

What made me think of this was the post that the very cute Poor Clare nun in the photo story I found, later left after making it past her solemn profession.

In the Nun's Story, Audrey Hepburn basically had to leave in secret without saying good-bye to anyone (although, if I remember correctly, the Mother Superior in the movie was much nicer to her than the one in the book).

It seems as if leaving would be very difficult for both the sister/nun and the Order, except perhaps for leaving at the Aspirant stage. And, it seems accepted that at least some postulants will leave (or be asked to leave) before the first year is up. But what about after that?

I'm sure it differs by Order and the circumstances, but are any of you who are or were in religious life (or anyone else who is knowledgeable about this) willing to talk about how the process of leaving was handled--at whatever level of religious life the nun/sister had attained? Edited by IgnatiusofLoyola

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CatherineM    6,165
CatherineM
It depends on the order, on the nun involved and on how she chooses to leave. She might leave with permission, and there is lots of paperwork to fill out. She might leave without permission, and leave the church entirely. There's a difference between a woman who has been with the order only a few years after having entered after college, and a woman who entered straight from highschool/parent's home and has been with the order for 30 years.

My spiritual director used to be in charge of counseling for her order. She would work with the women coming in and the women leaving. Some had never written a personal check before and needed some assistance before going out into the world.

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Cherie    1,616
Cherie
Women who leave after making perpetual (or solemn) profession need to receive a dispensation from the Holy See. This can take lots of time--if anyone knows how the Vatican works, it's usually very slowly! Not to say it would take years upon years -- but a few months to a year or two seems the "norm" for something like that.

It is an interesting topic, and many people ask me, since I left after making three years' worth of temporary vows. "You were a professed Sister, so how could you have left?!" they ask.

I won't go into great detail. My story is a private one that has many different aspects, and I certainly don't want to scandalize anyone who isn't familiar with the inner workings of religious life. Suffice it to say, I love my previous community very dearly, I am still in contact with them every now and then, and we are on good terms.

One aspect I will mention is that I had to leave in secret, and I know a number of other communities who do it similarly. It was very difficult because I was there for five years--these Sisters were my family members, and many of them had no idea I was even contemplating leaving. One Sister took a few hints and figured it out the night before I left, and we had a nice little good-bye, but it never would have happened if she hadn't figured it out on her own. Did I think that was a good way of handling it? Honestly, no. I wish I had been able to reasonably say goodbye to the other Sisters. But I realize why they did it, and I didn't question their method. My Superior decided that was the best way, and out of obedience I followed. God works through religious obedience, and I believe He worked it out just fine.

I had absolutely nothing when I left -- no college education, no funds, not even clothes to wear. Thankfully my mother was very supportive, and brought me some clothes to change into. My community was not obligated to give me anything, but they graciously gave me some funds (albeit nothing astronomical or anything! They are mendicants!) to help get me back on my feet. It was a very kind, generous gesture and I am grateful they cared for me that way.

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Sister Marie    1,242
Sister Marie
In my experiences of sisters leaving, it is different every time. It isn't as painful when a sister leaves as a postulant or a novice because that is the time to discern where God is calling the sister. It is always painful though for those in formation with a sister who leaves. Whenever it happens it makes each sister rethink everything about her vocation which is a difficult but necessary and healthy reaction to a sister leaving. When someone leaves after making vows it is more painful. It always seems unexpected, except probably to those sisters who live with her.

As far as the physical leaving goes, now many sisters still keep in touch with community after they have left. No matter what made them choose to leave most women realize that they received an education in life which they could never have received elsewhere. It wouldn't be the education in life that tells how to balance a checkbook, but to love. This has been my experience in my community. I'm sure there are many different experiences though so I don't claim to speak for everyone.

God bless you.

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IgnatiusofLoyola    1,192
IgnatiusofLoyola
[quote name='CherieMadame' date='24 March 2010 - 06:54 PM' timestamp='1269474884' post='2079395']
Women who leave after making perpetual (or solemn) profession need to receive a dispensation from the Holy See. This can take lots of time--if anyone knows how the Vatican works, it's usually very slowly! Not to say it would take years upon years -- but a few months to a year or two seems the "norm" for something like that.

It is an interesting topic, and many people ask me, since I left after making three years' worth of temporary vows. "You were a professed Sister, so how could you have left?!" they ask.

I won't go into great detail. My story is a private one that has many different aspects, and I certainly don't want to scandalize anyone who isn't familiar with the inner workings of religious life. Suffice it to say, I love my previous community very dearly, I am still in contact with them every now and then, and we are on good terms.[/quote]

Thank-you so much for taking the time to answer. I know this topic is a very personal and often painful one. But, your answer helps me better understand how this is handled. I'm pleased to hear that you weren't "shunned" when you left, and still keep in touch with your former Order.

Particularly among certain Protestants (not ALL, by any means!), there are a lot of misunderstandings and misinformation about the religious life. So, it is very helpful to learn a little more of the "real story."

BTW--If it makes you feel better, I, at least, am not easily "scandalized." I think it's because I'm no longer in my 20's (to say the least). I've lived long enough to have seen and experienced a lot. I have made enough mistakes of my own, that I am FINALLY starting to learn humility and to be less judgemental--as in "Give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible," and "Hate the sin, not the sinner." All of us fall short of our ideal for ourselves and of God's ideal. Thank-you again for your candor. Edited by IgnatiusofLoyola

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IgnatiusofLoyola    1,192
IgnatiusofLoyola
[quote name='Sister Marie' date='24 March 2010 - 07:06 PM' timestamp='1269475583' post='2079408']
In my experiences of sisters leaving, it is different every time. It isn't as painful when a sister leaves as a postulant or a novice because that is the time to discern where God is calling the sister. It is always painful though for those in formation with a sister who leaves. Whenever it happens it makes each sister rethink everything about her vocation which is a difficult but necessary and healthy reaction to a sister leaving. When someone leaves after making vows it is more painful. It always seems unexpected, except probably to those sisters who live with her.
[/quote]

Although I hadn't thought about it, it makes sense that a nun/sister leaving might be more difficult for those in formation than for those who have been in religious life a long time--that it makes them rethink their vocation (not necessarily a bad thing).

I found something similar when I got divorced. It wasn't so much that I was "shunned," (as happens sometimes), but more that my divorce made other people uncomfortable because it made them think about their own marriages and raised fears that perhaps their marriages weren't as "safe" as they assumed. It was a reminder that sometimes circumstances happen over which we have no control and they can affect a marriage.

Thanks for your response.

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MarieLynn    49
MarieLynn
I remember how we all felt when one of our number left. I am going back to pre V2 (just), and there were 15 of us in our group. It was almost like someone had died, the novitiate was very quiet and almost sad for a day or two. All we were given was a very impersonal announcement from our Novice Mistress that 'Sister so and so had given up her vocation and returned to the world' - yes , those were the words that were used. I know things are very different now, but back then it was an unspoken rule that we did not mention that Sisters' name again in community.

When I left, I went to Mass with the rest of the Novices at 7.am, was given breakfast in the Parlour after I had changed back into civilian clothes, and then was driven to the Airport by the Handyman/Gardener, after a quick embrace from the Novice Mistress. I knew I would not be allowed to say goodbye to any of my fellow Novices, and even tho' I knew the night before that I was going, I was expressly forbidden to tell anyone. Obedience was paramount!! I remember crying all the way home on the plane, and when I got off at the other end, the one thing I wanted to do was get back on the next plane and return, as by then I had convinced myself that I had made a mistake.

Thankfully things are now very different, but back in the 60's it was all done under ' shroud of secrecy'.

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Cherie    1,616
Cherie
[quote name='Sister Marie' date='24 March 2010 - 08:06 PM' timestamp='1269475583' post='2079408']
No matter what made them choose to leave most women realize that they received an education in life which they could never have received elsewhere.

[/quote]

That is certainly my experience. I learned so many things while I was there, things I never would have learned elsewhere---not only about the Catholic Faith, but about so many other aspects: cleaning (Sisters' convents are immaculate!), cooking, running a bookstore, family issues, speaking with people, etc. etc. etc. It shaped me into the woman I am today, and I am convinced my husband and I would not be together today had I not spent the time there that I had.

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dominicansoul    4,456
dominicansoul
[quote name='MarieLynn' date='25 March 2010 - 02:23 AM' timestamp='1269498237' post='2079633']
I remember how we all felt when one of our number left. I am going back to pre V2 (just), and there were 15 of us in our group. It was almost like someone had died, the novitiate was very quiet and almost sad for a day or two. All we were given was a very impersonal announcement from our Novice Mistress that 'Sister so and so had given up her vocation and returned to the world' - yes , those were the words that were used. I know things are very different now, but back then it was an unspoken rule that we did not mention that Sisters' name again in community.

When I left, I went to Mass with the rest of the Novices at 7.am, was given breakfast in the Parlour after I had changed back into civilian clothes, and then was driven to the Airport by the Handyman/Gardener, after a quick embrace from the Novice Mistress. I knew I would not be allowed to say goodbye to any of my fellow Novices, and even tho' I knew the night before that I was going, I was expressly forbidden to tell anyone. Obedience was paramount!! I remember crying all the way home on the plane, and when I got off at the other end, the one thing I wanted to do was get back on the next plane and return, as by then I had convinced myself that I had made a mistake.

Thankfully things are now very different, but back in the 60's it was all done under ' shroud of secrecy'.
[/quote]

Unfortunately, this is still happening today. I had this experience the first time I left the convent. I was at a Dominican convent, and I was made to lie to my other sisters when they told me they would see me later. I couldn't tell them I was leaving. It sucked. IT was one of the worst things I have ever experienced in my life. I was shuffled around the Motherhouse under the shroud of secrecy as if I was a criminal. It was like, I was breaking out of prison or something with the help of the Superior...

The second time I entered a much more beautiful Dominican community, one where I felt our humanity was not sacrificed once we crossed the threshold of the Motherhouse. When I came to the decision a second time around and decided to leave, the experience was very comforting as I was able to say goodbye to my beautiful sisters. I was able to express to this family of mine, that I loved them and how much I needed their prayers. I was able to tell them how much they meant to me, and how much I was going to miss them. It was very heartbreaking, but there was closure, and the promise of life-long relationships remaining in tact, as I knew they would never forget me, as I would never forget them. They still spoke my name there, way past the time I left...I wasn't some forbidden subject never to be talked about. Heck, I met one of the Sisters here in Austin, and she entered way after I had left, and she told me, "They still speak of you, and many of your Novitiate Sisters carry a picture of you from the newsletters in their prayer books!" I was touched! Now that's how it should be done!

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laetitia crucis    121
laetitia crucis
[quote name='dominicansoul' date='25 March 2010 - 04:31 PM' timestamp='1269545505' post='2079869']
Unfortunately, this is still happening today. I had this experience the first time I left the convent. I was at a Dominican convent, and I was made to lie to my other sisters when they told me they would see me later. I couldn't tell them I was leaving. It sucked. IT was one of the worst things I have ever experienced in my life. I was shuffled around the Motherhouse under the shroud of secrecy as if I was a criminal. It was like, I was breaking out of prison or something with the help of the Superior...

The second time I entered a much more beautiful Dominican community, one where I felt our humanity was not sacrificed once we crossed the threshold of the Motherhouse. When I came to the decision a second time around and decided to leave, the experience was very comforting as I was able to say goodbye to my beautiful sisters. I was able to express to this family of mine, that I loved them and how much I needed their prayers. I was able to tell them how much they meant to me, and how much I was going to miss them. It was very heartbreaking, but there was closure, and the promise of life-long relationships remaining in tact, as I knew they would never forget me, as I would never forget them. They still spoke my name there, way past the time I left...I wasn't some forbidden subject never to be talked about. Heck, I met one of the Sisters here in Austin, and she entered way after I had left, and she told me, "They still speak of you, and many of your Novitiate Sisters carry a picture of you from the newsletters in their prayer books!" I was touched! Now that's how it should be done!
[/quote]

That second experienced... wow, I just think that was handled so well! It really makes me glad to hear that there are communities that do that.

I do not wish to be uncharitable or negative in anything that I am about to say, so I beg, please do not take it as a way of "getting even" or throwing myself a "pity party". In no way do I intend to do either of those. Instead, I just wanted to share what I experienced in a very honest way.

My experience leaving formation was.. well, to say the least, it was somewhat brutal for me. When it was finally decided when I would be leaving formation, I had thought it would be okay to tell the Sisters closest to me, to ask for their prayers, and to give some kind of closure. After all, when one of my fellow classmates left, she told me that she was leaving and I was so grateful to have that closure, and to know that she was okay and at peace, you know? She was someone I was very close to, and I think had she just disappeared one day...that would have been really hard for me. I wanted to my Sisters to know that I, too, was at peace and would be okay.

When it was my time to leave, I was never told, "You shouldn't tell the Sisters you're leaving" until [i]after[/i] I did just that.

The conversation that followed was one that I shall never forgot. Basically, my superior said, "How could you not know not to say anything? Are you [i]stupid[/i]?...You had no concern for your Sisters, you are [i]selfish[/i]! -- You are endangering their vocations! You cannot trust your own judgment! You are a [i]poison[/i] spreading through the house!... If you hadn't said anything, we could have saved your glory."

Needless to say, after that conversation, I didn't say a word about leaving to anyone. If asked, I would remain silent. There was such coldness. Those words burned into my very soul and cut deep. I felt pretty destroyed after that... destroyed, stupid, ashamed, and above all, remorse for having been so "stupid" and "selfish". I believed everything she said (even though I didn't understand how they could be true -- I believed her because she was my superior) and in turn, I hated myself for all those "reasons".

That time period was probably the darkest and most painful that I have ever experienced.

I was sent away to a mission house for some time to further "discern" my vocation... and when I finally left, I knew without a doubt that that community was not where God was calling me, nor the vocation he was calling me to. However, leaving that time... it was so very different. The mission community was very different from my experience of the formation community. It was very much like dominicansoul's second time leaving. Blessed be God. I think that helped immensely in the healing process. Like dominicansoul, I still keep in contact with those Sisters and pray for them, and I know they are praying for me. They are very dear to me.

I thank God for allowing me to better discern with the mission Sisters, and I thank God for allowing me to experience all that I did in formation. I do not regret anything in those years, even though some of it was indeed difficult. I know I have learned a lot and that God wanted me there for that time, to grow as a person, as a Roman Catholic, and as His future spouse. Blessed be God!

To this day, I pray no one else [i]ever[/i] goes through what I did that first time around. If it wasn't for the grace of God, and Him bringing certain people in my life to help me heal (especially Fr. Roger Landry), I think I would have been utterly broken and irreparable.

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IgnatiusofLoyola    1,192
IgnatiusofLoyola
I'm sorry if I brought back painful memories for anyone--that was not my intention. In fact, I was HOPING to hear that in the modern church, the experiences of nuns/sisters leaving were handled with mercy and love--especially those who left while still in formation. Isn't that part of the purpose of formation--to figure out if you are in the right place?

This is the constant problem I have with rules and traditions--they are not bad, in fact they are necessary. But, there are situations where mercy should override the rules. I am NOT advocating "situational ethics." That philosophy sets no specific standard for correct behavior. But, there ARE situations where the "rules" should have some "fudge room" or in extreme cases, even be changed, for the sake of mercy. This is one reason why I could never, in good conscience, take a vow of obedience--the vow itself would be a lie. I'd be the troublesome one who was always asking "Why?" I'm sure God is sick and tired of me asking that! LOL

At least I'm the kind of person who asks first, rather than going ahead and just doing what I want. But, I have been labeled a "troublemaker" more times than I can count, just for asking. Strangely, modern corporate American has many parallels with the religious life--except the obvious difference that they are not even TRYING to figure out God's will.

Thank-you again for your replies. Edited by IgnatiusofLoyola

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Cherie    1,616
Cherie
[quote name='dominicansoul' date='25 March 2010 - 03:31 PM' timestamp='1269545505' post='2079869']
I met one of the Sisters here in Austin, and she entered way after I had left, and she told me, "They still speak of you, and many of your Novitiate Sisters carry a picture of you from the newsletters in their prayer books!" I was touched! Now that's how it should be done!
[/quote]

That is so beautiful!!

I have a recent story of a friend of mine, one of the Sisters who entered on the same day as me left a few months before I did. I was chatting with her and she said she happened to have called the convent and spoke with a Sister who was a year ahead of us in formation -- a beautiful soul we all loved dearly. She chatted for a bit and told my friend that she has been praying for my friend and I every day by name since we left. I was so touched to hear that! I hadn't heard from any other Sisters since the day I left (besides my former Superior and the Sister who was assigned to help me leave) so it was so nice to hear that!

I truly wish it would have been done for me the way it was done for you the second time. The Sister I spoke to after I left told me that while my leaving didn't come as a surprise to many who worked very closely with me in the convent, others were very upset and had no idea. I really do miss some of the Sisters I came to be close to in the convent. Edited by CherieMadame

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Cherie    1,616
Cherie
[quote name='laetitia crucis' date='25 March 2010 - 04:54 PM' timestamp='1269550498' post='2079977']

To this day, I pray no one else [i]ever[/i] goes through what I did that first time around. If it wasn't for the grace of God, and Him bringing certain people in my life to help me heal (especially Fr. Roger Landry), I think I would have been utterly broken and irreparable.
[/quote]

I am so sorry you went through that experience, for both you and dominicansoul! God bless you both and your beautiful souls!!!

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cmaD2006    1,880
cmaD2006
[quote name='laetitia crucis' date='25 March 2010 - 05:54 PM' timestamp='1269550498' post='2079977']
The conversation that followed was one that I shall never forgot. Basically, my superior said, "How could you not know not to say anything? Are you [i]stupid[/i]?...You had no concern for your Sisters, you are [i]selfish[/i]! -- You are endangering their vocations! You cannot trust your own judgment! You are a [i]poison[/i] spreading through the house!... If you hadn't said anything, we could have saved your glory."

Needless to say, after that conversation, I didn't say a word about leaving to anyone. If asked, I would remain silent. There was such coldness. Those words burned into my very soul and cut deep. I felt pretty destroyed after that... destroyed, stupid, ashamed, and above all, remorse for having been so "stupid" and "selfish". I believed everything she said (even though I didn't understand how they could be true -- I believed her because she was my superior) and in turn, I hated myself for all those "reasons".

That time period was probably the darkest and most painful that I have ever experienced.

....

To this day, I pray no one else [i]ever[/i] goes through what I did that first time around. If it wasn't for the grace of God, and Him bringing certain people in my life to help me heal (especially Fr. Roger Landry), I think I would have been utterly broken and irreparable.
[/quote]
LC -- I honestly thank you for having shared your experience; they are experiences that do shatter our existence.

I do have to agree with one thing ... when God permits such "dark and painful" experiences, He does give the grace for us to continue to be faithful and He also brings into our lives people to help heal.

In the first community that I was with -- I have to be so thankful for them; for my formation directress help me see that I needed to leave (I had seen everything beforehand in prayer except one item that she brought up). I was able to share with the community that I was leaving, and I have had their support. I was able to call them to let them know that I was entering another community, and I hope someday to go and visit them just to enjoy their company.

I still had my difficulties dealing with leaving, but once I was done grieving the loss I remember the community with much and deep love.

I haven't discussed much my experience on phatmass with respect to the second community ... suffice to say that it did leave me utterly broken; yet for the sheer grace of God and because of a few key people who have been helping me heal have I been able to keep walking in faith.

Finally, you can only know if you are meant to be in a particular community by trying. You may stay for a lifetime, you may stay only through parts of formation ... you may even stay through to perpetual/final vows and yet for whatever reasons need to leave (I recently have had a good sister friend leave a community after 25 years). Just know that God is with you no matter what -- even through the darkness that we all encounter at some point in our life. He is always faithful, regardless of the twists and turns in life.

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laetitia crucis    121
laetitia crucis
[quote name='cmariadiaz' date='25 March 2010 - 07:53 PM' timestamp='1269557630' post='2080092']
LC -- I honestly thank you for having shared your experience; they are experiences that do shatter our existence.

I do have to agree with one thing ... when God permits such "dark and painful" experiences, He does give the grace for us to continue to be faithful and He also brings into our lives people to help heal.

In the first community that I was with -- I have to be so thankful for them; for my formation directress help me see that I needed to leave (I had seen everything beforehand in prayer except one item that she brought up). I was able to share with the community that I was leaving, and I have had their support. I was able to call them to let them know that I was entering another community, and I hope someday to go and visit them just to enjoy their company.

I still had my difficulties dealing with leaving, but once I was done grieving the loss I remember the community with much and deep love.

I haven't discussed much my experience on phatmass with respect to the second community ... suffice to say that it did leave me utterly broken; yet for the sheer grace of God and because of a few key people who have been helping me heal have I been able to keep walking in faith.

Finally, [b]you can only know if you are meant to be in a particular community by trying[/b]. You may stay for a lifetime, you may stay only through parts of formation ... you may even stay through to perpetual/final vows and yet for whatever reasons need to leave (I recently have had a good sister friend leave a community after 25 years). Just know that God is with you no matter what -- even through the darkness that we all encounter at some point in our life. He is always faithful, regardless of the twists and turns in life.
[/quote]

Thank you for sharing parts of your journey, too, cmariadiaz. Personally, I find it really helpful and even consoling that... well, that I am not alone in what I have gone through (even though I honestly wish no one else experienced such things either). I hope that makes sense. I was a little apprehensive about sharing what I did, but I prayed about it since this thread was posted yesterday and as crazy as this might sound, I believe this is something the Holy Spirit led me to do. He wouldn't leave me alone until I replied. (Haha - He's very persuasive, isn't He?)

Also, I think you are absolutely right when you said, "You can only know if you are meant to be in a particular community by trying." -- so, so true! I suppose, in a way, it's like having to go through a really difficult break-up... only then to find the right person later on. You can learn so much that first time around -- about yourself, and about what God is calling you to.

Some are fortunate enough never to go through that initial break-up; they find their true love on the first try. I have met several Sisters that have had that kind of fortune in finding their communities. Sometimes I envy that, but most of the time, I am truly grateful for the time given me for meeting so many amazing communities and learning about different charisms and spiritualities. I sincerely love learning about vocations to the religious life and religious life itself. There's still so much to learn!

And praise God, He is always faithful.

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Totus Tuus    1,150
Totus Tuus
My input is probably not as valuable as others', since I was only in the convent for a year, but I too had a painful experience that did not make much sense. My story is a little different, and I don't actually want to share it, but despite being able to say a last minute good bye to my sisters, it took over a year to find closure, and it wasn't through the community, it was on my own in prayer.

But like others have said, you learn valuable lessons in community that you honestly can't learn anywhere else. There may be faults and communities might not handle the whole aspect of leaving "correctly," but it really is what you make it. Emotional scars can last a long, long time, there's no doubt about it, but God has been so good to me and taken such good care of me that I have no doubts He writes straight with crooked lines.

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HisChild    82
HisChild
[quote name='Totus Tuus' date='25 March 2010 - 07:14 PM' timestamp='1269569643' post='2080236']
My input is probably not as valuable as others', since I was only in the convent for a year, but I too had a painful experience that did not make much sense. My story is a little different, and I don't actually want to share it, but despite being able to say a last minute good bye to my sisters, it took over a year to find closure, and it wasn't through the community, it was on my own in prayer.

But like others have said, you learn valuable lessons in community that you honestly can't learn anywhere else. There may be faults and communities might not handle the whole aspect of leaving "correctly," but it really is what you make it. Emotional scars can last a long, long time, there's no doubt about it, but God has been so good to me and taken such good care of me that I have no doubts He writes straight with crooked lines.
[/quote]


I would have to say I resonate with what you just wrote. While I wasn't there for a year, when I left it was confusing and painful. It took me quite some time to get over it as well, something that only happened on my own, with the grace of God.

I'm not the same person who entered. It changed me. And yet, I'd have to say I like this 'me' better than the one before.

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cmaD2006    1,880
cmaD2006
[quote name='HisChild' date='25 March 2010 - 11:24 PM' timestamp='1269570282' post='2080241']
I would have to say I resonate with what you just wrote. While I wasn't there for a year, when I left it was confusing and painful. It took me quite some time to get over it as well, something that only happened on my own, with the grace of God.

I'm not the same person who entered. It changed me. And yet, I'd have to say I like this 'me' better than the one before.
[/quote]

Totus Tuus and HisChild -- thanks.

Its time for a

:grouphug: :carebear: :flowers:

:)

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