Sister Angel

I saw her in the supermarket, wearing a dark habit. The old nun was meandering through the aisles, consulting a paper list with a pencil. Her medieval gown looked so wonderfully out of place in our fast-paced modern world.

She seemed to be floating across the linoleum. I watched the young shoppers hurriedly move around the old woman as though they couldn’t even see her, busy staring at their iPhones.

I could tell she was elderly, although it was impossible to pinpoint her exact age beneath her wimple. I’d say somewhere between age 70 and 1350.

I wandered the store and sort of forgot about her until it was time for me to check out. Then, suddenly, the nun was standing in line ahead of me.

Meantime, we were surrounded by frenetic shoppers, filling the self-checkout lanes, dutifully scanning their own items. I do not understand the appeal of self-checkout. What comes next? Going to Olive Garden to cook your own ravioli?

We stood in line together. The nun and I.

“Hi,” I said.

She smiled. “Hello there.”

Her accent was old-world Yankee. Boston maybe.

You might not know this, but nuns are disappearing. Within the last decades the number of nuns has gone down considerably worldwide. Many Catholics are worried about this.

Each year, fewer young women feel called to the life of Sisterhood. Fifty years ago, there were 1 million nuns globally. Currently, there are 650,000. That number keeps going down.

Many wonder whether there will be any nuns left in America within the next 50 years. “The New York Times” recently ran a story about young nuns, desperate to find recruits, who are using social media to prevent their own dying off. In some convents, younger Sisters are posting videos of themselves dancing, and sharing candid pictures in hopes of attracting millennials.

Older nuns just shake their heads. “Why?” is the older Sisters’ main argument.

The Sister in the supermarket is retired now. But she was happy to share her own story with me.

“I knew I was supposed to be a nun back in high school,” she said. “My father was killed in a car wreck, and I was heartbroken. This voice kept telling me what to do, to enter a convent. I don’t normally trust voices, but… This was different.”

She didn’t want to be a nun. She wanted to be a normal young woman and to enjoy all that youth entailed. She wanted to be a wife. A mom. When she told her mother about her plans, her mother hit the proverbial ceiling.

“My mom did not want me to be a nun. She wanted me to be Emily Post.”

But this feeling kept nagging her. The young woman couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Something was compelling her toward servitude.

“I would kneel at a statue of Mary and beg her to tell her son to leave me alone. ‘Leave me alone,’ I’d say. ‘I don’t wanna be an old boring nun. Please.’”

But, of course, she did not get her prayer answered. The young woman spent two years in discernment, trying to decide what to do. An older Sister finally suggested praying continually for two weeks in silence for an answer. Silence, as in: a vow of silence.

“Not talk for two weeks?” she said. “Are you kidding? Me? I love talking. Didn’t think I could do it.”

After 10 days of prayer she saw a symbol in her mind’s eye. She remembers seeing a heart that was battered. The heart was scraped and bleeding, like it had been attacked with a knife.

“I realized the heart I was seeing was my own. And I just knew, I was supposed to take care of other people’s hearts the way God was taking care of mine.”

She’s been all over the world. The angelic woman has cradled the bodies of dying babies in Third World countries. She has kissed the faces of foreign orphans who believed nobody loved them, and taught them the lyrics to “Jesus Loves Me.” She even does the grocery shopping from time to time.

“The greatest joy in my life,” she said, “has been helping people who need it.”

After she paid for her groceries, I asked my new friend what she thought about this widely held idea that nuns are dying off.

She laughed. “Oh, sweetie. Way I see it, there will always be Sisters and Brothers as long as there is a Father.”


  1. Shirley Robin Ivie - May 20, 2022 7:07 am

    Sean,you never meet a stranger,do you?! Thankfully for those of us who love your stories! This was a very endearing insight into why some young women want to become a nun. I especially liked the last line!

  2. Paul McCutchen - May 20, 2022 11:07 am

    Sean, to you a stranger is just someone you haven’t talked to…..Yet

    • Debbie g - May 20, 2022 11:20 am

      Amen Paul. And are we not glad for all the friends Sean meets
      Love you Sean and Jamie
      And love to us all today. And let’s pass it around

  3. oldlibrariansshelf - May 20, 2022 11:32 am

    Amen and amen.

  4. Dale Parsons - May 20, 2022 12:04 pm

    In a small town where I was the pastor of an equally small church, I met Sister Jo McNamara. She was one of those saints saturated with love for God and people. We worked together on community projects, I felt blessed just to be with her. After a few years, she moved to a different diocese, I moved to a different church. Thirty years passed. I learned just three days ago Sister Jo has finally reached her destination and is now at the feet of Christ. Still loving Him and people, I’m sure.

  5. Alisa - May 20, 2022 12:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this reminder about a group of women who are among the most beautiful and successful on the planet.

  6. Christine - May 20, 2022 12:32 pm

    God’s Blessings to you Sean and this beautiful sister.

  7. AL - May 20, 2022 12:39 pm

    Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Atlanta is a hospice for those who are terminally ill and destitute managed by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. I along with family and friends went to visit a friend there. It is an oasis of compassion and care right beside Fulton County stadium. The silence and serenity is omnipresent as the sisters go about ministering to the needs of those in their care. It is a holy place. I am thankful for those sisters who answered God’s call. A final resting place is donated by a funeral home.

  8. Deacon Nick - May 20, 2022 12:41 pm

    Amen! Sister is spot on! What the ‘big stats’ do not show is there are growing, vibrant new orders (even in the USA). Ditto for Brothers! And in the Panhandle (Pensacola – Tallahassee) there is a glut of new, young holly priests. In that the Lord always build’s His Church on the blood of martyrs, I direct you to Antonia Cuipa (and companions), Appalachian Indians whose blood was shed at the birth of our country mostly in the Tallahassee area.

  9. Richard Baker - May 20, 2022 12:56 pm

    Wise, wise woman. A lot said in those few words. Very affirming story, Sean

  10. Tommy Artmann - May 20, 2022 1:21 pm

    Beautiful story! Thank you!

  11. Jan - May 20, 2022 1:24 pm

    Love this tiny bit of insight into a world I am not familiar with. Thank you, Sister, for following your calling from God. Thank you, Sean, for asking and sharing!

  12. Steve Leachman - May 20, 2022 1:53 pm

    I’m not Roman Catholic so I’m not familiar with priests or nuns. This is a wonderful small story of one nuns spiritual journey. Many like to “throw stones” at Catholicism and really all organized religion. I think the stone throwers just don’t like to be reminded how shallow and empty their lives are. Thanks for showing that there’s more to life than cell phones and all the apps that are on them.

  13. Anne Arthur - May 20, 2022 2:58 pm

    It’s true, you are the most open person when it comes to meeting people. Thanks for writing this beautiful piece. I have a lot of friends who are nuns (I am Catholic) and each has an amazing story to tell about their lives. Although their numbers are dwindling, the Father always rises sisters and brothers. Sweet!

  14. Dianne Brantley - May 20, 2022 3:21 pm

    I love this!❤️

  15. Gayle - May 20, 2022 3:52 pm

    How utterly beautiful her response I was brought up by nuns from kindergarten thru high school and my nursing degree came from a Catholic Hospital I am 82 now and still look back with with a strong sense of purpose for those years I spent in their care

  16. Patricia Gibson - May 20, 2022 4:20 pm

    Very interesting 🙏❤️

  17. Linda Brannon - May 20, 2022 5:13 pm

    Aah!! Sean, how do you do it? EVERY SINGLE TIME I am just in awe of the heart in your stories. I’m a new recruit to your writing but I’m telling everyone I know to “read you” God bless!!

  18. Lewis - May 20, 2022 7:15 pm

    The appeal of self-checkout to me is that if I have two or three items I won’t get stuck behind someone with a shopping cart filled with 9,462 items.

  19. Linda Moon - May 20, 2022 8:33 pm

    I love seeing nuns. I love what they represent. Many of us who are not Catholic have hearts like theirs and the Christ they serve. Thank you, Our Father, for providing nuns and others like them.

  20. AlaRedClayGirl - May 21, 2022 2:01 am

    It is true that some orders of nuns are decreasing. However, some are increasing so much that they are having to build bigger monasteries. The Dominicans are one such order. They still wear their habits, which goes to show that young women are attracted to the more traditional order of nuns.

  21. MAM - May 21, 2022 2:31 am

    And we know who the Father is. We must pray to God often and hard to bring our Earth back to a more peaceful world. Thank you, Sean, for always pointing out the good in our world.

  22. elizabethroosje - May 21, 2022 2:46 am

    Oh man this made my day. That is so funny asking Jesus’ Mother to tell her Son to let her be LOL. She meant business because Jesus ALWAYS listened to her! Since His first miracle creating the best wine that was ever served at a wedding!!! Thx Sean for loving everyone ❤ prayed for Michelle just now too

  23. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 21, 2022 5:15 am

  24. Bob - May 21, 2022 2:32 pm


  25. Alice Grimes - May 21, 2022 4:28 pm

    Well said Sean! Never doubt you have found your God-given calling. I pray Alabama will embrace you so that you come to know experientially
    that she is really the home for your heart. I miss her but my only child my adopted son and my only grandchild a beautiful smart talented young volleyball playing sophomore in college are here. After 12+ years I still long for Alabama where people take you into their hearts not just welcome you into their houses.

  26. Gayle Wilson - May 22, 2022 7:54 pm

    What a beautiful answer from a very wise lady. Thank you for sharing Sean.

  27. suzi - May 23, 2022 8:57 pm



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