255: The Calling by Catherine Whitney

by Gerard

255.972: Whitney, Catherine. The Calling: The Year in the Life of an Order of Nuns. New York: Crown Publishers, 1999. 250 pp. ISBN 0-517-70854-X.

This Dewey section is pretty straightforward. The 200s are religion, 250s are Christian orders and local churches, and 255 hold religious congregations and orders. Not much fuss there.

Catherine Whitney’s The Calling covers Rosary Heights, a house of Dominican nuns in Washington State. It is ostensibly about a year in the life of these religious women. Unfortunately, the story is all over the map (literally). Rather than “intern” at a religious house and relate her experiences and how she coped with the contemplative, religious life, she takes the opportunity to write mini-biographies of everyone associated with the order.

We get the back story of no less than eight different sisters, all with their own complicated interactions with religiosity and the contemplative life. Don’t get me wrong—these stories are interesting looks into what constitutes “the calling” and how different life events serve to challenge and mold the devotional, but I wanted a lot more of Catherine day-to-day life in a convent, or at least proper vignettes of convent life.

I would have much rather read a book about the chronological experience of living in a religious house, with flashbacks necessary to providing context for experiences and interactions with the other sisters. Whitney is fairly adept at turning a phrase, but at points becomes slightly melodramatic in her quest to enter and understand the religious life. All in all, it was an interesting book. Nuns are significantly out of the view of the general population and reading their stories was indeed eye-opening. I just wish the book had been structured better.