“I never wanted to be a nun.” This is the first of several surprising admissions from Sister Marlene Miller, OSB, who obviously changed her mind. “I wanted to get married and have 6 children.”
Boy, did she. As a young girl, Marlene’s favorite game was “bride.” She dressed up in lace curtains and chose names for her children (Paul, Marcus, Marsha, Brian, Keith and Andre).
By the time she entered high school, Marlene was so distracted by boys that her grades had dropped. Her parents decided to take action.
“They thought I was getting a little too frivolous,” Sr. Marlene says.
“Mom wrote to three different religious boarding schools. I chose the one closest to home, of course, so I could spend the weekends with my friends. But my parents had other ideas.”
They drove 3 hours to Nauvoo, Illinois where they were given a 2-hour tour. The Sisters described their program.
The family watched the annual Passion Play put on by the students, in which the girls played boys’ parts. Her parents were smitten. Marlene was aghast.
“I pouted all the way home,” Sr. Marlene says. “Mom handed me some literature about the school and I threw it on the floor. I spent the summer with my friends, trying to forget where I was headed.
“When I got there in the fall, I hated it. Everyone had made friends the year before, as freshmen. I didn’t want to make friends. I wanted to make plans to run away.”
Within a few weeks, however, Marlene began to make friends in spite of her initial resentment and unhappiness. Eventually, she grew to love her teachers and classes as well.
Called to wear a different kind of veil
The years went by happily, and Marlene began to consider life after SMA.
She still planned to get married, but decided to become a nurse in the meantime. She applied to and was accepted by St. John’s School of Nursing in Springfield.
“I was going to be a nurse!” I said to myself. “It was what I wanted, and I was happy, but I wasn’t thrilled. I thought I should be thrilled. I asked one of the elder Sisters why. She said, ‘Maybe it’s not what God is calling you to do.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be a Sister. I want to get married and have kids.’ She said, ‘Sometimes it’s not what you want but what God wants.’
“Well, I thought, I don’t want to be a teacher. I want to be a nurse or even a social worker, but never a teacher. Mother Clarisse suggested I pursue nursing school and think about entering again when I graduated.
“I went home and asked my parents, ‘What would you think if I joined the Benedictines?’ Dad was smoking and Mom was working in the kitchen. Mom said, ‘Why didn’t you tell us before we paid the non-refundable deposit at St. John’s?’ Dad blew smoke and said, ‘It will take a 1st class miracle to make it work.’”
Sr. Marlene entered on the last weekend of August … and began a career in teaching that lasted decades. She never did get to nursing school.
Lessons from the Convent
People often say the right decision brings a sense of peace to one’s heart, and Sr. Marlene is no exception. She says she felt comfortable, peaceful and happy when she had made her decision to enter the convent, unlike her feeling of uneasiness as she contemplated attending St. John’s.
“Every life involves sacrifice and hardships,” she says. “Living with one another, keeping your vows whether in marriage or religious life: these can be hard to do. But the sense of peace I felt when I came here has never left me.”
As for her career path? Sr. Marlene chuckles and says it’s proof that God has a sense of humor.
“Tell me God doesn’t have a plan,” she says. “I absolutely loved teaching. And I love my ministry at the monastery today. Any job I’ve had, I’ve loved. Any place I’ve lived, I’ve loved. I have been truly blessed.”