The Novice Nun: A very short story


(Julian O’Dea)

The priest sat silently as we waited, prior to his homily. He always did this, praying silently presumably, and certainly increasing our sense of expectation.

His sermons were literate, and usually traversed church history in a light but informative way. His Irish accent and idiom were foreign to the chapel on an Australian university campus. But he was a Jesuit and he made a plausible chaplain.

On this occasion, he woke us up more than usual with his assertion, “I often pray that I will become a saint”. Australians are not used to such moments of Irish drama.


Years later, and a couple of changes of university, and I was back home to present some results at a conference in my scientific field. My sister took me under her wing, to show me some real culture, and took me to some lectures and performances at a Shakespeare And Jonson Conference ( I couldn’t help thinking that poor old Ben was a bit outclassed.)

The young nun was not even really a novice. She was a “postulant”. She was tall for a girl, straight and long limbed, with shortish dark hair, dark eyes and fair freckled skin. And pretty in an Irish style. She was a friend of my sister’s, and also a student interested enough to go to the conference too. We went to a few lectures together, my sister and I and this girl. I was told that she was a brilliant student, although her mirth and confusion at hearing a countertenor singing an Elizabethan song in a high, warbling voice – as part of the conference – made me wonder about the exact depth of her culture. Even I knew more than that.

Still, she touched my overcoat, and I heard later that she thought me handsome.


Years later again, and things were not going too well in my lovelife or worklife. I thought, with the courage of despair, that I might as well give her a call. I had heard that she had left the novitiate.

Politely, she invited me over for a cup to tea. I had detected no great enthusiasm, and I knew that whatever crush she had once had on me had surely gone as soon as I saw what she had on. She wore shorts and a blouse and sandals from doing some gardening outside the small flat or apartment the university had given her to rent as a graduate student. Even in those days, I could tell at a glance that she was not interested. There was something about her that was gone too, some freshness that I had remembered.

She gave me some gratuitous life advice, about the need to follow my real career interests, my “true love”, and we parted.


I never spoke to her again. I heard she married the priest who had prayed to become a saint. I assume he was laicised. They had two sons and a divorce.

I saw her once in town. She still looked good and I heard she rose quite high in the civil service.

I know she published her thesis on Shakespeare, but I gather it did not revolutionise Shakespeare scholarship. She also wrote a thoughtful article on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. About how a girl has to take her marital chances as she can.


One response to this post.

  1. […] previous vignettes, “The Novice Nun” and “The Young Nun Visits The […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: