A memoir recounts a woman’s tortured decision to become a nun and her later crisis of faith.
Osta (Jeremiah’s Hunger, 2011) was raised in Syracuse, New York, in the 1950s and ’60s in a staunchly conservative Catholic household. She attended Nazareth College in Rochester, which was founded by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and studied speech correction, inspired by her work with children with special needs. The author was troubled by the tumult of the times and deeply saddened by the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. But she was also roused by how the civil rights movement encouraged women to fight for their own brand of emancipation. She was drawn to a life of religious devotion but also disenchanted in many ways with the Catholic Church—particularly its failure to live up to the promise of its Vatican II reforms. She confided her misgivings to Sister Tee, who gently encouraged her to consider becoming a nun. To her family’s surprise, Osta became a postulant with the Sisters of Saint Joseph. She was assigned her first mission teaching eighth grade at the Saint Francis Xavier School in Rochester—and eventually became the principal of another school, Saint Michael’s, at age 28. Still, she remained uncertain about her calling and frustrated by the plight of parochial schools, which she says were underfunded and under constant threat of closure. Overall, Osta’s remembrance is most notable for its philosophical, meditative tone. For example, she ruminates intelligently on the difficulties of maintaining a vow of celibacy at the height of the sexual revolution (and how she turned down a wedding proposal to join the Sisters), the failings of the modern Catholic Church, and the nature of spirituality. As a result, her account is impressively erudite—as a college student, she sought guidance from the works of philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Søren Kierkegaard—and her prose is at once lucid and unpretentiously refined. Osta does linger too long at times on minute details of the Catholic school system and its institutional foibles, but the memoir as a whole remains thoughtfully engrossing throughout.
A provocative, profound, and moving account of a modern spiritual life.