A debut memoir explores one woman’s long road from atheism to Roman Catholicism.
The author reveals at the outset of her book that she is currently a Benedictine nun. But while she was growing up, she never imagined she would become one. How did she go from “Martha Curti, atheist and Marxist, to Mother Felicitas, nun”? The answer to that question involves a look at the author’s intriguing life. She was born in 1932 while both of her parents were teachers at Smith College. She spent much of her childhood in Wisconsin before attending college. Curti studied music at Oberlin and married a man she met there in 1953. The marriage was fueled by political passions, and the author gave birth to two sons. But the union did not last, and eventually Curti found herself a single mother without much direction. She ended up pursuing her interest in music and embarked on a turbulent career in academia. This move eventually led her to teaching in New Jersey, where she struggled with her dissertation as well as her outlook on the world. It was in this state that she became a Catholic, and, after lots of introspection, she was drawn to the life of a Benedictine nun. The author’s gradual transformation is a unique one. The memoir, interspersed with color and black-and-white photographs, effectively draws on years of journal entries to help paint the picture of a woman who eventually found her way. Curti deftly describes a path that was not direct but was touchingly sincere. Although passages about musicology may be baffling to the uninitiated (a portion on Sacred Harp singing is difficult to grasp without hearing the form), part of the book’s appeal is its incorporation of relatively obscure topics. The work offers much to learn on subjects that include Gregorian chant, the lengthy process of becoming a nun, and the daily schedule in a “monastic community,” which, in the case of the author, included praying Matins at 2 a.m. But it is the account’s frankness about Curti’s arduous journey to self-discovery that ultimately makes it worthwhile.
While painstakingly detailed at times, this book delivers an honest portrayal of a singular religious odyssey.