AN ACCIDENTAL GRACE by Irene Mahoney

AN ACCIDENTAL GRACE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

By a nun in the Order of St. Ursula: a graceful and searching chronicle of faith within an individual, a religious community, and (by implication) US Catholicism in general. Ruth Arendt becomes a member of the St. Aidans religious community in 1959; in 1969 she leaves to be with her lonely, ill father; and now, ten years later, she returns--to find that radical change has taken place at St. Aidans and throughout the church. But though the sisters no longer live by the old inflexible Rule, for Ruth ""the patterns of prayer, of austerity, of enclosure . . . were still her models. Although intellectually she was free of them, psychologically she was still bound."" Ruth is welcomed by a dwindling, split community: the old nuns, the often-defiant young, and those like Ruth (who's experienced both worlds) don't seem to mesh in the new democratic atmosphere. And then St. Aidans is struck by a threat to its very existence--with an offer by a reputable purchaser for the property. Can they allow St. Aidans to vanish as a spiritual entity forever? How could they let the past go? ""Their own mortality they had always acknowledged; but the body of which they were a part, the form by which they had lived, they had immortalized. Now that form, rigid and unwieldy with age, was dying; and Ruth mourned over it as one mourned for a parent who had brought one to life."" Ruth herself withdraws from the increasingly irritable conflict, disdaining a commitment. But she also thinks of David, her father's friend who might love her. (Suddenly ""a promise of future glory was not enough. She wanted to be loved, now, without mediation."") And she's haunted by memories of death--her father's, a Mother Superior's. Finally, then, while St. Aidans investigates the possibility of a viable merger with another community, and other sisters case about for direction, tensions build . . . till a service of reconciliation brings the message of hope and rebirth to them all. Primarily for those familiar with, and concerned about, the author's religious context: a convincing, compassionate portrait of a community adapting to shattering change.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's