CULTURE & ARTS

Photographer Captures One Woman's Journey To Becoming A Nun

"She felt called to religious life and, after hearing God propose to her via a song on YouTube, has chosen to live her life as a cloistered nun."

Sister Lauren has rosy cheeks and a shock of red hair. Sometimes wisps of it escape from under her white veil, which she began wearing at the age of 22 after her Clothing Ceremony at a monastery in Summit, New Jersey. A year earlier, when she was still in college and living a fulfilling life outside of the church, she experienced a calling: she wanted to devote her life to God.

According to Radical Love, a new book of photos taken by photographer Toni Greaves, Lauren’s calling was in keeping with the technologies of her generation. Writes Greaves: “She felt called to religious life and, after hearing God propose to her via a song on YouTube, has chosen to live her life as a cloistered nun.”

So, at 21, she committed to living in a monastic community with a strong sense of kinship, an emphasis on study, and strict rules for observance -- for example, one member of the community must be praying at all times.

Greaves began documenting Lauren’s spiritual journey just three weeks after it began, and continued throughout the next seven years, during which Lauren underwent a number of rituals of increasing import, sealing her relationship to the church. The first was the Clothing Ceremony, during which she chose a new name -- Sister Maria Theresa of the Sacred Heart.

While these landmark events are captured with tenderness in Greaves' series, it’s the daily happenings of the monastery that are especially moving. In one image, one of the community’s oldest residents laughs boisterously at a dinner. In another, Sister Maria Theresa of the Sacred Heart trains the monastery’s dog during her recreation time. It’s this blend of mundanity and spiritual reverence that makes Greave’s collection a moving one. For each framed photo of the Pope, there's an action shot of the nuns playing in the snow or gathered around a guitar player to sing a song. 

Perhaps this collection of both meaningful and quotidian events is what lead Greaves to title the series "Radical Love," and to write in the introduction of the book with the same name, "her path from layperson to nun follows stages that many compare to a love story out in 'the World.'"

Images from Radical Love by Toni Greaves, published by Chronicle Books 2015.

  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Nov. 1, 2008: Sister Maria Teresa works on training Fred, the monastery dog, during her half-hour r
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Nov. 1, 2008: Sister Maria Teresa works on training Fred, the monastery dog, during her half-hour recreation period. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Nov. 1, 2008: 22-year-old Sister Lauren receives her white veil (fitted by Sister Mary Martin, Prioress)
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Nov. 1, 2008: 22-year-old Sister Lauren receives her white veil (fitted by Sister Mary Martin, Prioress) in her Clothing Ceremony, which is similar to an engagement to God. Within this ceremony she receives the Dominican habit, and takes a new holy name of her choosing: Sister Maria Teresa of the Sacred Heart. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - April 25, 2008: Monastery grounds blossom during spring. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - April 25, 2008: Monastery grounds blossom during spring. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Feb. 1, 2009: Sister Maria Teresa and Sister Joseph Maria enjoy sledding during their half-hour recreati
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Feb. 1, 2009: Sister Maria Teresa and Sister Joseph Maria enjoy sledding during their half-hour recreation period. Sister Judith Miryam and Sister Mary Catharine watch on. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Oct. 22, 2010: Sister Maria Teresa rehearses prostrating in preparation for her First Profession ceremon
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Oct. 22, 2010: Sister Maria Teresa rehearses prostrating in preparation for her First Profession ceremony the next morning. First Profession is part one of two ritual ceremonies that will seal her commitment to God. Her Final Profession will happen roughly three years later. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Sept. 6, 2014: As part of her Solemn Profession ceremony, 28-year-old Sister Maria Teresa'€™s black veil
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Sept. 6, 2014: As part of her Solemn Profession ceremony, 28-year-old Sister Maria Teresa'€™s black veil -- a symbol that she is a "house of prayer" -- is replaced by Sister Mary Martin and Sister Mary Catharine. She will receive a simple gold band, much like a wedding ring, as symbol of her vows and final commitment to God. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - July 4, 2014: Sister Mary Magdalene (left), and Sister Maria Teresa (right), sing "The Eagle Song" as Sa
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - July 4, 2014: Sister Mary Magdalene (left), and Sister Maria Teresa (right), sing "The Eagle Song" as Sabina the monastery dog watches on. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - March 15, 2008: Community is an important part of monastic life. Sister Maria of the Cross (back, center
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - March 15, 2008: Community is an important part of monastic life. Sister Maria of the Cross (back, center), age 71, laughs during a celebratory community dinner. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - March 4, 2008: Sister Lauren, age 22, praying. The nuns observe perpetual rosary, with someone praying i
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - March 4, 2008: Sister Lauren, age 22, praying. The nuns observe perpetual rosary, with someone praying in the choir room 24 hours per day. (Photo by Toni Greaves)
  • SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Oct. 22, 2010: Sister Maria Teresa of the Sacred Heart became a cloistered nun in early 2008, dedic
    Toni Greaves
    SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY - Oct. 22, 2010: Sister Maria Teresa of the Sacred Heart became a cloistered nun in early 2008, dedicating her life to God at the vibrant age of 21. At age 24, having lived in the monastery for almost three years, she prepares for her First Profession, the first of two ceremonies that will seal her commitment to God. (Photo by Toni Greaves)

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