%1036%right%When Sarah Miller '02 says she's found her calling, she means just that.
Miller, 27, is a member of the congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a Roman Catholic monastic community. A religious studies major at Colby (where her thesis was on the subject of religious life or vocations), she went on to earn her master's degree in religious studies at the University of Chicago.
In 2004 she applied to and was accepted by the Missouri-based religious order. "I'm finishing up the two years of novitiate, this being the canonical year, in which I don't really leave the monastery very much," Miller said over the phone from Tucson, Ariz., where one of the order's monasteries is located. "It's kind of a time for study and prayer in preparation for first vows, which will be in August."
In short, Miller is on track to become a nun.
The former Colby rower (she was on a JV eight boat that won New Englands) knows this is an unusual choice for a Colby alumna, but she ties it directly to an experience she had as a Colby student abroad in Dijon, France. "I visited a community there that's ecumenical," she said. "They're Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox; [it's] called Taize. That opened my eyes to different possibilities for my future."
Back at Colby, Miller considered pursuing the priesthood in the Episcopal church but then converted to Catholicism as a senior. At the University of Chicago she mulled her options and finally decided upon the contemplative Benedictine order.
While some orders are dedicated to teaching or other activities, the central mission of the 100-member Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration is simple: the community (20 sisters and novices in a house in residential section of Tucson, nearly 50 in Missouri) prays. "I get up at three-thirty and we meet together five times a day for prayer, one of which is Mass," Miller said. "We have two and a half hours of private prayer that we each do. We usually do an hour of praying with scripture. Every sister does a half hour of adoration in chapel."
She's aware that this isn't a typical life, though interestingly she finds that her peerswho do Teach for America and other good worksare more understanding than older people. But still Miller good-naturedly answers religious life FAQ.
Can she leave the monastery? Yes, with the permission of the prioress, who leads the community. Still athletic, Miller goes out regularly to go running. "It's called semi-cloistered," she said.
"It's like a hybrid between what you would remember, with grills and veils, and with the active teaching [order]. It's somewhere in the middle."
What do they do there besides praying? The sisters make altar hosts, vestments, and cocoa butter-based soaps, which they sell by the thousands. Check them out at monasterycreations.com.
Does she wear a habit? "We wear skirts," Miller said. "It's kind of a modified habit. Some of the sisters wear veils, but it's optional.
As a novice, I wear colored skirts and tops. As a sister, I'll wear black and white."
Is technology allowed? There are computers in the monastery but only in offices where they are needed. There are two or three cell phones but no iPods. Miller said she's seen an iPod because her father, an attorney in Akron, Ohio, brought his when he visited. She's seen a Blackberry once, on a plane. And yes, she does e-mail, including answering prayer requests.
Miller says there was an adjustment to be made when she entered the monastery, seeing the same people day after day. And while she has had some hard days, "There's a depth that I didn't find I could reach with very many people in my life outside the monastery that I do with my sisters," she said. "We do everything together. We can do a lot more as a community that way for the world, as opposed to what each of us can do on our own."
Gerry Boyle '78