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NOTIONS: A sisterly story on the art of going with grace Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art of ending. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

June 23, 2008

Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art of ending. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Next week, a moving truck will pull up at the Carmelite Monastery on Cold Spring Road. The hired hands will load the simple possessions of the nine remaining nuns and their dog, Lucy. Then Sister Jean Alice, Sister Terese, Sister Betty, Sister Ruth, Sister Helen, Sister Marcie, Sister Rita, Sister Anna Mary and Sister Rachel will lock the massive wood door, climb into cars and drive away.

"After 75 years of contemplative life within our Indianapolis monastery," the sisters said in a recent e-mail to friends, "we have made the difficult decision to move. Due to our advancing age and decreasing number (and our wish to live in quarters requiring less maintenance), we are relocating to Oldenburg, Ind., where we will continue our contemplative lives on the campus of the Sisters of St. Francis."

In keeping with their wish that their longtime home remain a spiritual place, the Carmelite monastery will become the Bishop Bruté Seminary. It will house men preparing for the priesthood at nearby Marian College.

The Indianapolis Star dubbed their departure "Sunset on the citadel." I dub it the loss of my friends and teachers. And yet, I marvel at the grace of their transition and cherish the blessing of their next way station.

My friend John and I, Protestants both, first met the sisters nearly a decade ago. Knowing that few women were becoming nuns, the sisters wanted to try modern-day marketing in an attempt to perpetuate their order. They sought our advice.

We introduced them to our friends at Young & Laramore, an Indianapolis advertising agency that subsequently volunteered eight years of its time and talent to help the sisters create and expand a Web site called praythenews.com.

When the site was launched, my colleagues and I helped publicize it.

John and I also joined the sisters' advisory board, a volunteer group that helped the Carmelites with such concerns as facilities maintenance, outreach and fund raising.

On the afternoon we first discussed the board, the prioress told me I'd be blessed as part of the induction process. "But don't let it go to your head," she said. "We've also blessed a refrigerator."

Over the years, the Carmelites' story was featured on NBC's "Today" show, CNN, National Public Radio and in major newspapers in the United States and abroad. Praythenews.comevolved into a global ministry and school of prayer. The sisters published books, produced a recruitment video and recorded podcasts.

And while more than 1.5 million people looked to the sisters to share their prayers, receive lessons in prayer and read views on the news, few women asked about the contemplative life.

So it was that the sisters decided to contemplate a noble exit. These past few years, they investigated options, consulted their advisory board and, of course, prayed.

Earlier this year, the sisters called us together and told us of the path they'd chosen: to move in with the Franciscans; to shut down praythenews.com; to go, as Sister Jean Alice calls it, "deeper into the solitude and quiet of our new home."

In their school of prayer, the sisters teach a lesson about mindfulness.

"The path to mindfulness is fairly straightforward in both theory and practice," it says. "In a sense, it involves switching around some circuitry in your brain so that some centers are more active, and some less, than they normally are. When you do this, you make an easy connection to the deeper side of anything you experience.

"For example, when walking through the woods, try to 'dial back' your rational mind (the part that says: 'There's a sycamore; there's a finch,') and switch over to the pure awareness part of your mind that lets you sense simply what it feels like to channel the primal joy you get from the array of colors, textures, scents and sounds."

In my rational mind, I'll miss the sisters. I'll miss the advisory board meetings in their basement kitchen. I'll miss reading aloud the simple prayers submitted to their Web site. I'll miss the cookouts, the quiet walk up the monastery path on winter evenings, the warm hugs at the front door.

But I'm mindful that this is not about me.

It's about some remarkable women who courageously transformed their quiet lives without wavering from their core values.

It's about some human beings who tried, as humans will, to perpetuate themselves, but whose spiritual enlightenment told them it was time to choose another path.

It's about insightful women who have spent their lives learning to see what few of us will ever come to see.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: "Wherever we are, it is but a stage on the way to somewhere else; and whatever we do, however well we do it, it is only preparation to do something else that shall be different."

Vaya con Dios, dear sisters, vaya con Dios.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.
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