When Karol Jackowski entered the Catholic Sisterhood in 1964, nuns were prescribed a litany of rules to follow — even ones related to friendship.
“They shall carefully avoid any friendship contrary to community spirit, such a close union with one person being a formal separation from the rest,” read one.
But another: “They shall love one another sincerely, never entertaining feelings of aversion. They shall pray for one another; they shall help and serve one another. They shall strive to banish from their minds every thought of jealously and to rejoice in the success of their sisters as their own.”
Jackowski — who has since left the Sisters of the Holy Cross — is now part of the Sisters for Christian Community, an independent, self-governing sisterhood. She opens the 2023 Interfaith Lecture Series, and its Week One theme of “Holy Friendship: Source of Strength and Challenge” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. Her lecture title is “Friends: The Holy Family That We Choose.”
In her memoir, Forever and Ever, Amen: Becoming a Nun in the Sixties, Jackowski details how she first came to her religious vocation; the idea of becoming a nun grew serious in the middle of her senior year, “the proverbial eleventh hour,” she wrote.
“I loved high school because of the friends and fun I found there; it was my first taste of what I now know as sisterhood,” she wrote in Forever and Ever, Amen.
In 2007, Jackowski told Reuters that she decided to write her memoir — her fourth book as a full-time writer — because she found that the life of a nun is largely a mystery to many outside the faith. The lives of the nuns themselves, she said, were shrouded in mystery, and she wanted to lift the veil.
“Writing or any of the arts were never encouraged or supported in religious life. The sense of individuality or the idea of expressing your own experiences was sort of suppressed. I think there are only a handful of nuns writing anything,” she told Belinda Goldsmith of Reuters Life! “Lots of parts of convent life were very difficult and people don’t want to reveal that side. It’s like a dysfunctional family.”
That family, she told Goldsmith, taught her “how to live with people you don’t like, you disagree with, and you would never anticipate being your friend.”
In the years since, Jacowski has earned a PhD from New York University, become a full-time writer (her most recent book is 2021’s Sister Karol’s Book of Spells, Blessings, and Folk Magic), a self-taught painter of religious folk art, and a faculty member in Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction.
Since Jackowski’s been considering this concept since she was a young nun, she brings a spiritual creativity to open the week that Melissa Spas, vice president of religion, finds exciting.
“Sister Karol has a breadth of experience in thinking and sharing with others the power and limits of friendship as part of spiritual practice,” Spas said. “It sets the tone and creates space for others to talk more particularly about their own friendships and the nurturing of friendship as a spiritual value.”