This review was first published in the Winter 2022 issue of Plough Quarterly.
There is a received wisdom in the consecrated religious life that a community is flourishing and healthy if each of its members is clearly and unapologetically an individual – and, moreover, encouraged to be so. Millennial Nuns, the reflections of eight young professed sisters of the Daughters of Saint Paul, bears clear testament to this wisdom. An engaging collection of personal essays exploring what it means to be a religious sister in the twenty-first century, this book has something to offer both to those discerning the religious life and those merely curious about it – even if it sidesteps some deeper and more thorny questions about how to pursue a contemplative life in a frantically online world.
The Daughters of Saint Paul are a Roman Catholic order founded in 1915 by James Alberione. Their apostolate, or mission, is focused on the preaching of the gospel through modern media. At the time of their founding this meant newspapers and the radio, but now encompasses YouTube, Instagram, and podcasting, to name but a few of the media platforms on which the sisters are active.
The eight sisters who contributed to the book all evidently belong to a community with a charism of preaching: each is an appealing writer with a strong and distinctive style. There is a broad – presumably deliberately so – mix of ethnic, social, and professional backgrounds represented, and a no-nonsense honesty about the difficulties both of discerning a vocation to the religious life and of living it out. Their stories will satisfy the curiosity of those who want to know how millennial women end up in convents and of those who want to know what it is they do once they’re in there. It also has something to offer to those who know little about Catholicism more generally: at several points the sisters take time to explain points of doctrine or devotional practices.
The book promises to “appeal to any reader looking to discover more about balancing faith with the modern age,” but readers looking for deeper insight on this topic will probably finish the book unsatisfied. I found that many of my own questions about how the Daughters of Saint Paul live out their preaching charism went unanswered. For instance: How does extensive use of social media impact the development of spiritual disciplines such as detachment and recollection? How does the community discern how much of their communal life to share online? Ultimately, for all its merits, Millennial Nuns only scratches the surface of what it means to commit oneself to Christ in a digital age; any reader wanting to find out more will need to do a little further reading, or maybe even meet some sisters and speak to them directly. Perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.