• U.S.

Publisher’s Letter, Apr. 11, 1955

2 minute read

Dear TIME-Reader:

At daybreak one morning, a girl with a bright kerchief over her head walked into the chapel of the Maryknoll mother house near Ossining, N.Y. in the company of a group of black-hooded sisters. Soon, the religious were intent on their missals, following the recital of the Mass, while the visitor slyly tried to peer about without moving her head. The sisters were full of piety; the girl in the kerchief was full of curiosity. She was TIME Researcher Deirdre Mead Ryan, at work on the week’s cover story.

To study Mother Mary Columba and the Maryknolls, convent-educated Deirdre Ryan visited the mother house from 5:15 a.m. till 9 p.m. daily for three days. She joined the sisters in their devotional, working and recreational periods, and soon saw for herself that convent life is not—in the words of the jest—all tedium and Te Deum. There were, for example, the sisters on a work detail clearing stumps and burning brush who wisely took along marshmallows for toasting; and the candle-bearing novice who set fire to the veil of another novice in the procession for Compline, the last office of the convent day. “There was plenty of action,” recalled the Novice Mistress with a hearty laugh. One young sister, thinking to wrap a rug around the victim, tried to pull the only rug handy out from under the flaming novice, while another snatched off the veil and stamped on it. “The fire,” said the Novice Mistress, “went out, and so did the novice—without her veil.”

The story was written by Douglas Auchincloss and edited by Henry Grunwald, both of whom worked on last year’s cover stories on the Archbishop of Canterbury and Evangelist Billy Graham. Laborare Est Orare is illustrated with color portraits of other women who have entered the monastic life. Here is a warm and human story about women who work and pray.

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