Past Event

Monastic Silence and a Visual Dialogue: Life among the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns

A Road Scholar Program by Abbie Reese

As members of an exceptionally strict religious community, the Poor Clare Colettine nuns make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and enclosure. They observe monastic silence and seek anonymity.

Abbie Reese, a writer and documentary filmmaker whose work draws upon oral history and ethnographic methods, has conducted research with a community of twenty Poor Clare Colettine nuns in Illinois, resulting in a book, Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2014). Her collaborative film-in-progress, Chosen, will tell the story of a 27-year-old former blogger and painter who is now a cloistered nun-in-training.

Reese’s presentation will examine the self-selected subculture of cloistered contemplative nuns, which is facing the possibility of extinction. Through photographs, audio, and video, Reese will share aspects of the hidden monastic life, the nuns’ motivations, and their internal journeys. It will introduce individual nuns, such as "Sister Nicolette," who considered becoming a pilot or airline attendant. "Claustrophobic in an elevator" and proficient in Latin, Sister Nicolette worried when she first felt called, since "cloister" shares the same root as "claustrophobia." The Poor Clare Colettines regard their enclosure – which one nun’s four-year-old great niece described as "the Jesus cage" – as a source of freedom rather than confinement. It keeps the world out so that they can devote themselves more fully to interceding on behalf of the world.

Thus, this presentation addresses deeply human questions about personal and group identity and about relationships among individuals, communities, and society. It also resonates with Pope Francis’s designation of 2015 and a portion of 2016 as a Year of Consecrated Life.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Barb Peterson at