In The News

Odell program spotlights life as a nun

This article appeared in the Clinton Herald on March 8, 2016. You may access the original article here


MORRISON, Ill. — As members of an exceptionally strict religious community, the Poor Clare Colettine nuns make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure.

On March 15, 2016, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., “Monastic Silence and a Visual Dialogue: Life among the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns” will be presented free of charge at Odell Public Library, 307 W. Madison St., Morrison.

A question-and-answer session will follow. This event is being produced in part by the Illinois Humanities Council’s Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, a program that provides organizations statewide with affordable, entertaining and thought-provoking humanities events for their communities.

Abbie Reese, a writer and documentary filmmaker whose work draws upon oral history and ethnographic methods, has conducted research with a community of 20 Poor Clare Colettine nuns in Illinois, resulting in a book, “Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns”. 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.”

Laura Demanski, editor of the University of Chicago magazine, wrote this about the program: “Reese is an exceptionally thoughtful narrator of a compelling story: how she gained the trust of the sisters of the Poor Clare Colettine order and what she learned over the eight years she talked to them and observed their everyday routines. Reese’s photographs from the monastery are striking and perhaps most absorbing of all is the audio she shared with us from her interviews. Especially talking about their lives before they were called — which they mostly describe as ordinary — these women are at once riveting and disarming. They found an ideal historian in Reese, without whose work their experience would have remained hidden.”

Abbie Reese, who grew up in Lanark, Illinois, is an independent scholar and interdisciplinary artist. She earned an MFA in visual arts from the University of Chicago and has been awarded numerous fellowships, scholarships and residencies. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, a newspaper editor and as a media handler for the BBC in Sierra Leone. She has traveled to approximately 40 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. Her projects include Faces of West Africa, a traveling photographic exhibition, Untold Stories: Freeport’s African American History, an oral history and traveling gallery exhibition; and Erased from the Landscape: The Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns, another traveling exhibition.

This program is part of the winter life-long learning series, “Calming Your Mind,” sponsored by Odell Public Library and the Odell Public Library Friends. It is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Odell Public Library Facebook page or call (815) 772-7323. To help the library staff set up for the event, reservations are requested but not required.

The Illinois Humanities Council is an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities. The IHC creates programs and funds organizations that promote greater understanding of, appreciation for, and involvement in the humanities by all Illinoisans, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. The IHC is supported by state, federal and private funds.