The Lives of Nuns, Part 2: A Reading List

As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.

In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read.

1. “Bucking a Trend, Some Millennials are Seeking a Nun’s Life.” (Penelope Green, New York Times, September 2015)

I really would’ve appreciated some screenshots of Nuns Tweeting, but this article was great nonetheless.

2. “Buried in Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much.” (Laura Bassett, Huffington Post, May 2015)

A coterie of sexual assault survivors come together to try to solve the murder of their beloved high school teacher, Sister Cathy Cenik; they suspect she may have been killed because she knew several of her students were being abused by their priest and mentor.

3. “The Prophets of Oak Ridge.” (Dan Zak, Washington Post, April 2013)

A contemporary classic example of long-form storytelling in 15 parts: In protest, a nun, a drifter and a painter break into a nuclear testing facility.

4. “A Higher Purpose.” (Chavie Lieber, Racked, April 2016)

Despite their denim-skirted habits, Sister Kate and Sister Darcy aren’t real nuns, but they imbue their cannabis business with an activist bent and holistic energies.

5. “Swords, Satan and Sexuality: Queer Nuns of the Past.” (Siobhan, Autostraddle, November 2016)

Autostraddle shares the fascinating (and somewhat tragic) stories of Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, Abbess Benedetta Carlini and Julie D’Aubigny.

6. “The Nun’s Story.” (Sarah Laskow, Lapham’s Quarterly, April 2015)

This scandalous story of sexual assault and impropriety inside the convent played into anti-Catholic sentiment in the 1800s—only it wasn’t true. Here, Sarah Laskow reflects on the exploration and agency of its supposed author, Maria Monk.