Nun, raised as an atheist, blogs about life and faith

Published: March 8, 2007 | 5706th good news item since 2003

If you’d like a glimpse into the life of a Benedictine sister who was raised as an atheist, deepened her Christian faith through English historical dance and teaches sociology at the College of St. Scholastica, check out Sister Edith Bogue’s blog.

“Monastic Musings,” an online diary that she began in July, is a blend of her thoughts on faith and her view of the world from a social science perspective.

“Welcome to the interior of my brain, vaguely censored,” said Sister Bogue, a member of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth.

Her life and her blog are rooted in the values of the Order of St. Benedict. She believes God can be found everywhere, whether it’s in teaching, writing, praying or knitting, which she considers a spiritual practice.

Sister Bogue, 54, embraces blogging as a ministry. She doesn’t write about Catholic dogma, and she’s not trying to convert people.

“I write about (the Catholic faith) as a way of life, a way of looking at the world,” Sister Bogue said. “Here’s how a faithful Catholic interacts with the world.”

Sister Bogue’s parents were atheists. “It was the religion in our household,” she said. “Dad’s creed was that no intelligent person believes in God.”

She was an atheist until she was called into the principal’s office for some misdeed as a third-grader. With the naive thinking of a child, she told herself that if the principal didn’t call her parents, she’d know God exists. When there was no call, she followed through with her vow and looked into religion. In fourth grade, she started attending Sunday school with a neighbor. In high school, she’d get up early on Sundays to visit churches in her Chicago neighborhood.

While attending Carleton College in Northfield, she met regularly with a priest to learn about Catholicism. She was baptized the month before she graduated. She went on to graduate school in Chicago and became a hospital social worker before deciding to teach in college. She spent 14 years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor working on a doctorate in social work and sociology.

While living in Chicago and Ann Arbor, Sister Bogue became heavily involved in English historical dance and was hired as a caller to lead dances all over the country.

“I got into the notion of building community through dancing. Some callers like flashy moments or thrilling moments. I liked the times when the music and the dancers all sort of merge into an experience that is a joy for everyone,” she said.

In Ann Arbor, she was active in a vibrant Catholic parish. Dancing and her faith life started to merge, and dance became her image of prayer and community, she said.

“My faith life affected my dancing and my dancing affected my faith life. There was a synergy,” Sister Bogue said.

One day a counselor asked her if she could pick what she wanted to do, what would it be? “Oh, I’d be a nun,” she replied and then wondered where that thought came from. The counselor advised that such a quick answer must mean something.

When she got home, Sister Bogue found a magazine for people considering a Catholic religious vocation that she had picked up earlier. She filled out a postcard requesting information and got responses from more than 150 religious communities. Then vocation directors began calling her. “I almost gave up because it was so overwhelming,” she said.

During a prayer retreat at a Benedictine monastery, she was invited to stay for dinner and evening prayers. The experience of being with about 100 sisters praying out loud together in liturgical prayer touched her deeply. “I felt like I walked into my own home for the first time,” Sister Bogue said.

She narrowed her search to Benedictine monasteries and started what she jokingly referred to as her “bed and breakfast tour.” In 1996-97, she visited seven or eight and went to at least four of them three times.

In 1998, Sister Bogue became an affiliate of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth and visited every six weeks. In 1999, she became a postulant and moved into the monastery. She made her final vows on Jan. 15, 2006.

Sister Bogue has worked at the College of St. Scholastica since 2002. She’s an assistant professor and teaches family sociology, statistics, social issues and honors courses on such topics as the death penalty, conspicuous consumption and environmental sociology.

Her wide-ranging interests show in her blog. She has written entries about the gender gap in education and how boys have problems in school, movies she sees such as “Supersize Me” and “Lilies of the Field,” and books she reads.

She also includes links to Web sites she finds interesting. She posts photos and artwork to enhance her blog.

Ada Igoe, a 21-year-old St. Scholastica senior from Grand Marais who took a conspicuous consumption class from Sister Bogue, described her as calm and nice. “You can talk to her about anything,” Igoe said. “… She forms a relationship with her students that continues outside the classroom.”

The Rev. William Graham, director of the Braegelman Catholic Studies Program and a theology professor, led the class trip to Italy. He thought the trip blog was an extraordinary way to share the class with others.

Graham also has read Sister Bogue’s personal blog, which gets comments from people as far away as Brazil.

“I find it just remarkable that she spends so much time and so much effort communicating about things that are very important and involve people in conversation from disparate viewpoints,” he said. “… She seems to attract people who want real conversation.”

Sister Bogue said writing for her blog helps her clarify her thinking on topics. She usually gets about 75 to 80 readers a day and her site has registered users from six continents.

Sister Bogue tries to write a blog entry about every other day. “If you don’t blog fairly often, you lose readers. I want to keep my readers in Peru happy,” she said.

Sometimes she wonders if she is just amusing herself with the blog but then she reminds herself it’s better than mindlessly sitting in front of a television.

“I’m thinking and sharpening my writing skills,” she said.

See: Monastic Musings

Published in Faith
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