'All the same deep down'

This story appears in the See for Yourself feature series. View the full series.

by Nancy Linenkugel


View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

On a recent visit to an area cathedral on a Saturday morning, I walked in and saw a number of college-age people walking around, looking at the structure's interior. The docent desk was empty: The two volunteers were with those tourists, explaining the massive stained-glass windows, the high altar, the sanctuary, the Blessed Sacrament chapel, and the magnificent Stations of the Cross. I took a self-guided tour pamphlet, slipped into the interior of the basilica, and found an empty pew.

The members of the tour group were walking around the cathedral for about a half-hour or so, and I moved around on my own, thanks to the explanations on the pamphlet. It wasn't my first visit, so I didn't need the pamphlet word-for-word, but it was a helpful reminder of several aspects. Once the tour folks had exited, the two volunteer docents returned to their desk near the entrance, so as I was leaving, I walked past the desk, returned the pamphlet and thanked the volunteers.

"Oh, you're so welcome, and thanks for visiting," said a man whose nametag read "Bill."

"Are you local?" he continued. I said I lived in the area and enjoyed visiting, although it's rare that I get to visit the basilica.

Bill then said, "Pardon me, but are you a nun?"

His partner docent, Helen, said, "Oh, Bill, what a question. What if she isn't? That would be awkward."

Before I could say anything, Bill said, "I'm really sorry. My sister is a nun, and so I've gotten to where I can spot a nun a mile away. So are you? I'd take a guess and say that you are."

"Yes, you're correct," I responded. "But why would you think that?"

Bill smiled broadly and said, "You have a nun's demeanor. Calm. Collected. Peaceful. So what order are you? My sister is a Notre Dame."

I held out my ring finger, pointed out the Franciscan coat of arms on my ring, and said I was a Franciscan. "I have lots of friends who are Notre Dames, but I just happen to be Franciscan."

Bill nodded exuberantly and said, "You sisters might belong to different orders, but you're all the same deep down. We can tell you a mile away."

So after a few "God bless yous" and "Merry Christmases" said to each other, the docents turned to new visitors, and I moved along. It's a good thing I wasn't doing anything I shouldn't have been doing ...

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]