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.]