This spring I had the pleasure of corresponding with Katherine Sartori regarding her novel The Chosen Shell, which was inspired by her experiences as a nun in the 1960s. Sartori’s protagonist, Celie O’Rourke, struggled with reconciling her vocation as an Augustinian Sister with her powerful attraction to New York businessman Tony DeStephano. The theme of Sartori’s novel resonated with me because, like Sartori’s protagonist, I have struggled with discerning God’s purpose and call for me and have questioned whether I have a religious calling, specifically a call to ordained ministry. I have gone as far as attending, but not completing seminary, but found it difficult to juggle the demands of academia with maintaining my own mental health, mothering my son, and moving our household as my husband’s career demanded.
After finishing The Chosen Shell, I looked forward to speaking with Katherine Sartori and gained insight from our conversations:
Kitt O’Malley: It was great meeting you today. I look forward to reading The Chosen Shell.
Katherine (Kas) Sartori: Same here! Next time I want to hear about your writing and/or books.
O’Malley: I’m not writing a book yet, just blogging. On my blog I’ve also posted papers I wrote while attending Fuller Seminary.
Sartori: Fuller Seminary? I’ve heard of it…but refresh my memory. Were you studying to become a minister there?
O’Malley: I was at first, then decided against it. I’ve struggled to discern God’s call over the years.
Subsequently, after a late night finishing The Chosen Shell, I contacted Sartori about how much I enjoyed her novel and about how it got me thinking about the meaning of God’s call.
O’Malley: Now that I finished reading The Chosen Shell, I reflected how it resonated for me and wrote this 5-star review on Amazon and sent it to Katherine:
Katherine Sartori’s novel is an engaging and moving novel. I recommend it highly, especially to any woman who has struggled to make sense of God’s call. God calls us to do different things at different times. He also gives us free will, rather than clear cut instructions as to which direction to take, which choice to make. As we enter each new season of our lives, we must prayerfully discern what we should do, what God’s purpose is for us now.
Sartori: Wow, Kitt, looks like you were up in the wee hours of the morning finishing my book and writing a review! I’m glad the story engaged you. Were you happy with the ending? Just wondered what you particularly liked… I assume you mostly enjoyed the story because you gave it 5-Stars. Thanks so much for your review!
O’Malley: I liked it all. From a personal point of view I particularly liked going back to San Francisco and Santa Cruz, two places near and dear to my heart. I, too, once worked with youth and on the social services, so I related to your work as a teacher and as an advocate for immigrants. The Church actually has many awesome radical nuns whom I know personally and highly respect. Sorry that my review and response were so preachy. I intend to edit my review after I get some well-earned sleep. Most of all, I appreciate how well you described the conflict you felt between your religious calling and God’s call for you to be a wife and mother. Professional women feel a similar, but not so dichotomous, conflict when trying to balance life and work. At least I have, and it’s taken me a decade to accept that we have seasons to our lives and are called to do different things at different times. Here is my revised, less preachy, review on Amazon:
Katherine Sartori’s novel is an engaging and moving novel. I recommend it highly, especially to any woman who has struggled to make sense of God’s call. The protagonist Celie, an Augustinian nun, feels torn between her religious calling and God’s call for her to be a wife and mother. I believe that many professional women feel a similar, but not so extreme and dichotomous, conflict when trying to balance life and work.
Sartori: Those are fascinating insights that you are willing to share. Yes, I think we are called to different pursuits at various times in our lives. Sometimes He puts definite paths in front of us and at other times we have to decide for ourselves, but then we must listen to our heart, in spite of our fears, and go for what we want, I’ve found. Don’t you think?
O’Malley: Our heart’s desires are part of God’s call, I believe. Then again, for all my talk of God’s call, I am not a church-going Christian, nor are my beliefs iron-clad. I do wonder, though, what God really calls us to do. Both of us have been called to motherhood as well as to ministering to others, you as a teaching nun, and I as a former psychotherapist to at-risk teens. Women perhaps more acutely than men experience seasons to their lives in which God calls us to focus on different “ministries” so to speak. We all have seasons to our lives, and it is our nature to seek to live meaningfully.
Sartori: I’ve searched for meaning on my life path at different times. Yes, you’re right!
As Sartori and her protagonist Celie chose marriage and family over the Augustinian vow of chastity, I chose full-time stay-at-home motherhood and now mental health blogging over pursuing a seminary education in theology.