Archeologist-turned-nun: careers first, then religious life

Just as fascinating as it is to learn about women who entered religious life at the tender age of 18, I’m also intrigued to discover Catholic sisters who forged impressive careers before professing vows.

Sister Vicky Segura had a rewarding career as a pathologist, but she didn’t feel fully satisfied. “As I pored over the microscope, squinting to detect disease in a tiny piece of tissue, I felt a yearning within,” she wrote in a personal essay. “I didn’t want to just be a physician; I wanted to dedicate my entire life to service. I wanted something more.” And so she began a journey that led her, at age 38, to join the Sisters of Bon Secours. She continued her formidable medical career as a sister, eventually moving into hospice work. “What a blessing – and a daily challenge – to reflect God’s love to others,” she said.

Our own Sister Mary Soher, OP, co-executive director of National Catholic Sisters Week, spent five years working at the local CBS affiliate TV news station in San Antonio before she became an Adrian Dominican. She started in the studio as a camera person and floor manager before moving into the director’s booth for the weekend news or the weekday morning show. Later her role as production coordinator for KENS TV included scheduling the satellite feeds, studio crew and production rooms. She even had time to do some camera work on beauty pageants, parades and boxing matches! Now Sister Mary applies her broad skill set to raising awareness of women religious. 

Then there’s Sister Belinda Monahan, an archeologist who made her final vows as a Benedictine Sisters of Chicago one year ago. She already had a sterling resume — including a doctorate from Northwestern University and a position as research assistant at the University of Chicago — but felt honored to add religious life. She feels her work in archeology deepens her faith. “Seeing the different patterns and the different ways people live makes me aware of God’s movement in human life.”

Sister Belinda was interviewed about her profession and vocation by the Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Register. I love her answer to Dan Stockman’s opening question, “What does being a Benedictine sister have to do with digging up bones? And vice versa?” She responded:

Certainly, the Benedictines have been known as keepers of history: Benedictine monasteries in the Middle Ages kept research and learning alive. So there’s a nice tie-in there between the two. Archeology has also allowed me to look at the long perspective of religious life: What does it look like now, what did it look like 50 years ago, 100 years ago? It gives me a different perspective on who we are and what that means for the future. And Benedictines are an ancient order [they were formed in 529 A.D.], so they have that long perspective, too.

There’s also community – at the dig with all the researchers, we live together for a month or two every summer. We eat together, go off to work together, and we each have our role. It’s a different form of community, but it’s very much community life.

I also like the collaborative aspect of archeology – with two universities and the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, the dig is very much a collaborative project. This last time, I was one of only a few on the site who don’t speak Armenian – the others have been learning it so they can better fit in. I think that’s important, that we’re trying to collaborate; we’re not imposing.

Another thing is that archeology, like spiritual life, is not instant gratification. You don’t always see results immediately, but if you look back and say, ‘That’s where I was a year ago,’ you do see the results. You also have a role to play – your piece in the puzzle. You don’t solve the entire thing by yourself, and all the different roles matter. That’s why I find community so important – when you have community around you, you have people saying, ‘Here’s my piece,’ which is useful.

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.