When I first saw the dust jacket of FOREVER AND FOREVER, AMEN with it's photo of a young, blushing nun in a modified habit, with 1960's colors, I immediately thought it would be a WHERE ANGELS GO, TROUBLE FOLLOWS type tale, but there are no Rosalind Russell types as superiors in this book and Stella Stevens' Sr. George is hardly Sr. Karol Jackowski, so if you're looking for a gooey overly nostalgic view of convent life in the 1960's, this may not be your book. If you're looking instead for a story about a young woman who enters a novitiate as the changes of Vatican II are just about to begin, told with faith, perseverance, pluck, and humor, then you'll love FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.
The young Karol Jackowski we meet at the beginning of the book is, in her opinion, an unlikely candidate for religious life. She enjoys life too much to be a nun, at least from her perspective, but something inside her in gnawing and won't be satisfied until she at least looks into joining the nuns who taught her in high school, the Sisters of the Holy Cross. The book then tells of her idealistic days as a postulant, the stringent years she spent in then novitiate, the troubling yet insightful years in the juniorate, and ends with her decision to take final vows. Her gift with words makes a reader feel present in the novitiate with Karol and her comrades, a credit to the fine writing in this book.
The book is honest and well written. While Jackowski sees no need to return to the early days of her training, nor the upheaval that took place during her formation. She's at times critical of what happens, but she's also aware of how the training formed her to be the person she is today. She's appreciative of what she learned, and writes about the shortcomings with objectivity and at times sympathy. She genuinely cares about her fellow sisters, even the oddball characters she lived with from time to time.
Perhaps what I appreciated most about this book was the inside view of convent life in the 1960's and how tumultuous it could be. It made me understand why some women chose to leave the convent and gave me a new admiration of those who persevered. This is an honest, witty, and compelling work that should be appreciated by anyone interested in Catholic religious life. Jackowski also pays attention to small details that could be lost on a reader not familiar with Catholic religious life which makes it reader friendly for people of all denominations.
In 1964, Karol Jackowski was a spunky and popular high school senior who loved friends, music, and partying. She also loved the nuns who were her teachers and wanted to join them. This memoir follows the next seven years which were spent preparing to take her final vows.
When she became a postulant, convent life had been unchanged for a hundred years; her days were spent in silence and prayer. Karol had to adjust to living in close quarters with sisters of all ages and personalities, without the essentials of her previous life (TV, radio, phones, cars, books, etc.) She never lacked for friends and fun, however, and maintained her outspoken personality even in the face of rigid conformity. Vatican II brought welcome changes.
Her enthusiastic love of life makes for fast reading, light on religion with the emphasis on personal growth. After forty years as a nun, Karol views those first seven years as the most dramatic and rewarding of her life. A fun read.
on July 6, 2007
Overall this is a book that is well written filled with complex life experiences: bitter-sweet, a few warts, but filled with hope. High Recommend. If I could give this book a 6th start, I would have.
The author was forthright and gave the reader a good idea of what she is really like, warts and all. She live though some turbulent times. After 33 years as a Sister of Holy Cross, Karol transferred to the Sisters of Christian Community; thus, 2 of 50 (4%) stayed. This could have been a tragic rant.
Frankly, I was honored as a reader to be allowed to get to know these valient women. At times, I found dissapointed with Karol's behavior and unsympathetic to her plight; but, appreciated the author's willingness to let us see her warts, letting it all hang out. More than once, I would have liked to have given Karol a dope slap, "That attitude, she isn't getting it!" But reading on to find later to find myself smiliing thinking, I'd like to give her a bear hug, "She did get it!"
The complexity and depth of the relationships, seeing so much in terms of time passing, as an outsider I found I felt great sorrow at times. I was shocked to find myself greeving the loss of community: coming to the realization, internalizing, and accepting the loss that Karol must have had to go through. Watching her community struggle so much. This community had far more wrong with it than could be readily solved. Further, it became clear during the "experimentation" that this community had lost its vision. Perhaps a better first with the instructions that came from Vatican II, would be to answer the question, "What was the intent of the founters for our community?" Followed by, "How to we acheive this vision/mission today?" There is no "re"-newal, if there was no "newal" that existed. It was painful but very joyous to see her grow so much from the experience. I felt like I knew her well and her other sisters in the community. Karol did a great job making the experince accessable to readers.
Wow, what a great book. Thank you for letting us readers join you (Karol) in your life journey. It was a real pleasure to read this book.
Books on the thought during the transition process include: "Catholic Sisters in Transition" and "From Nuns to Sisters" by Sr. Maria Augusta Neal SNDdeN and "Midwives of the Future: American Sisters tell their story." McCormmic.
Unhappy memoirs, "The Narrow Gate", "The Buried Life" by an ex-IHM.
Happy memoirs include: "Springs of Silence", by Madeline de Freese a Holy Family sister, who from what I understand is no longer a member of her order. "My Beloved" by a Carmelite, "Right to Be Merry" Mother Mary Francis PCC (still in print!).
on July 11, 2007
I have read many books about religious life (the sisterhood) over the years. I entered the convent myself in the early 70's as the mass exodus of sisters was waning. What I most appreciated about Sister Karol's book was how accurately she captured the emotions of the time. She was able to shine a gentle light on that singular experience, known perhaps only to women who have been in formation (postulancy, novitiate, juniorate) to become a sister, of joy, belonging, and awe juxtaposed with fear, sadness, and anger. Her book so precisely captured that experience that I found I could not put it down.
I am grateful to her for evoking those feelings so clearly in me, and, I assume, all who will read the book and remember. Convent life is almost indescribable if you have not lived it. As Dickens wrote, it was for most of us, "the best of times and the worst of times."
If you have been in the convent you will recognize yourself in Sister Karol and her classmates, I promise you. And if you have not, you will have as clear a glimpse as you can get into what life was like in the convent of the 60's.
on April 28, 2011
Contrary to finding this book funny, it made me angry! I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why these young women were nuns if they wanted to smoke, drink, go to Woodstock, etc. Why didn't they just leave and do their own thing instead of tearing down the system from within? One wonders, until you realize the author of this book also has published a book of pagan, new age spells. I think this tells us what spirit was behind all this rebellion, and it wasn't God's. The author is no longer a Catholic nun but belongs to a group of feminists who have no sanction of the Catholic church. Too bad she didn't do that back in the '60's. Also too bad she keeps leading readers to believe she is still a nun. I just found this book sad, like watching something being torn down and stomped on. I wish I had not given the author my money.
on June 8, 2007
I got this book and I will have to tell you, I was laughing. Sr. Karol has a great sense of humor and tells it like it surely is about religious life. You have to take the hard times with a grain of salt. Her refreshing and very sane look at religious life invites a new wave of Sr. Karols to take over the monasteries and I think that if they were all like her, there would be a lot more charism and awesomeness in religious life!
Karol Jackowski's candid, very honest presentation of convent life preserves an excellent balance between showing the deficiencies and unhealthy practises common at the time, yet never descending to mockery, bitterness, or exaggeration. It is surprisingly witty and fun, yet it is a clear and realistic picture, not a 'valentine' or gloomy 'see what we suffered' tome.
There are areas in which Karol and I would be miles apart - for example, I'm not fond of her constant Wiccan 'blessed be,' and would consider liturgies which featured "Blowing in the Wind" (a marvellous song for the CD player, but not for worship...) as a penance fit for Charles Manson rather than edifying. (Yes, I do remember such liturgies - I must remember she was only 22, and it all seemed relevant and progressive then.) I have not found other books which she authored to be of note. This one was a pleasant surprise. There are excellent insights about prayer, and about Karol's own spiritual formation which endures, within the total picture. She does not skimp on details of the outdated, often unhealthy practises of the day (though I would prefer her group to my own - hers were fun and in solidarity, where mine were so afraid of 'setting a bad example' for one another that they wouldn't have eaten a spare apple lest they be deficient in holy poverty), but presents the memories with warmth, understanding, and compassion.
Many parts of the text range from witty to hilarious - a rare treat in books on this topic. I felt nostalgia, reading of the party aspects and chats in the graveyard, remembering a time when people still had fun and relaxation - though I'll caution the current conservative crop that the references I enjoyed, to sharing a gin and a smoke, that these girls were Catholic, not Puritan.
With its combination of insight and entertainment, I highly recommend this book as a pleasant, nostalgic look at the past - with insights on prayer and contemplation that one can find all the more enriching in maturity.
For some reason, books about nuns will always be popular among readers, whether they score 10 or 0 on their own personal religiosity scales. This one stands out because it's so balanced: Jackowski openly shares the flaws of the system and the specific sisters she lived with, but she rejoices in the way the same system transformed her. Along the way, she became an amazing storyteller.
Without being academic or analytical, Jackowski shares some truths about vocation that hold true in any arena. Those who approach their lives with a light-hearted irreverence tend to persevere. Those who take things too seriously tend to drive everyone crazy including, eventually, themselves. The more angelic, obedient novices may have gained temporary rewards, but the rebels were the ones who stayed.
Jackowski tells a great story. I rarely have trouble putting a book down these days, but this one gripped my interest. What works is her ability to convey insight without underlining her points. In a single line, she shows how a dog can turn a community of strangers into a home. And she never openly acknowledges the ultimate irony of her superiors: by sending away the strongest young women, they ultimately destroyed their own communities. Many sisters left, says Jackowski, to escape the "dysfunctional" living situations they encountered.
What I most admire is Jackowski's own personality. She comes across as the kind of woman who knows how to make and keep friends. She knows when to follow the rules and when to ignore them -- leaving her room to comfort a friend and sharing whiskey from the "poodle" with an elderly nun. She's disturbed but not blown away by negative experiences. So she got the worst jobs in the novitiate -- she stayed on course and moved with what contemporary writers would call her inner compass. When you realize she navigated these experiences at a very young age -- she entered the convent right after high school -- her common sense and maturity seem all the more impressive.
Jackowski's website shows how she has carried her humor forward as her own mission. She's shown with stylishly cut short hair and a wide grin. Today she's become a media star, executive who directs a chain of retail stores, a best-selling author and an avid fan of Sex and the City. Michael King, executive producer of SATC, even blurbed her book -- no small accomplishment. She holds margarita parties in her Greenwich Village apartment and I bet half her readers would kill for an invitation.
Presumably the author's first superiors are rolling over in their graves. Karol, as always, literally gets the last laugh.
on June 20, 2007
This is one of the finest books I have ever read concerning religious life in the post-modern era . Sister Karol provides not only a reflection on her own experience, but portrays well the struggle of all religious during the decades of change following Vatican II. While she presents the Sisters of the Holy Cross, she could be speaking of almost any community of women or men who lived through the turbulent years of rethinking how to build the reign of God. Previous models seemed to be no longer working, but a new model was absent. Only experimentation seemed valid. Even when at odds with community leadership rooted in the old style, this Marianite shares a deep sense of love and respect for the community she joins. It is not so much "the nun's story" as it is a story of becoming a sister to her community, to her friends, to her students and even to her readers. This is a refreshing tome which deserves a large readership because it is the story of the human side of the mystical journey which is the religious life, convent life in America. As one closes the book for the final time the reader is inclined to want to thank Karol for sharing her story, and for her commitment to Holy Cross and the People of God.
on September 9, 2007
I was just browsing when the subtitle caught my eye with its reference to becoming a nun in the 1960s. I was heavily involved in the political and social side of things in the '60s and I was intrigued, especially since the years covered included the emergence of "Vatican II". I am not Catholic or anything close to it, so I was also intrigued by the smiling face on the cover that seemed to differ from the stock impression I'd always had of nuns, especially those just starting out, as unflinchingly stolid and contemplative. This book lived up to the promises I inferred, on both counts.
It is very easy to read. The author keeps the action moving, without getting bogged down. She also avoids the pitfall so many other authors stumble over, of going off on long tangents of philosophy and dogma; Sister Karol sticks to telling the story as promised, throwing in explanations as necessary without turning them into side trips, and I appreciated that.
Another reviewer has mentioned the author's stated belief in reincarnation as a surprise. Sister Karol also uses "Blessed be" at times. It isn't an expression you (or at least I) expect to hear from a nun, but apparently this particular nun thinks outside the box, and is not only respectful and accepting of other faiths but is open to the love of God in all its forms.
This book is not an expose, but a narrative story with fascinating characters (I'd love to have met Sister Concilio) and plot twists, culminating in a happy ending -- all real. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that I wish it had been a little more in-depth, a little longer. At 300 pages, it's not a skimpy book, but I would have liked to know more about some of the people and certain phases of the process as she and her sisters experienced them.