PHILADELPHIA, PA.,December 1,2010- For the past 35 years, Mother Antonette Marie Walker has chosen to live a religious life devoted to prayer. As a little girl, Walker went to mass with her family every Sunday. She attended catholic school for her entire life, and is an alumni of Saint Patrick’s Academy in Washington DC. Most high school grads dream of the freedom of college life, but that was not the case for Antonette Marie Walker.
At a young age, Antonette knew that she wanted to lead a religious life. With aspirations of becoming a nun, she entered a monastery right after high school at the age of 18. She chose to a monastery that the sisters of Saint Patrick’s Academy had recommended. Unfortunately, it did not work out for her. Antonette left after one year. She was not used living on her own, or being away from her family.
Antonette Walker was distraught and saddened by her incompatibility with the lifestyle of a sister. She thought to herself “If God doesn’t want it, then I shouldn’t want it either.” Soon after that, she got what appeared to be her second calling. She claims that her second calling was the most gratifying experience of her religious life.
“It’s just something in your heart that you feel God is asking of you,” Walker describes her second calling. She then decided to give religious life another shot. When asked how her family reacted to her decision, Antonette replied, “My mother did not approve, she was extremely disappointed in me. She did not like it at all. Everyone wants grandchildren at some point, but she eventually got over it. She’s with God now.”
After a long search, any many retreats, Walker finally chose a monastery in Bathesda, Maryland. When addressing the question of why she chose that particular monastery, Antonette said, “It has to be the right fit for both parties. It’s a long process really; I went and stayed with them for two weeks for an in house retreat. We needed to see how we worked together, then I decided to enter.” There, she attended their Junior College, and went through the process of becoming a nun.
Antonette explained the stages in the process of becoming a nun. Her first five years was the “formation period.” Antonette was a “postulate” for six months to a year, and then she moved on to the novis stage for two years. During that time she received her habit. She explained the habit “I was given a white habit to distinguish me from the professed sisters, you see they wore the habit like one I have on now, but I had an all white one because I was not fully professed at that time.”
The second half of her journey to becoming a nun consisted of her temporary confession, which lasted 3 years. During that time she took her “temporary vows.” After the three years comes final profession. Walker describes the process, “In religious life we have five to six years before you make our final commitment, its the same principle as finding a husband. You wanna date him for five to six years before you say I do- that’s it.”
After seven years in Maryland, Mother Walker had to leave because her monastery was closing its doors for good. In 1975, Antonette moved on to the Monastery of the Visitation on City Ave in Philadelphia. “God just brought me here,” she said.
There, Mother Antonette Marie Walker reigns as the Superior of the house. Walker over sees the six sisters who live in the monastery. She became the superior through a voting process. She is eligible to serve for two three year terms. Walker describes the voting process, “It’s not quite as complex as voting for the President of the United States, all we do is write who we want on a piece of paper and put it in a hat to be counted. Now, we don’t campaign, and are not allowed to talk about it [who they vote for]. The sisters just know who they want to vote for. It’s just something God asks of them.”
The Visitation is a monastery of Apostolate Prayer. There, the sisters do everything with the intensions of prayer. Mother Walker quoted St. Francis DeSales “You make your whole life a prayer.”
The Visitation differs from many other monasteries because the sisters who reside there are mainly silent. Although they do not take a vow of silence, they are silent for a majority of the day. There are certain parts of the house where sisters are not allowed to talk, they include the stalls, the meditation, and the divine office. Walker says “There are times through out the day where sisters must be silent, sometimes we talk during our recreation periods, but thats our life- a life of prayer.”
Many people believe that the sisters at the Monastery of Visitation are silent all day, everyday. Mother Walker states “Sometimes it’s just not possible to have exterior silence. It may even be selfish on your part; sometimes it may not be charitable to be silent. I love silence and I don’t like anybody to invade my silence, but look who we’re following… he did a lot of talking, but also he had his moments of deep prayer.”
Mother Antonette Marie Walker was adamant about explaining what a day in the life of a nun entails. All sisters must wake up at 5:30 am. Then they move on to Meditation till 6:00 and continue to the office of mourning prayer. After that they have mass. They continue to breakfast at 8:00 am. Mother Walker explains, “After that, we go to work. Some sisters are nurses, some sisters work in the library, we have a sister who cooks, we do all sorts of things.”
The sisters then go to the office of readings for a half hour. The office of readings includes various daily bible readings. Then, they go back to work. At noon, they have their biggest meal of the day. Mother Walker calls it “dinner” because it is their major meal. After dinner is recreation time for the sisters. This is one of the only times during the day where they are allowed to converse with one another.
The sisters progress to the office of daytime prayer after recreation, and later go back to work. They work until they have to go to the spiritual reading followed by evening prayer. Then, the sisters have meditation again. Next, the sisters have supper. This is meant to be a light meal, smaller than dinner, this is followed by recreation and a group mass reading. The sisters conclude the day with their night prayers, then lights out.
Mother Walker stressed that the sisters do engage in some normal activities. They watch the news on occasion. They also watch movies. Mother Walker said, “somebody sent us Flight 93, I did not like that at all, that was too sad for me. We also recently saw 2012, that wasn’t my favorite either, We all love The Reluctant Saint.” The nuns also watch the superbowl and the World Series every year. Antonette admits, “I pretend to be an eagles fan cause I’ve been in Philly for so long, but deep down I am a Washington Red Skins fan, I’ll never forget my upbringing in DC, I loved it there.”
Mother Walker concluded our interview with “We’re [the sisters] normal people that happen to be living a religious life. We’re all just people.