Surprised by Gentleness by Colleen Carroll Campbell

View

Surprised by Gentleness

There is a little monastery in Mobile, Alabama, nestled in one of those historic Old South neighborhoods where moss-draped oaks and magnolias frame antebellum mansions. Even in winter, white and pink camellias bloom outside the convent’s 160-year-old brick walls. Inside are other wonders: the Gothic grandeur of the Sacred Heart Chapel, where the cloistered Visitation nuns pray six times daily; the storied beauty of the convent’s lush green courtyard; and the sinful delectability of the sisters’ chief export, a gooey chocolate-marshmallow confection known as Heavenly Hash.

In December 2008, struggling with a mix of writer’s block, winter blues, and grief over my four-year battle with infertility, I decamped to the Visitation Monastery of Mobile for a private retreat. I had found the place on the internet, inviting myself by fax after explaining that I was a Catholic author looking for some peace and inspiration. Visitation’s then-superior, Mother Rose-Marie, cheerfully welcomed me and said I could stay as long as I wanted. 

I spent two weeks at Visitation, praying and angsting over the book I couldn’t figure out how to write, breaking only for meals, walks, and Mass with the nuns. Somewhere near the end of my monastic sojourn, I wrote the first chapter of the spiritual memoir I would publish a few years later, My Sisters the Saints.

Introduced to Jane

As I was packing up to return home to St. Louis for Christmas, my Toyota stuffed with enough Heavenly Hash to cover everyone on my shopping list, Mother Rose slipped me a slim biography of the order’s foundress, Saint Jane de Chantal. She knew I was writing about my favorite saints, and she wanted to introduce me to hers.

I knew little about Jane—only that she was French, that she had been a wife and mother before becoming a nun, and that she was a friend of Saint Francis de Sales, a seventeenth-century bishop and Doctor of the Church who was the patron saint of spiritual writers.

I was curious, so I asked Mother Rose: What are Visitation nuns known for? Mystical prayer, like the Carmelites? Evangelical poverty, like the Franciscans? Eloquent preaching, like the Dominicans?

“Our charism is gentleness,” Mother Rose said, smiling. “And hospitality.”

Oh, I thought. Too bad they couldn’t come up with something better.

I didn’t say that, of course. I just nodded along as Mother Rose explained that Visitation was founded as a refuge for older or sicker women who wanted to be nuns but couldn’t practice the harsh penances required of nuns in Jane’s day. Mother Rose was sweet, and I appreciated her hospitality. But a saint focused on gentleness didn’t exactly intrigue me. Wasn’t gentleness the perfect-attendance prize of the virtues, the one for souls too milquetoast to aim higher? How could a congenital overachiever like me get excited about that? 

A Refined Striver


Colleen Carroll Campbell is an award-winning author, print and broadcast journalist, and former presidential speechwriter whose newest book is The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God's (Simon & Schuster, 2019).


more on church history from the online archives

33.1—January/February 2020

Surprised by Gentleness

on a Saint's Charism That Cures Toxic Perfectionism by Colleen Carroll Campbell

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

32.1—January/February 2019

Role Reversals

Sex, Women's Ordination & the Rejection of Hierarchy & Equality by James A. Altena

32.2—March/April 2019

The Boy Genius

Finding Him Again Through the Patriarchal Group by Anthony Esolen

33.5—September/October 2020

Killing Homicide

on Missing Fathers & Redemption in Prison by Bob Perry

00