Read: Atchison Blue

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Article Reviews

By Judith Valente (Sorin Books, 2013)

As is the case for so many Catholics today, Judith Valente’s faith had been chipped away by the clergy sexual abuse scandals, by increasingly politicized statements of bishops, and by priestly homilies “pointing to splinters in everyone else’s eyes but their own.” In Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith, Valente tells how frequent visits to Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas taught her that spiritual peace requires not so much a change in thinking as a change in habits.

Immersed in the monastery’s rhythms, teachings, and silence, she began acquiring those habits. Praying for strangers with the Benedictine nuns and helping the sisters serve neighbors regardless of their faith—or lack of it—Valente was reminded that we do not love and serve others because they’re Catholic; we do it because we are Catholic.

Yet communal living has its own challenges. One day each week, the prioress shuts herself off, absorbed in a hobby. It’s her attempt to remain a “nonanxious presence” among her sisters during the other six days. This “free us from all anxiety” quest resonated with Valente, who was coping with losing her job as a Wall Street Journal correspondent and sorrow over being rejected by her adult stepdaughters.

Valente began to replace her “I want it all—Now!” career focus by asking, “Do I need this? Do I need it now? And do I need this much of it?” Before speaking, she began thinking: “Is what I am about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

Valente went to the Mount dismayed by what she saw as an unfeeling and patriarchal church bureaucracy whose fear of scandal, women, and open discussion trumped its pastoral mandate. Especially for readers who may be seeking the same sort of spiritual home, it’s worth reading this book to see why Valente now views the Benedictine sisters as “the only truly free people” she knows.

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 12, page 43).