How to Survive Quarantine, According to a Nun

A lifestyle of silence and solitude has helped women of the cloth navigate the Covid-19 lockdown

Leigh Giangreco
GEN
Published in
8 min readMay 18, 2020

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An illustration of a nun with her hands clasped together in prayer and a coronavirus-shaped halo behind her.
Illustration: Daniel Zender

On a rolling, leafy property a few miles outside of Baltimore, more than a dozen women are cloistered inside their home. Confinement is a liberal word for their way of life; they operate within 26 acres of fairy-tale grounds, which include a Tudor house, stone walls, and tulip gardens. They perform all their daily activities here, eat their meals together, and rarely leave. During this pandemic, that’s not so unusual. But when the stay-at-home order eventually lifts in Maryland and everyone huddles nervously in bars and parks, these Carmelite nuns will remain inside, just as their community has since 1790.

“It’s the perfect place to be in lockdown because that’s the life we live anyway,” said Sister Judy Murray, a 72-year-old nun at the Carmelite Sisters of Baltimore in Towson, Maryland.

The Carmelites are an order of Roman Catholic nuns who, unlike millions of Americans stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, have chosen a cloistered life. They devote each day to prayer and quiet contemplation, with scheduled breaks to tend the garden and the monastery. Rules for leaving the grounds vary by community; some monasteries have their groceries delivered while other nuns are free to shop on their own, visit the doctor, or even vote.

“We’re cloistered, but we have a modern understanding of what that means,” Murray said. “We definitely don’t allow people into the private side of our monastery, and we go out but we go out for important things.”

I’ve been familiar with cloistered life since I was a child. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, my mother would take me every few weeks after school to say prayers at the Carmelite’s chapel at the Monastery of the Little Flower of Jesus just north of the city. The monastery was where my mother could relieve herself of the burdens of adulthood. Pleas for success in marriage or careers, entreaties for sick loved ones, and special intentions for newborn children were whispered in the chapel and deposited in the convent’s “turn,” a large, wooden, lazy-Susan where nuns could receive intentions or gifts without seeing visitors.

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Leigh Giangreco
GEN
Writer for

Reporter covering culture, politics and news.