Abbie Reese began working with a community of cloistered nuns in 2005. She was granted rare and continued access to conduct oral history interviews with the nuns, who seek anonymity and observe monastic silence, and she was allowed to make photographs within the enclosure. Her book, Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. Also in 2005, Abbie began to interview a young woman considering a religious vocation as a cloistered nun. The result of this collaboration is Chosen (Custody of the Eyes), a feature-length documentary completed in 2017.
Sharing these projects revealed other stories not yet told — from those on the other side of the metal grille.
Asked to speak to a class at the University of Notre Dame, Abbie read an assignment given to the students — a chapter of the book Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America by Margaret M. McGuinness (New York University Press, 2015). Most of this 277-page book focuses on active religious sisters; just 17 pages are devoted to cloistered contemplative nuns. The chapter Praying for the World closes: "Congregations of contemplative nuns may capture the imagination of some Americans, but it is difficult to document the ways in which they have either contributed to the growth of the Catholic Church or contributed to the larger society."
Stunned by this dismissive sentence, Abbie realized the stories she had been hearing needed to be documented.
Here are some of those stories...