Sister Merry Peter
Destined to Wear the Veil
At 14, while in Catholic school, I took a multiple choice career preference test. When the results came in Sister Clara, our 85 year old guidance counselor, called me to her office and grilled me about the test. She suspected mischief but I was genuinely shocked to see my number one career choice was "nun/religious sister" — even though I marked "male" on my test! It was a SIGN!
A sign perhaps that my childhood was shaped by nuns- remarkable women who did the hard work despite the fact that men often reaped the public glory. My nuns were working class girls for whom religious life offered an escape from oppression and a chance at self-expression and new horizons. I wanted to be like them but thought, as a boy, I never could.
Lost Nuns of Canada
For awhile I thought about priesthood but I was "too flamboyant" according to one vocation director. I lived in community, was an activist and writer, I even wrote a theology degree. But the pieces never quite fit. Until one day, researching in the Toronto Lesbian and Gay Archives, I found clippings about a defunct convent of "Gay Nuns" who helped launch TorontoÕs Pride Movement and took on the police after brutalizing bathhouse raids. They were gone from the scene but these clippings stirred my imagination. I could be a nunÉ A GAY NUN! But how did that work!?
Faeries Make Me a Nun
That same summer, friends convinced me to go to the Radical Faerie Sanctuary in Short Mountain, Tennessee, where I met a fabulous faerie elder named "Mish." Bearded and prone to taffeta, Mish taught me much about the "fey way." During our visits, I confessed my obsession with the "gay nuns of Toronto" and, to my surprise, learned "Mish" was short for "Sister Missionary P. Delight," one of the founders of the original order in San Francisco. Through Mish, I discovered the history of the sisters and found the entry point into my own vocation.
Before the visit was over, Mish put a white veil on my head and sent me back to Toronto to rebuild the "lost Toronto Convent." Driving home I realized I didnÕt have a clue on how to do that! But through bar bingo, teen hustler safe sex support, Pride marches, fundraisers, political action and youth retreats I learned what it was to be a nun and grew into the name I chose for myself: Sister Merry Peter.
Merry celebrates the faeries that brought me to Mish and the fey spiritual vision. Peter celebrates my catholic roots and the ApostleÕs name I took at my confirmation- a reminder of the kinship I felt for this figure so full of passion who struggled to express the love he had for the man who changed his life.
San Francisco Sister
In 1999, after a decade of work in Toronto, I moved to San Francisco where, after a short, six-month probation the sisters let me reaffirm my perpetual vows and welcomed me as a black veil in the San Francisco Order.
San Francisco's magic is that it is a crucible burning away the base matter to reveal the gold beneath. For some the crucible is an invitation to an amazing spiritual transformation. For others, it is a spiral down into drugs and disappointment. For me as a sister it is holy ground on which I walk beside as a witness to these journeys. My calling is simply to hold a sparkling mirror up to everyone I meet to reflect back the beauty and joy they are perhaps to timid or reticent to claim.
I live that vocation through bar ministry and public ritual; outreach to queer youth and political activism; grantmaking and support for full marriage equality (I am an ordained minister able to perform weddings in California). Outside the Castro I love "guerilla sistering" on the Peninsula showing up where nuns are least expected.
Do You Have a Vocation? Want to Start a Mission?
As someone who found her calling as a missionary I support anyone who feels that desire to be a nun or start a mission in their home town. For two years I served as a Co-Mistress of Missions on the UNPC (United Nuns Privy Council)- an elected body of representatives from all our North American Houses responsible for raising up new missions. I now serve as the San Francisco delegate to that Council. Over these past three years the UNPC has supported a doubling of Sister Houses in North America and that joyful resurgence continues in the wake of our 30th anniversary.
If you want to become a nun or start a Mission where you live I encourage you to contact the current Co-Mistresses of Missions (Sr. Erotica and Sr. Rightsarong) at spi-missions at thesisters.org. They will send you information about the process and give you as much support as you need.
Some think my being a nun scandalous! But in a world profiting from fear and shame, the only scandal would be to deny that vocation to help others celebrate their unique JOY and BEAUTY. With all my sisters, I will continue to serve OUTSIDE the convent walls, free to liberate Universal Joy from limiting labels and creeds and to celebrate the unique beauty and truth in everyone. I only hope my makeup holds out a little bit longer!
If you want to share your story, comment, arrange a marriage or just need some Sister support please contact me through the Sisters' Website or by email at sistermerrypeter at gmail.com
With indulgent gratitude and joy!
Sr. Merry Peter, SPI