Alumni

Nun other than a Duke


by Maddie Johnson

 
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SUMMARY: Alumna gives up social media and marriage for a new devotion.


Sister Teresa Joy Berry (’15) graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in Oboe Performance. But the highlight of her Madison Experience was Catholic Campus Ministry, which guided her on her journey into the sisterhood by offering Mass, Bible study, women’s groups and informational trips.

“One of the most beautiful things about CCM and the community that I found was that, wherever you were in your faith journey, you had a spot there,” Sister Teresa said. “It was just a very beautiful group of people earnestly striving for a relationship with the Lord, and then having the resources available to do that was really a gift.

sister_teresa_joy-small.pngIn the spring of her senior year at JMU, she was accepted into the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon entering the convent, Sister Teresa embarked on what’s known as “the formation process.” She was initially known as a “postulant,” committing to the virtues of her new community and to life as a nun, and questioning “Is this life meant for me?” or “Is this my calling from God?”

After one year of being a postulant, Sister Teresa became a novice for a year, followed by five years of temporary vows. Professing her final vows in July 2022, after a seven-year process, culminated in her devotion to a new life of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In addition to her religious duties, Sister Teresa teaches the message of Jesus to children in pre-K through eighth grade at the congregation’s apostolate of Catholic education. She spent another two years obtaining her master’s degree in teaching at Aquinas College in Nashville and currently teaches fourth grade in Illinois.

Sister Teresa lives in the Mission Convent, a space for sisters to stay when they are sent to teach around the country. “The Motherhouse” offers additional living spaces where sisters can spend holidays, see family members, attend classes and hold fellowship with other sisters.

“It has been a great gift in my religious life — the true friendships and true sisterly relationships that I can have with my sisters. We might not agree on some of the superficial things, but we agree on the essentials, like we are here to get to heaven. And I’m here, as a sister, to help you get to heaven,” she said.

Sisters must give up many modern conveniences, such as handheld devices and social media. They also are not allowed to marry and have only limited contact with family. All these factors could make one reconsider becoming a nun, but Sister Teresa is willing to do so for her faith.

“One of the things that people often overlook is poverty of time. My time is actually not my own — it’s Jesus’,” she said. “I’ve given everything about me over to Jesus. I’m radically available to do whatever needs to be done. Our Lord said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Facebook or Instagram, it’s a lot of ‘me, me, me, me.’ And I just can’t even think to do that.”

As a Duke, she went by Annie Berry but received the name Sister Teresa Joy Berry from the prioress general during the habit ceremony to becoming a novice. The origin of the name comes from St. Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish noblewoman within the Catholic Church. Taking a new name symbolizes her transition to a new, religious life, as does sacrificing the ability to express herself through clothing.

sr._teresa_joys_vows-small.png“Wearing the habit, it’s an outward sign that I have dedicated my life to Christ, and it’s just so humbling to me, where people — even if I really don’t know them — will allow me to walk on their journey with them,” Sister Teresa said.

Hardships are a part of life, yet she views these challenges as a sign from the Lord leading her to her true intention. When a plan goes wrong, she believes the Lord sends her signs to take a new path. Her faith has been the foundation for her satisfaction. Before becoming a nun, Sister Teresa was unaware of how her life would play out. Now, she is confident that joining the sisterhood was her calling.

“Before He called, I didn’t know it was even an option, which is the reason He put the desire in my heart, but there is such joy in following Jesus,” she said. “And even when I was discerning, my friends and my parents and my family recognized that, saying ‘Something’s different about you. There’s something joyful about you.’ 

“A life lived with the Lord, you’re going to grow in joy and grow in freedom, because we’re living very deeply with that radical call to discipleship,” Sister Teresa said. “And that gives us the love of Jesus, which makes us do what we do. It’s all about that relationship with Jesus. I mean, we sisters are called Brides of Christ. We put on our vows in a mystical way and espoused Jesus Christ, and so I give him total permission in my life.”

She finds pleasure in expressing herself though the Lord daily, regardless of the sacrifices. If someone is curious about becoming a sister, Sister Teresa encourages them to be brave and trust that the Lord has a plan.

“It doesn’t have to be a great mission trip. It doesn’t have to be a pilgrimage. It doesn’t even have to look like being a sister. If the Lord has a plan for your life and His plan is good and His plan is worth doing, the love of Jesus is to spread His love. It really doesn’t get better than that.”

“And this is only one half of it. The venture continues into eternity. You start living that love now that we are going to live forever. It’s all about the Lord, and it’s all worth it.”

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Published: Friday, November 18, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, December 1, 2022

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