Former Beauty Queen Trades her Crown for the Life of a Nun

The chanting of the Carmelite nuns at Our Lady of Grace Carmelite Monastery in Christoval sounded like a scene in the move The Sound of Music.

Everyday, these sisters pray a passage out of the book of Psalms, by chanting each verse as if it were a song.  

Among the voices heard, was Sister Mary Theodore, whose life has a theme of trusting God to guide her in many different places.

Before entering into the sisterhood, Sister Theodore was a former beauty queen, a world traveler, and successful businesswoman at many well known American companies.

In an interview with Sister Theodore at the Monastery, she showed old pictures from various newspaper clippings where she won Miss Black America in 1973, as well as pictures from her solemn vows taken just last year. 

“I’m looking at myself in those pictures saying, who is she?” Sister Theodore said holding photos of herself from the past.

Sister Theodore, who was raised Protestant, explains she began following the Lord at an early age. When she was about seven, she and her family attended a Billy Graham Crusade to witness Graham speak.

“It was then that I was really overwhelmed by the presence of Christ,” she said.

Raised by her aunt and uncle, Sister Theodore knew them as “mommy” and “daddy” after her parents split at an early age and her mother did not have the means to support her any more.

Theodore’s aunt and uncle were very devout Christians that gave her and her siblings a positive example of what a life led by Christ was like.

“When he passed away it was almost like all the angels were in his room. That’s the kind of man he was,”  she said.

Exiting the Civil Rights era and living through the changes of the 1970s, Sister Theodore was able to escape many of the temptations that came with the time period through her upbringing.

“I’m so grateful for my family who had high ideals and [for] being the example I had,” she said.

However, there were societal challenges that she still had to overcome.

While competing for the title of Miss Black America, Sister Theodore was asked a question she had hoped to never have to answer.

“What is so great about being a black woman?” one of the judges posed.

In her response, Sister Theodore made it clear that she would be just as great being any other race.

“I’m just me,” she said.

Moving on through her adult life, Sister Theodore was an associate at J.P. Morgan, a major bank in New York. However, her role took an unexpected ending when her aunt became ill.

After visiting her aunt, Sister Theodore traveled back home to New York, but on that visit home, she realized that she couldn’t leave her aunt anymore.

“I knew my aunt liked her solitude, but I could also see that she needed me,” Sister Theodore said, fighting back tears.

This led her to leave one of the wealthiest banks in the country and caused half her peers to believe she'd lost it for not turning back.  

“I left right before my bonus and that’s when people really began to think I was crazy,” Sister Theodore said. It was something that she felt God was calling her toward.

After the death of her aunt, Sister Theodore moved on to a new chapter of her life that led her to Austin and an introduction to the Catholic Church.

“I loved Pope John Paul II so much and I wasn’t even Catholic,” she said.

After Pope John Paul’s death, Sister Theodore made it a priority to attend St. Mary's Cathedral in Austin the night of his funeral.

Entering into the Catholic Church can be an overwhelming experience for someone that hasn’t grown up with it their entire life, however, Sister Theodore felt like she was home.

“This was the same energy that has followed me all my life,” she explained.

After attending the Catholic Church, she made the ultimate decision to leave her Protestant faith behind by being confirmed as a Catholic at the 2006 Easter Vigil mass.

“This was something God was moving me towards,” she said.

Reflecting on her life, Sister Theodore believes that all the accomplishments and experiences she accumulated before her life as a Carmelite nun was all in God’s plan to prepare her for the next step.

On Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, Sister Theodore made her Solemn Vows to commit to a life of “perpetural chastity, poverty, and obedience."

“I’ll never forget when my nephew saw me after becoming a nun,” Sister Theodore said. “He said ‘That looks like you’… that meant so much to me.”

Now, Sister Theodore lives  in the cloistered community outside of Christoval.

“When turning the corner to the Monastery I just knew this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life,” she said.

Her day-to-day life involves praying at different times of the day, growing in her faith through daily mass, and discerning God’s calling in her life.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"




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