Part-time English professor Ryan Pendell announced that he will be leaving Northwestern in April to join a monastery.
Pendell has taught at NW for a year and a half and is also a NW graduate. He said that the decision to leave his current life behind was a long process but that the move is necessary in order to follow his calling of becoming a monk.
“I’m in the situation where I’m young, single and at the start of my career,” Pendell said. “I’m not throwing away a lot of things. If I don’t do this now, I think I’ll always wonder if I should have tried it.”
Pendell started visiting The Order of Julian of Norwich monastery when he was studying to get his masters in Chicago. He said that this was when he started to feel a calling and that growing up in an Episcopal church led him to Julian House.
“It has been a long process, and last spring the pieces sort of fell into place,” Pendell said. “(My calling) started as a little hint that didn’t stop growing, and I kept thinking, what would that be like?”
The monastery is located in Waukesha, Wis. Four people currently live there, and Pendell will be the fifth. Both monks and nuns live together; it’s a distinction that makes the monastery unusual.
After a person decides to join, they are given a five year trial phase during which they can decide if the lifestyle is right for them. Pendell is allowed to leave at any point during this period.
“The community and I will be figuring out if we belong together,” Pendell said.
The Episcopal community will be the ultimate deciding factor if he is a good fit. After the five years, Pendell can choose either to leave or stay for life.
Pendell said he was anxious about the changes.
“I am nervous because it is an intense way of life,” he said. “I wonder if I can handle it.”
Life in the monastery can become repetitive. The typical day at The Order of Julian starts at 3:30 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. It is tradition to wake up early to pray in the silent morning hours.
The day consists of silent prayer, eating, recreation, work and spiritual readings. There are also many activities that the community does during recreational time.
“I asked a nun what they did for fun, and she told me that one activity they did was read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as a group. They also talk, knit and play games,” Pendell said.
The monastery tends a garden, and the community works together to make homemade meals. Pendell said he enjoys the peace and tranquility that surrounds the people there.
“I found that after a day or two, the silence is very natural and peaceful,” he said.
The community meets several times a day to chant Psalms. Life in the monastery centers on prayer and meditation.
When entering the monastery there are vows that Pendell will have to make. There is a vow of chastity, obedience and continual prayer.
“You commit to following the rules the way everyone else does,” Pendell said. “The vow of chastity brings loneliness. It just comes with the territory. The value is being completely available to serve God without distraction.”
Hospitality is a key element and goal of the monastery. Visitors may stay whenever they please and the community hosts many retreats.
The monastery has internet access, but Pendell will not be able to use it his first year.
“I am looking forward to this experience and not being able to use the internet. I have never lived without it. It will be interesting to know what that will be like.”
Pendell said he plans to leave NW in February to spend time with his family before entering the monastery in the beginning of April. Although many changes will be taking place in his life, he says he is confident in his decision.
“I see it as a time to seek God regarding what I should do with my life. I think this might be the way. If it’s not, this isn’t a bad way to spend my time. Questions I have now can only be answered by trying it.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ORDER OF JULIAN OF NORWICH MONASTERY