Excerpted from Chapter Seven: “A Divine Intimacy,” Trappistines in Crozet, Virginia.
Jo Ann Doane had spent more than a decade drinking and carousing. Her transformation from Marine truck driver to monastic nun is a complicated, mythical tale. She’d been baptized Catholic but her parents didn’t attend mass. As a teen-ager, she studied eastern religions and was captivated by a book about monks.
“God touched me through that book,” she said one afternoon as we sipped ice water in the monastery’s study cooled only by a ceiling fan. Despite her evenly plucked eyebrows, Jo Ann struck me as a perpetual tomboy. Her copper bangs are cut at a slant and her voice has a deep, masculine Southern twang, a Loretta Lynn drawl. “I wanted to be a monk on a snowcapped mountain in Tibet. That image carried me through eighteen years of living out in the world.”
Her desire for the divine, however, was overwhelmed with Jo Ann’s weakness for partying. After high school, she joined the Marines. Her father had been a career Navy man and she felt comfortable with military life. Her Marine job was in motor transport – driving jeeps, buses, and dump trucks. She also played left field for the Marine Corps slow-pitch softball team, traveling around the country competing against Army, Navy and Air Force women’s teams.
“I still drank and partied. I was having fun,” she said. “Nobody was living the spiritual life in the Marine Corps. Sometimes, when I would get drunk, I would talk to people about God. There was just an inner yearning that I was more free to express when I was drinking and wasn’t so inhibited.”
After her six years of active duty ended, Jo Ann tried to maintain her wild life while she worked jobs in lawn care, furniture refinishing and construction. When she was fired from her full-time construction job, she began delivering newspapers. Her new job forced her to go to bed at six p.m. and to rise around midnight. The work prevented her from partying and, while on her paper route, she began listening to a Christian radio program. Soon, Jo Ann started reading spiritual books. One day while reading about eastern religions, Jo Ann remembered her earlier desire to become a monk in Tibet and she was flooded with sadness.
“It really buried me in that moment, relinquishing a long-held memory, a dream that I wanted to fulfill since childhood that got swamped under the partying.”
For six months, Jo Ann continued listening to the radio announcer’s invitation for listeners to fall on their knees and ask God to instill Christ in their hearts. Then one night she stopped the car in the middle of a country road, kneeled on the gravel and prayed with the radio evangelist.