Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul, Minnesota: Sister Jane McDonald with her biological sister Sister Brigid McDonald (left to right)


Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (Pink Sisters) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Sister Mary Catherine and Sister Caritas Nash


Holy Family Birth Center in Weslaco, Texas: The author, Cheryl L. Reed, with Lupe Aranda shortly after the birth of her baby, Maribel


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UNVEILED: The Hidden Lives of Nuns (Berkley Hardcover, March 2004; Paperback, March 2005; Second Edition, March 2010) is the culmination of Reed’s journalistic pursuit of the truth beneath the habit. During Reed’s research she interviewed more than three hundred different nuns of diverse beliefs and lifestyles—from cloistered and isolated to untraditional and activist—from more than fifty different orders across the country.

Was the sisterhood still a viable option for women in today’s society? Why would so many women still enter strict, habited orders? How could they possibly exert their own identity in a world of such conformity? Why were they so willing to give up material pleasures, money, the company of men, and sex? The answers to these questions and many more, changed Reed’s perspective on nuns; they also changed her outlook on herself and her life.

While researching UNVEILED, Reed lived and prayed with the nuns; she observed their daily lives, and participated in silent worship. She witnessed their vow ceremonies, mourned with them, celebrated and drank beer with them. They welcomed questions no one had ever dared to ask before. Reed listened to their personal stories and candid musings about love and sex, life and death, faith and joy, and loss and regret. Reed’s four-year journey had her criss-crossing the country, living and praying with nuns from coast to coast.

Some of her extraordinary experiences include:

  • Helping to deliver a baby at a nun-operated birthing center on the Texas/Mexico border
  • Discovering the secrets of celibacy from young, nuns among the wheat fields of Indiana
  • Discovering the origin of the ruler-smacking nun icon while teaching school with habited nuns on Arizona’s Indian Reservations
  • Sleeping with homeless women at a shelter run by feisty nuns in the inner-city of Chicago, where she captured a famous nun’s last words before a stroke robbed her of her speech
  • Penetrating a strictly habited cloister on the outskirts of St. Louis where the nuns shave their heads and beat their bare bottoms
  • Witnessing protesters in Minneapolis where sisters were arrested for trespassing on the grounds of a weapons manufacturer

In the end the nuns that Reed approached with suspicion and curiosity ended up teaching her more about motherhood, relationships, and feminism than she ever gleaned from the outside world.

In UNVEILED, Cheryl Reed has succeeded in opening up the doors to a once closed world - one often misrepresented and almost always misunderstood – to present nuns not as stoic icons of secrecy and ritual but simply as women who have chosen an independent path, and who now offer themselves as guides to their fascinating, surprising, and enlightening interior lives.

About the Author
Cheryl L. Reed is the Director of Strategic Communications at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She is a former editorial page editor, books editor and investigative reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times and previously a staff writer at several others newspapers. Her investigative reporting has changed national and state laws and received multiple awards, including the Harvard Goldsmith Prize. She is currently writing a novel set in Chicago during the recent presidential election.



© 2009 Unveiled, by Cheryl L. Reed. All rights reserved.