Run­ning nun: Good ex­er­cise, good time to pray

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - CHRISTINE CLARRIDGE

In a fit­ness-for­ward city like Seat­tle, it’s not sur­pris­ing to see street ath­letes in all man­ner of pants, capris, shorts, bras, tanks, tops and tights in every color, fit and form.

What is un­ex­pected, how­ever, is see­ing some­one in a habit.

“It is a bit un­usual to see some­one run­ning down the street dressed like that,” said Hay­ley Tapp, nod­ding at Sis­ter Mary Kelli Ann Lopez, who was run­ning down a res­i­den­tial street wear­ing a white veil, a plain, dove gray, three-quar­ter length habit and a pair of mul­ti­col­ored run­ning shoes.

Lopez — a 32-year-old novice with the So­ci­ety of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trin­ity who will take her vows soon in Cor­pus Christi, Texas — has drawn more than her share of stares, dou­ble takes, ques­tions and even a few puns since she be­gan run­ning in the neigh­bor­hood reg­u­larly a year and a half ago.

“The first time I saw her, she was with a group of about five nuns,” said for­mer run­ner Charles Gor­danier. “Now it’s ap­par­ently some­thing she’s de­cided to do on her own. Which is great. There are a lot of ben­e­fits if you can make it a habit.”

Although Lopez has oc­ca­sion­ally suc­ceeded in get­ting some of the four sis­ters she lives with in a con­vent on the prop­erty of St. Alphon­sus Par­ish and School to join her in a short walk or run, she’s gen­er­ally solo on the six- to nine-mile runs she takes five days a week.

Her re­li­gious so­ci­ety, which was founded nearly 60 years ago in the United States, is among those that have cho­sen to re­tain wear­ing habits in pub­lic even af­ter the ec­u­meni­cal coun­cil known as Vat­i­can II al­lowed some sis­ters to shed the dis­tinc­tive and mod­est at­tire.

“It’s very hum­bling and lets

peo­ple know who we be­long to,” Lopez said. “We see it as an out­ward sign of our in­ner com­mit­ment to our vows of poverty, chastity and obe­di­ence.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, there aren’t mo­ments when she doesn’t wish she could wear shorts.

“We are fully hu­man, and we do sweat,” she said.

Lopez was one of three chil­dren who grew up in ru­ral Colorado with her

nom­i­nally, but not de­voutly, Catholic fam­ily.

Af­ter she grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado, Boul­der, with a de­gree in bio­chem­istry, Lopez found work in Den­ver as a cli­mate sci­en­tist and spent a few years dat­ing and seek­ing “the nat­u­ral, nor­mal pur­suits of a young pro­fes­sional.”

But when her grand­par­ents died and she lost her job to an eco­nomic down­turn, she found she had the time and the de­sire to con­tem­plate God. She went back to the church and be­gan at­tend­ing Mass al­most daily.

“I re­al­ized I was look­ing for a kind of hap­pi­ness that ul­ti­mately has noth­ing to do with money or ma­te­rial things,” she said. “I had deep in my heart a call to serve God’s peo­ple.”

She felt called to go on a mis­sion to one of the coun­tries served by the So­ci­ety of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trin­ity, and she hoped it might be “sav­ing ba­bies some­where” such as Belize or Mex­ico.

But God had other ideas for her, she said, and she was in­stead as­signed to a reser­va­tion in North Dakota where she did fundrais­ing.

Though it wasn’t a very glam­orous as­sign­ment, she fell in love with the nuns and priests she worked with and de­cided to com­mit her life to serv­ing God.

Three years ago, she was sent to Seat­tle where she lives with four other sis­ters in a for­ma­tion house for nuns and nuns in the mak­ing.

“This city has done won­ders for me,” Lopez said. “It’s here that I’ve learned we don’t have to com­pete with any­one or com­pare our­selves to each other. We don’t have to be some­body we’re not. God loves us for


She has found, too, that while she started run­ning for the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits, she has reaped de­vo­tional ben­e­fits as well.

“I use it as a time to med­i­tate on the way God is working in my life that day,”

she said, “and I pray that the Lord will put his bless­ing upon the peo­ple I en­counter; you never know what dif­fi­cul­ties they may be hav­ing. Be­ing out­side, sur­rounded by God’s good­ness, is a per­fect time to pray.”


Mary Lopez runs last month to­ward Golden Gar­dens Park in the Seat­tle neigh­bor­hood of Bal­lard. The so­ci­ety of which she is a part, So­ci­ety of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trin­ity, is among those that have cho­sen to re­tain wear­ing habits in pub­lic even af­ter the ec­u­meni­cal coun­cil known as Vat­i­can II al­lowed some nuns to shed the dis­tinc­tive and mod­est at­tire.

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