A Cat in the Monastery

A few years ago now, a lovely little cat appeared at our back door. She was thin but beautiful. We knew she was a tabby, but I had never heard of a brown mackerel tabby. Was this a fish cat or a cat fish (but not really a catfish)? With light-filled emerald eyes, she looked up at us from the bush she was hiding in and said “Feed me.” We began to feed her. Of course, the command of Jesus was running through my mind and heart: “Feed my sheep.” Close enough!

She was ravenous but oh so cautious. We began with a dish of food near her hiding place, and she waited until we disappeared to eat. After a few weeks, she would jump up on the bench nearby and eat while we sat there together.

Slowly her trust began to build. Because she had been spayed and her short fur coat was not deeply matted or shagged, we were pretty sure she had been a pet for someone. Half-heartedly, I asked around the neighborhood and I was greatly relieved that no one came forth as her owner.

Eventually, the monastery cat-lovers were able to convince our community that we needed to bring this little fur ball into our house, into a safe place for her. The spotting of coyotes helped with this process as well as the beginning of winter weather.

How do 14 women name a cat? Or agree on a name for a cat? Collaboration--yes. Consensus--impossible. We had a good variety of possible names: Abby Cat, ScholastiCat, and some others too. It turns out the one who took her to the vet to have an overall check-up had to provide her name. That was me--and all along I could think of nothing better than “Pretty Girl” as a name for her. PG for short. So, Pretty Girl became a member of our community. Now we were 15.

Care of a ‘stray’ or ‘homeless’ cat is a delicate journey of finding out what works and what doesn’t. What food will she tolerate? What will calm her nerves? Would she run through the monastery and get underfoot – or would she be content to live in a room that suited her needs? Time was our friend, as we slowly introduced a new rhythm into her life. A monastic rhythm.

“Formation" of a cat reminds me of formation of a new member in the monastery. Often a new entrant is a bit anxious. How do we provide safe spaces for her? Does she need different food choices? Although we don’t usually see a new member run through the monastery getting underfoot, what kind of activity does she desire or need? How do we build trust--her trust of us and our trust of her? How do we ‘feed’ this sheep of Christ’s?

How do we ‘feed’ the sentient beings with whom we come into contact? And those we consider non-sentient, but which are alive: trees, plants and flowers, which make up much of our environment? A desire to do so is an important beginning. Following that is an awareness of all that surrounds us. Finally, identifying what actions can be taken and then taking those actions.

Our Pretty Girl is being fed by us and she is feeding us. We form one another. The same is true of new members who join us, and we are grateful for each of them.







  • Comment posted by Judy Vaughan on June 2, 2024 at 12:47PM (18 days ago)

    I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet all the members of the community--including Pretty Girl--while I was there.

  • Comment posted by Janice J. Ariza on May 25, 2024 at 2:34PM (26 days ago)

    Sr. Julian - this story is heartwarming and tells us how to win over the anxious, soothe the displacement and offer a safe home to a little cat, but also new people coming into our lives.
    The monastic rhythm brings stablitiy to a chaotic existence. Thank you!

    • Comment posted by Sr Julian on May 25, 2024 at 6:32PM (26 days ago)

      Janice, thanks for sharing your insights! Your Retreat Center work does just that - offering peace and joy and safety to all those who come. Thank you!

  • Comment posted by Tim Harrison on May 24, 2024 at 6:26PM (27 days ago)

    As a guardian of three housecats, I relate and approve. :)

    • Comment posted by Sr Julian on May 25, 2024 at 6:31PM (26 days ago)

      Thanks, Tim. Are we the guardians or are they guardians for us? They are so darn special!

  • Comment posted by Laura Swan on May 24, 2024 at 1:05PM (27 days ago)

    Yup. Abbey Cat. And sometimes she crosses the hall to visit me in my office. Interestingly, in the 35 years I've been here, we've never sought out a cat. They came to us in need.

    • Comment posted by Sr Julian on May 25, 2024 at 6:29PM (26 days ago)

      Sr Laura,
      Your office must be warm and welcoming - because she likes to go visit you there. Glad she finds you!

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