Tennis Star Dons the Habit: CEN 2.09.07 July 10, 2007Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Mission Societies/Religious Orders.
Professional tennis champion Andrea Jaeger has donned the habit, taking vows as a nun. On Sept 16, the former tennis child prodigy completed a six month postulancy and became a novice of the Anglican Order of Preachers, a religious community in the Dominican tradition of the US Episcopal Church comprised of lay and ordained friars and sisters.
Ranked number two in the world while still a teenager, Jaeger turned pro while only 14, and enjoyed a short but highly successful career on the women’s professional tennis circuit until she suffered a career ending injury at the 1985 French Open when she was 19. After seven surgeries, Jaeger retired from the game in 1987.
Jaeger took her tournament winnings of $1.4 million to Aspen, Colorado and with the assistance of friend Heidi Brookhart founded the Little Star Foundation in 1990, a charity that today provides programs and services for over 8,000 children a year that are seriously ill, abused or at risk. She remains president of the foundation, responsible for raising over $4.3 million a year to fund Little Star’s work, which brings children to the mountains around Aspen, Colorado for a range of outdoor activities.
The Little Star Foundation quickly became a success and drew support from sports and entertainment personalities. Successful in her second career as the director of a non-profit foundation, Sr. Andrea did not expect to hear the call towards the professed life almost a year ago.
The second daughter of German immigrants to the United States who settled in suburban Chicago, the Jaegers were not a religious family, Sr. Andrea told The Church of England Newspaper.
However, Sr. Andrea noted that from the time she was a small girl she was conscious of the presence of God, and as a young girl lived a God-drenched life. Even at the height of her tennis career, she told CEN that she believed “God had a plan” for her life beyond sport.
The call to the cloister came to her in a series of dreams and visions. In one dream, “I was getting a tour of a monastery. My tour director was Katherine of Siena, whose mission was to help the sick, the poor and the suffering.” This led her to study the life and work of the Italian nun, and led her to consider whether she too should take a vow.
However, Sr. Andrea said she was reluctant to give up the work of the Little Star Foundation, and was somewhat nonplussed at the thought of entering the religious life. “Wearing a habit and all of that” was foreign to her background, and something outside of “what I knew.”
“I thought you had to enter a convent as a child,” she said, and at first did not pursue it. “I kept asking myself, ‘is this for real?’.” “How do I fulfill this” call upon my life from God?
The call continued, she told CEN and manifested itself, in images and dreams of “waltzing with Jesus”, and enfolding “my life into his will.” Applying herself to a study of the religious life as doggedly as she did her earlier tennis career, Sr. Andrea learned of the Anglican order that would combine a strict rule of life and close confraternity, while allowing her to continue her work as president of Little Star.
At first she confided her hopes on becoming a nun to a single friend, fashion model Cindy Crawford. “Becoming a nun is pretty radical,” Crawford told People magazine, but it seemed a natural fit. “She can’t deny who she’s supposed to be.”
The decision to commit her life to God came after discernment and prayer. “Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life?”, she said, and found that the answer was “Yes.” While the work of responding to the ills and hurts of children would remain her daily work, she say that the primary task of her life was to be the “salvation of souls”, by “helping the poor and needy” come to know the love of God.
Running a children’s charity, “God gave me a platform so people can be changed,” she noted, for “I am in the salvation business.”
Upon completion of her two year novitiate, Sr. Andrea will take a life vow of simplicity, purity and obedience. Professed members are required to give a portion of their income to their local church and to the Order and maintain the rule “to live simply using all things given to my charge for the building up of the Kingdom of God.”
The order’s vow of purity permits its members to marry. But if they are single they take a vow of celibacy, meaning a life lived with out “sexual acts, relationships and marriage”, while if married, they commit to chastity in “faithfulness and love towards one’s spouse.”
The final vow of obedience, the Order states is the “calling to surrender one’s entire life to God and to the service of the Church.” Members vow to observe the Rule of St Augustine and to submit to the authority of the superiors of the order and to “the leadership of the churches and ministries in which they serve.”
The members of the Order do not live in community, but are spread across the United States, working as parish priests, seminary teachers, health care workers, musicians and in a variety of secular professions. Sisters of the order wear a white habit with black cowl and hood. The episcopal visitor for the Order is the Bishop of Georgia, the Rt. Rev. Henry Louttit.
Asked if she had any regrets for trading in the racket for a wimple, Sr. Andrea says she has none. God’s plan for my life was “to do something else, and it happened to be helping children with cancer. I love what I do.”
Sr. Andrea stated she hoped other young women would consider becoming nuns. “God loves us all equally” she said, and “there can be a calling in our lives” that does not have to conform to the world. The “best choice” you can make for your life “is to come to the center of God’s will”. It is never too late to “find you way there.”