Author and former Spring HillianÂ Mary Ann Weakley will speak and sign copies of her recently published memoir, “Monastery to Matrimony, A Woman’s Journey” from 4 to 6 p.m. July 24 at the Spring Hill Public Library.
Author and former Spring HillianÂ Mary Ann Weakley will speak and sign copies of her recently published memoir, “Monastery to Matrimony, A Woman’s Journey” from 4-6 p.m. July 24 at the Spring Hill Public Library. She spoke with Spring Hill Home Page ahead of next weekâ€™s event.
â€œI love Spring Hill,â€ Weakley said of the town she left last year for The Villages, a retirement community in central Florida. â€œI love the townâ€™s size, its proximity to Franklin and Nashville, and the rural feeling, although that is changing. I lived for a long time in Spring Hill Place and met a lot of great neighbors there. I am still in touch with many of them, and Iâ€™m looking forward to getting back to town next week.â€
It was during her years in Spring Hill that the Illinois native and former nun became a charter member of the Living Writers Collective, a writersâ€™ support group for published and aspiring writers in Spring Hill.
â€œI saw a notice in the paper asking if there was anyone interested in joining a writing group,â€ Weakley recalled. â€œI showed up at the posted time and met a man named Alan Hooper who is still involved. At the beginning, size and attendance fluctuated. But nowadays the group is large and stable under the direction of Karen Aldridge.â€
The conversations and support of the Living Writers Collective spurred Weakley to write about her former life in an Illinois monastery, an aspect of her past she was initially reticent about.
â€œI entered the monastery in 1953 at the age of 17,â€ said Weakley, whose family were strong supporters of Catholic education, but were nevertheless reluctant to see her join a monastery. â€œI was from the small town of Bement, Ill. and I was the youngest of five children, not to mention the only girl.â€
Weakleyâ€™s first hint to her parents that she was going to venture far from home came when she told them, at the age of 13, that she wanted to attend a Roman Catholic boarding school 200 miles away in the town of Nauvoo.
â€œMy parents pointed out that the local high school was right across the street,â€ Weakley said. â€œBut because they believed so much in Catholic education, I used that as my trump card to persuade them to let me go. I wanted to take an adventure.â€
After proving to her family that she could indeed live successfully away from home by graduating from St. Maryâ€™s High School, the 17-year-old gave them another surprise: she wanted to become a nun.
â€œThey were more reluctant about that one,â€ Weakley said. â€œThey wanted me to go to college, or at least to try it for a year. But I had my mind made up. The nuns I had met at St. Maryâ€™s were such a big influence on my life.â€
Weakley entered the monastery as a teenager and took on work as a teacher at various local Catholic grade schools. Later she enrolled in a masterâ€™s program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying education with an emphasis in business. She would go on to become a teacher in the business department at the same high school from which she had graduated, St. Maryâ€™s in Nauvoo.
â€œI lived at the monastery for 20 years, and it was a very good experience for me,â€ Weakley said. â€œA lot of the book is about my time there, the nuns I lived with, and the people I met while teaching. Toward the end of my time there, a heartbreaking conflict arose in the community that led me to leave and start a new life. Thatâ€™s a big part of the memoir, reflecting on life in the monastery.â€
The rest of the book is devoted to what happened to Weakley when she encountered the outside world, 20 years after becoming a nun. Among other things, she moved to Chicago and met and married businessman Harold Weakley.
â€œHe was from Bement, my home town,â€ Weakley said of her husband, who died in 2009. â€œI had taken a job as an assistant principal at a Catholic boysâ€™ school in Arlington Heights. Harold and I had been vaguely aware of each other but not known each other growing up. And now here I was dating again after living 20 years as a nun. It was something very new.â€
The couple lived and worked for many years in Chicago. But they eventually tired of the snowy winters and went in search of somewhere warmer to retire. In 1986 they visited Nashville on a vacation and decided it would be there next home. They later moved to a 10-acre property in Franklin before settling in Spring Hill.
â€œBut I never really retired,â€ Weakley said. â€œI began working as an interior decorator, and continued to think about writing.â€
When Melissa Overton established the Spring Hill Informer in 2000, Weakley had the opportunity to contribute two regular columns to it, one on interior decorating and another profiling local authors.
â€œI really enjoyed [my work on the Informer]â€ Weakley said. â€œThere are many local writers in Spring Hill, most of whom self-publish. Taking that approach, one doesnâ€™t have a lot of time or chance to get out and promote the work. Melissa was wonderful to work with and I was really sad to hear it when she died [in 2013]. When the Informer went from print to online, she wanted me to continue doing a column with them even after I moved to Florida.â€
Weakleyâ€™s memoir has been praised by the late legendary Tennessee journalist and publisher John Siegenthaler, who said that it describes â€œa journey grounded in faith, hope and love. It is a unique and deeply personal accountâ€“but every reader will relate to elements of [Weakleyâ€™s] story.â€
Weakley was â€œgenuinely thrilledâ€ by Siegenthalerâ€™s compliment to her book.
â€œI loved that man,” she said. “I had met him in connection with an anthology I wrote for that collected stories about Williamson County. I contributed a story about my time as a nun and he gave it a nice blurb, so I later approached him about the full memoir. I was so grateful for his kind words, and I was going to hand him his copy of my book next week [when Iâ€™m in Nashville]. But his funeral is today. His death is such a huge loss for Nashville.â€
â€œMonastery to Matrimonyâ€ is being published this month by Indianaâ€™s Balboa Press, a division of Hay House in California. The Florida Writers Association announced Monday that the book is a finalist for the Royal Palm Literary Award for nonfiction in the autobiography/memoir category.
The Living Writers Collective meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of every month in the white annex building at Rippavilla Plantation.
Staff writer Greg Jinkerson covers Spring Hill for BrentWord Communications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.orgÂ or follow him on Twitter @JinkersonGreg.