Twenty-one-year-old Lauren was in college, leading a rich and full life out in what she now calls “the World.” She had a boyfriend, and plans for marriage and children. Instead of following this seemingly known path, she felt called to religious life and, after hearing God propose to her via a song on YouTube, has chosen to live her life as a cloistered nun. Since entering the monastery, she now spends her days leading a hidden life of prayer and ritual, shielded from the outside world in order to focus on the spiritual realm and a higher calling—praying to save all souls. Radical Love is a photographic narrative of the beginning of Sister Lauren’s journey within a small monastic community in Summit, New Jersey. Documenting her passage through the first seven years of religious life, this story is a window into her early love of God. Her path from layperson to nun follows stages that many compare to a love story out in “the World.” Thus, this project follows Sister Lauren from her early weeks in the monastery, through her initial commitment to God in a Clothing Ceremony (similar to an engagement), where she is given the religious habit, and takes a new holy name of her choosing: Sister Maria Teresa of the Sacred Heart. The story includes her First Profession at age twenty-four where she receives the black veil, and follows through to her Solemn Profession at age twenty-eight in which she receives a simple gold band, much like a wedding ring, as a symbol of her vows and final commitment. The story also reveals her daily life over the years, and her interactions living within a small community of nuns who are themselves in various stages of their own spiritual paths—the same path that lies ahead of her. The Dominican Nuns of Summit, New Jersey, are a cloistered Roman Catholic monastic community founded in 1919. Their primary mission is to pray for the salvation of souls by leading a hidden life of prayer. While the number of nuns in the monastery varies at times, upon my first meeting them, there were twenty-one nuns ranging in age from twenty-one to ninety-two years. Some had been in the monastery for as long as sixty-two years. At the time I started this project, Sister Lauren, then the youngest nun, had been there for just three weeks.
Toni Greaves is a documentary photographer based in Portland, Oregon, and working worldwide. Born and raised in Australia, she earned her MA in Visual Communication Design prior to graduating from the International Center of Photography in New York City. She is the recipient of many prestigious photography awards, and in 2012 she earned Grand Prize at the Palm Springs Photo Festival. Her photographs have been featured in magazines and publications internationally, including the New York Times Magazine, Time, Le Monde, Marie Claire, and the Wall Street Journal, among many others, and her work has been exhibited around the globe. Her first photographic monograph, Radical Love, will be published by Chronicle Books, Fall 2015.