Mother Martha Driscoll, O.C.S. O., (Ethiopia 1965-67) graduated from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service (at that time, women were not allowed in the undergraduate A&S College) and joined the Peace Corps. After Training at the University of Utah, she went to Ethiopia as a secondary school teacher in Addis Ababa, where, as a wonderful singer and actress, she also “starred” in several play productions staged by British Ex-pats in the city.
After her tour, she returned to New York City and Staten Island where she had grown up, and worked for awhile in New York before going to Boston and earning an MFA in Theater from Brandeis University. It was during this period, she told me, that she began to question what she wanted to do with her life, and on a trip to Europe she visited and then entered a monastery in Italy where she took her religious vows.
In the summer of ’87 she returned to the States and we met in New York. She was on her way to Indonesia, being sent there by the monastery to become the superior of a new foundation of Cistercians. She is still there, now serving as Abbess. In her expanding role she also gives retreats for nuns and monks in Asia, Africa, and the U.S., besides giving conferences for Indonesian religious about the spirituality of communion and consecrated celibacy. While we know there are pastors and priests and rabbis and ministers as well as nuns who began their careers as PCVs, it is quite possible that Martha (as we knew her in Addis Ababa) is our only RPCV Trappistine, a cloistered nun.
The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.: Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae) is a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplative monastics who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. A branch of the Order of Cistercians, they have communities of both monks and nuns, commonly referred to as Trappists and Trappistines, respectively.)
In her life as a religious, Mother Martha has been a Superior from 1987 to 1994, Titular Prioress from 1994 to 2000, and since 2000, an Abbess .
She two published books two books, both focus on religious subjects.
In Reading Between the Lines: The Hidden Wisdom of Women in the Gospels [Liguori 2066] Sister Martha retells selected stories from Scripture. Each chapter focuses on a single character, usually a minor one and always a woman, relating the story from her perspective. A written reflection and prayer are provided after each story.
A Silent Herald of Unity: The Life of Maria Gabriella Sagheddu [Cistercian Publications 1990] is a short biography of the life of Maria Gabriella Sagheddu. She was a peasant girl from Sardinia who was not very religious as a child. When she became a teenager, she chooses to live a simple monastic life within a Trappistine abbey. Her observance of the conventional life within the abbey was not exceptional. She did as many others have done in her day-to-day life of worship and work. But she was willing to make a sacrifice that shows us the hidden depth of grace she had.
In an article that was forwarded to me by Janet Lee (Ethiopia 1974-76) that appeared (I think) in an Indonesia paper, Mother Martha’s role is defined in her abbey this way. A rough translation has this to say:
There are 30 nuns in the Gedono Hermitage in central Java located on the slopes of Mount Merbabu. According to Mother Martha daily life is filled with prayer and work. “Everyday we pray seven times, starting at the third quarter in the morning until seven at night.
As a community they must provide for themselves. They work in the garden, make hosts, bread and kefir, “It is a simple life,” says Mother Martha, “with a simple life and isolation from the bustle of the world, the nuns know more about themselves. Here, they learn about love and brotherhood . We learn love from day to day and never graduated.“