In the final days of my first long private ten day retreat in the monastery, a retreat in preparation for being received into the novitiate, a note was slipped under my door. Then prioress, Sr. Moira, was asking if I had a preference for my name in religion. In the past, sisters and nuns routinely had their named changed by their novice mistress or prioress sometimes with consultation and sometimes without. The names of saints, frequently of with significance for the charism, would be substituted for their baptismal names. In addition, particularly in contemplative monastic orders, a predicate would be added to the name. The Little Flower had two predicates - Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face! In the mid-1960s the documents of the Second Vatican Council reiterated the primacy of our baptismal call therefore many sisters and nuns returned to the use of their baptismal name, the name by which they were called into the life of Christ Jesus.
Sr. Moira's request to me was a very kind one. I had given the issue some thought. I wrote back to her, "As if the name of Hildegard is not long enough I would like to add Magdalen of the Resurrection to my name if the space offered on whatever document has room enough." On the last day of my ten day retreat my novice habit was blessed in the sacristy before Mass. The next morning I appeared in chapel wearing that habit (a burgundy jumper and white blouse) and the white veil of a novice (an option in our monastery) ready for Morning Prayer which was the setting for being received into the Novitiate. There followed a procession to the Formation Room (place for instruction during Novitiate) where a special blessing was given by the Prioress and the community.
Why Hildegard Magdalen of the Resurrection? I entered this monastery nine years ago today. I looked upon Mary Magdalene as the patroness of the process of my formation and integration into this company of women. Evidence indicates that Mary Magdalen was a mature woman when she joined the company of Jesus. Her past has been the subject of great conjecture. But surely it was varied and unlike that of the other women who followed Jesus. I imagined that it took her a while to fit in. She would help me to "fit in." I was also influenced by the image of the Magdalen presented in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar. There is such a haunting quality to her words, "I don't know how to love him..." I was learning the contemplative monastic way of loving Jesus. And one last thing. My baptismal godmother's name was Madeline. I was not given a middle name at baptism but when I entered a small Catholic girls academy for high school the sisters insisted that I have one and I chose Madeline. My godmother was a creative, joyful, generous women who had achieved a great deal in her life while overcoming poverty, lack of formal education and personal strife. She too was a role model.
Each year I marvel at the frequent mention of Mary Magdalene in the Easter liturgies and in the Mass readings of the Easter Octave. This is a major contribution to the transformation of her reputation from that of repentant prostitute to the Apostle to the Apostles. It is unfortunate that her person as been conflated with that of the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany and the woman caught in adultery. Today, scholars agree that these are probably three separate people. That makes it so much more interesting!
I pray that Mary Magdalene will intercede for all woman striving to make their way in the company of Jesus.