For me, one of the best things about all the readings I’m giving these days is the Q&A that takes place afterward. People are so smart. Almost every time, I’m asked a question I’d never thought about before. A few weeks back, for example, a lady asked me when the practice of creating child-oblates came to an end. I told the woman I didn’t know, but that I would try to find out for her. Well, so far, I have been unable to come up with an official Roman Catholic end-date for the practice. If anyone out there has information on this, I would love it if they would share it with me and the readers of this blog.
I’ve been thinking about this because of something that took place a couple of weeks ago at the big annual book festival in Gaithersburg. I was giving a lady who was interested in my novel a summary of its plot when she interrupted me. “You know,” she said, “that sounds a little like my life.” Turns out the woman was orphaned as a small child and her family—not having the wherewithal to feed another mouth—gave her to a convent. Popular culture has taught us what to expect next—the story of a straitened childhood complete with brooding shadows and repressed sexuality—but, instead, the lady gave me a big smile and said the nuns had been wonderful, that she still looked back fondly upon her time with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.
I was so surprised and impressed by the woman’s story that, the following week, I recounted it during a reading at the library in Chestertown, Maryland. And lo and behold, a woman raised her hand to tell me her father-in-law had also grown up in a convent and, similarly, had nothing but good things to say about the care he had received there.
All of which would lead one to say that, in a sense, the practice of giving a child to a religious community—even if it wasn’t the formal practice of medieval child oblation—persisted well into the twentieth century. Who knows, it may persist somewhere still ….