Unforced error in Jaeger story

tennis nun 111206Let’s face it, this is a spectacular hook for a story that blends sports with spirituality. The headline gives you an idea where the Washington Post team is going: “For Jaeger, the Point Is Love — Tennis Prodigy-Turned-Nun Wishes to Show Compassion She Once Craved.”

As a sports story, this feature really works, offering many insider details about controversial events in the life of a controversial young star who flamed out in the world of professional tennis.

That’s the point. Andrea Jaeger started her pro career at age 14, in pig-tails, bashing her way through the lives and careers of much older rivals. However, the pressure was simply too great and her family background was simply too flawed. She started young and she quit young. This brings us to the second big turn in her life story:

Now 43, Jaeger rarely picks up a racket or reflects on the era when she toppled legends of the game but had no friends, traveling the world with a father-turned-coach who believed that discipline, often in the form of a firm whack, was the most effective teacher.

Today, the teen once ranked No. 2 in the world and on track to unseat Chris Evert atop the sport is an Anglican Dominican nun, ordained in 2006, and devoted to helping children with cancer. They are the reason she has given away every dollar she earned, shed her possessions and devotes her days to raising money to bring them to a Colorado ranch to ride horses, play Ping-Pong, perform in talent shows and, if only for a few days, share a childhood otherwise denied.

If Sister Andrea thinks about professional sports at all, it’s of the prodigies like herself — children whose uncommon gifts have thrust them into an adult world.

This raises a few questions, doesn’t it? I mean, other than the question of whether one is “ordained” as an Episcopal or Anglican nun. Was she made a priest as well as a nun? How did a German woman come into contact with the tiny, tiny world of Episcopal religious orders? Why not become a Catholic nun?

If you are looking for more insights into those factual questions, you won’t find many answers, only a few hints, in this story. Later on, we learn:

And when she blew out her shoulder during the 1985 French Open with a pop as loud as a bullet, Jaeger saw God’s hand at work. The injury was a blessing, she decided, seven surgeries later — God’s way of telling her she had accomplished enough in tennis. Another calling awaited.

This story, it appears, is supposed to be about that calling. When Jaeger begins to do charity work with young children — through her own Little Star Foundation — she realizes that she doesn’t have any answers for the big questions of life, the kinds of questions asked by children when they get cancer.

Thus, we are told:

So she immersed herself in religious studies, earning an associate degree in ministry training and theology. Joining the Dominican order, she said, was a natural next step once she learned that not all nuns lived in convents but increasingly were drawn from the laity and lived among those they served.

Now you have more questions, right? There are a few answers at Jaeger’s own website, which offers a link to a 2007 story in USA Today that was almost as interested in faith as in sports.

Despite growing up in a household that had “no belief system” and no Bible, Jaeger says she felt a stirring from an early age. “My inclination was just to share with God,” she says. “I just felt this presence on my heart and this relationship.”

That relationship took another turn in September when Jaeger says she was called to become a nun. After nine months of training and study, she took her vows and entered the Anglican Dominican order. Unlike some Christian denominations, the tiny Anglican Dominican order does not require nuns to live in a convent, wear a habit at all times or take a vow of celibacy. Some lead secular lives as caregivers or teachers.

Jaeger, who didn’t spend time in a convent and had earned a degree in theology, is a “novice” nun and will go through a two-year trial period before taking her life vows.

“In this Dominican order, you just feel called to God in a greater capacity,” says Jaeger, who receives no salary and must continually enhance her service and studies as part of being Sister Andrea.

It’s easy to do the math, adding two years to 2007. Thus, I assume that Jaeger’s two-year novitiate is either coming to an end or has come to an end. But the Post story, remember, said she was ordained in 2006. That implies a permanent vow of some kind was taken at that time.

So what is going on here? What vows did she take? When?

I understand that the former superstar may have wanted to keep some questions off the record, declining to describe the exact nature of her vows, for example. But it seems to me that there are certain basic questions that needed to be answered, leaving holes that resemble unforced errors.

This Post feature was supposed to be a story about her faith and her new life, as well as her previous career in sports. Readers needed a few more facts. Just saying.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

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  • George Conger

    The Church of England Newspaper interviewed Jaeger after she took her vows … focusing on the religious side of things … For those interested the story is archived here:

    http://geoconger.wordpress.com/2007/07/10/tennis-star-dons-the-habit-cen-20907/

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Unlike some Christian denominations, the tiny Anglican Dominican order does not require nuns to live in a convent, wear a habit at all times or take a vow of celibacy. Some lead secular lives as caregivers or teachers.

    This is interesting. In practice it sounds like the Catholic secular orders, which are a part of many of the religious orders. Are there Anglican orders that do live in convents and take vows of celibacy like the Catholic and Orthodox religious orders?

  • Julia

    Unlike some Christian denominations, the tiny Anglican Dominican order does not require nuns to live in a convent, wear a habit at all times or take a vow of celibacy. Some lead secular lives as caregivers or teachers

    Is the writer saying that the Anglican Dominican order is a Christian denomination?

    Or is the writer saying that other Christian denominations have Dominicans, too? Catholics and who else besides the Anglicans?

    Seems strange that the Anglicans would name an order after the Dominicans – they ran the Inquisition, you know. And they were and still are particularly known for preaching, not being locked up in convents.

  • Martha

    I’m actually more confused after reading that than before.

    Is she an Anglican? Presumably, yes?

    Is she a nun? Or a novice? Or a Dominican Tertiary – yes, there are lay Dominicans? (St. Catherine of Sienna the most famous!)

    And no, nuns are not ordained. Nor is a religious order a denomination.

    Honestly, I think I’d have done better comprehending it if this was translated from the Martian :-)

  • http://tfhgodtalk.blogspot.com Jeff Hopper

    How did a German woman come into contact with the tiny, tiny world of Episcopal religious orders?

    The answer: Jaeger is not really German, having been born and grown up in Chicago.

  • Michelle

    God Bless her either way.

  • Dan

    The post refers to “the life of a controversial young star who flamed out in the world of professional tennis,” and says that “the pressure was simply too great and her family background was simply too flawed. She started young and she quit young.” This suggests that she quit tennis because she couldn’t handle the pressure. This is not true. She suffered substantial shoulder injuries that ended her career. I believe also that after her career was over, she gave away a substantial amount of her earnings — that would have set her for life — for the care of children with cancer.

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