By Ray Stern
A front page story in the Arizona Republic today told us all about Christa Parra, the 27-year-old Latina from Phoenix who's becoming a nun.
Yet the paper didn't mention Sarah Cieplinski or Jessica Wrigley, two other local women in their early 20s taking their final vows this summer. Sure, Parra is the first woman to join a particular Catholic order in the last 10 years, the Loreto sisters, but it's obvious the real hook of the story is this: Parra's a hottie.
Here's the student newspaper's picture of the 24-year-old Cieplinski, which, of course, ran below the newspaper's picture of Parra:
A beautiful woman in many ways, she's no Christa Parra. A picture of Wrigley, 20, wasn't available, but the April State Press article included another picture of two other young, local nuns, Maria Christi, 29, and Martin Therese, 34:
This picture ran below Parra's, too. And of four up-and-coming nuns featured in the Catholic Sun's June article, only Parra is pictured.
Parra's also apparently the most interesting -- she's the focus of the bulk of the college paper's article and about half of the Sun's article.
Amusingly, there's a bit of a diss of Parra buried in the State Press story: One of the habit-wearing nuns of the Dominican order seems to disapprove of nuns who don't "go all the way." In Parra's order, nuns dress in street clothes.
Parra's decision to become a nun is dramatized in all three stories, which play up a chance meeting she had at her church. "Unhappy and confused" at age 21, the Republic story states, Parra goes to church to pray for guidance in her life. The article never probes why Parra is so unhappy with her life. Miraculously, the story implies, a nun looking for new blood just happens to stop in and ask Parra to sign up.
The question stunned the young woman. "I was dumbfounded," says Parra, now 27. "I wanted to get married and have children." Although she had no desire to become a nun...
This makes it sound like Parra had never in her life thought of becoming a nun, which stretches the imagination. It seems more likely that Parra had struggled with the decision for years before the meeting. The Sun articles states, "Despite being voted 'most likely to be a nun" in high school and Parra's dad telling her she'd be a good nun, Parra hadn't seriously considered it."
That implies she'd considered it long before age 21. (The State Press says the encounter with the nun happened when she was 20).
After meeting the nun, Parra volunteered for a three-month stint with a bevy of nuns in an impoverished part of Peru. During that trip, she broke off her engagement to her boyfriend by telephone. Parra says she waffled for another two years on the decision, during which time she had another boyfriend. Then the recruiter nun sent her for an "eight day silent retreat," during which time she claims God talked to her.
"Once I surrendered everything and got rid of everything I dreamed of and desired and wanted, I said, 'Do with me what you will.' "
Confused young woman or conduit of the Supreme Being? Whatever's going on inside Parra's head, it seems like, when it comes to press coverage, it's what's on the outside that counted.