Sister Elaine: Catholic Nun and Zen Roshi

February 18, 2006

Source: Toronto Star

On February 18, 2006 the Toronto Star reported, "Few people can upend as many religious stereotypes the way Elaine MacInnes does. She freely, even gleefully, concedes, that her mission assignments have led her to fields that were indeed 'wondrous strange.' MacInnes, 81, is an accomplished classical musician and a prison activist in the mould of the American anti-death penalty crusader, Sister Helen Prejean. And unlike the unfair but still prevalent image of the brittle, stern nun clad in a severe habit, Sister Elaine, as she's widely known, is a warm, engaging soul with a hearty laugh who wears slacks and sports a bright flower brooch. The next part of the myth-busting requires, shall we say, a leap of faith: MacInnes is not Oriental, not male and not remote, but she is a Zen roshi (master), the first Canadian, among a select few westerners, especially women, and certainly one of the even fewer Catholic nuns to be invested into Zen's highest echelon. Is the unusual pairing a conflict, especially when the Catholic Church is doing a lot of soul-searching and house cleaning? Hardly, MacInnes chuckles in an interview in Toronto, where she shares a house with six other members of Our Lady's Missionaries, an order of Roman Catholic nuns founded in Canada in 1949. If anything, she says, Zen has made her a better Catholic, and vice-versa. It's a tool that has enriched her Christian spirituality without compromising it."