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The Chosen Shell

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"The Chosen Shell opens at a time of profound change in the nation and the Catholic Church. Its young heroine, Celie O’Rourke, is caught between a desire to live a life of divine purpose and a yearning for human love and connection. Author Katherine Sartori, once a nun herself, follows Celie’s journey from vulnerable adolescent to empowered adult with sensitive and poignant prose, while offering readers a fascinating glimpse inside monastic convent life. Although Celie’s transformation is rooted in the turbulent 1960s, her story offers a stirring and ultimately uplifting message that transcends that era." -DeAnna Cameron, author of Dancing at the Chance and The Belly Dancer.

Celie O’Rourke, sensing a calling from God, enters a California convent during the 1960s, a turbulent era of change in the Catholic Church. Four years later, she is teaching Latino children with great success. But the cult-like practices of her monastic Order threaten her fragile self-confidence, as she grapples with sexual feelings she can no longer suppress.

Celie’s charismatic Superior offers her guidance and friendship plus the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream. . .but these gifts come with a high price. Confused, she takes refuge at a retreat house where she meets an accomplished New York businessman, Tony DeStephano. Though from different worlds, the bond they feel is electric. . .but forbidden.

A former nun, author Katherine Sartori has created a fictional story, inspired by her own experiences as well as those of the Sisters she met. Her novel seeks to contrast idealism with the realities of convent living.

316 pages, Paperback

First published January 19, 2012

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About the author

Katherine Sartori

1 book15 followers
THE CHOSEN SHELL 5-Star Rating on Amazon!

Celie O'Rourke wants to live a life of divine purpose, yet desperately yearns for human love and connection in a convent during the 1960s. Tony, a street-smart New Yorker, and her charasmatic Superior, Sister Gerald, vie for for this young woman's attentions in a debut novel by Katherine Sartori, who was once a nun herself.

Sartori has created a fictional story, inspired by her own experiences as well as those of the Sisters she met. Katherine(Kas) re-created her life when she left the convent, teaching children and college students as well as writing for several corporations. Now she enjoys being a mom and a grandma, and loves traveling the world with her husband Joe.

She is working on a second novel, LILY and EVE, about two, very opposite, lifelong friends who travel to Ireland together. But their trip is fraught with changes...changes that threaten their friendship.

Katherine (Kas) calls herself a DreamTraveler on her blog,
http://dreamtravelerkas.blogspot.com, where she writes about the adventure of continually reinventing ourselves.


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Displaying 1 - 21 of 21 reviews
Profile Image for Mary Gottschalk.
Author 6 books24 followers
September 27, 2013
The Chosen Shell follows a naïve young Catholic girl who puts her future in the hands of her God when she decides not only to enter the nunnery but also to join an Augustinian order of nuns that lived (in the 1960’s) largely in solitude and silence when they were not teaching.

It is a beautifully written novel that takes us through Celia O’Rourke’s initial doubts about her “calling”, her gradual disillusionment with convent life, and her struggle to define the path that will allow her to use her writing talents and passion for teaching in a way that will more effectively serve the God she never ceases to love. The obstacles she faces and the choices she has to make will be familiar to most readers, even those who have never set foot in a convent.

The story is a page-turner from beginning to end. The major characters—Celie, of course, along with Tony, Dennis, Lupe, and Sister Gerald—are well-drawn and intriguing. You can see them in 3-D without glasses and you will almost certainly react to most of the things they say and do.

My only criticism, which did not interfere with my delight as I turned the pages, relates to the role of Tony de Stephano, an attractive man whose occasional appearances nicely coincide with Celie’s need for space and introspection. While Tony as a character is complex and sympathetic, his role seems a bit of a deus ex machina. I’d like to think that Celie’s final decision was inevitable, given her insights and personal growth over the four years covered by the novel. But I’m not sure. I continue to wonder if she would have made the same decision without Tony’s intervention on both a personal and a professional level?
126 reviews3 followers
October 20, 2019
In the summer of 1963, a recent high school graduate, says good bye to her family, boyfriend, and secular life, determined "to make a difference, to help those in need" by entering the convent. Over the next few years she manages to accomplish those goals, making a meaningful difference in the lives of new immigrant families, helping to teach children struggling with language and learning challenges, creating a teaching guide for the benefit of her peers. But while these successes mount, she is faced with growing doubts about whether she ought to remain in the convent after all. Many of those she admired in positions of experience and authority begin to disappoint and in some cases disgust her. Friendship is discouraged, but becomes vital to her. Outside contacts beckon her. This is a story about soul searching, looking for honesty within oneself, by examining the past and present and finding a compass for the future.
1 review
March 11, 2013
I really enjoyed “The Choosen Shell” and find in it a story of a young women coming to terms with her own identity. Raised in a large religious Catholic family, Celie, the main character serves what she believes is her calling.
The author’s insights into the inner workings and culture of a covenant life are fascinating and intriguing.
Her relationship with her fellow sister, Lupe, is deeply touching and heartfelt.
Celie’s passion for her writing and teaching come through in a genuine way.
This book is a good example of someone finding their own path and that circuitous paths tend to be the most interesting. It is inspiring that in the end the character finds her own voice and chooses her own direction in life.

I look forward to reading other works by Katherine Sartori as they become available.
Profile Image for Diane.
30 reviews2 followers
May 6, 2013
The Chosen Shell is a very tender story of a young nun conflicted by the changes in the church from Vatican II & other personal issues. The reader gets drawn into the story of how Celie becomes a nun, her friends in the convent, her work with children & immigrants. This is not a Church-bashing story, but it does confront some realities of the religious life that some people would rather ignore. This is the story of a girl who was braver than she knew, a girl who faced down her superiors, a girl who was not afraid to do what she knew to be right.I hope there is a sequel in the works, because I want to know what became of Celie!
Profile Image for Sonia Marsh.
Author 4 books34 followers
March 21, 2013
"The Chosen Shell" opens our eyes to what life is like for a young woman who has chosen to become a nun. All the emotions and struggles Celie O'Rourke goes through, answers the questions women, both young and older, may ask themselves.
Katherine Sartori makes us feel like we are next to Celie O'Rourke, throughout the entire story. There are times when I want to tell Celie, come on, share more of yourself, be more open, and that tension makes the reader want to continue reading, and find out what choices Celie makes for herself, in the end.
Profile Image for Marsha.
27 reviews2 followers
May 16, 2013
This is a story about a young woman who hears the call of God on her life and wants to make a difference. She joins a convent but after a while the turmoil in the church makes her question her calling. I highly recommend this book. It is one I found hard to put down and was actually upset when I finished it. I wanted to to keep going on. I am hoping the author writes another one soon. I will be keeping an eye out for more from Katherine Satori.
Profile Image for Heidi.
200 reviews12 followers
May 29, 2013
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

An interesting story about a girl feeling the need to fulfill her calling to God by becoming a nun after she graduates high school. We follow her through her struggles and joys of being a nun and find out in the end if she continues to do God's work or if she leaves to pursue other interests she has.
1 review
March 22, 2013
Katherine Sartori takes us into a little known world and lets us feel the passion of her characters. Yes, every catholic should read this novel and every woman contemplating entering the convent. I will long remember the lessons Celie O'Rourke learned the hard way and love that Katherine had the courage to tell us how it really is behind those secret doors.
60 reviews1 follower
March 16, 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, "The Chosen Shell" by Katherine Sartori. This story is about a woman who receives an inner call from God to serve mankind by becoming a nun in an Augustinian convent. After several years, however, she feels she has another purpose in life. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Don Westenhaver.
Author 5 books3 followers
September 20, 2019
The Chosen Shell is a thought-provoking mix of at least four genres: memoir, romance, spirituality, and historical. Celie O’Rourke enters a convent of nuns immersed in silent spirituality. Her love of God gives her strength to endure the loneliness of a meditative life. She’s torn by doubts about her decision to become a nun.

I usually read thrillers, but after the first few pages I was hooked by this novel. For one thing the story resonated with my own Catholic upbringing in 1960’s California. My grade school teachers were strict nuns with Swiss accents and no sense of humor. My aunt was also a nun and my uncle was a priest, both with wonderful personalities. I was an altar boy and spent one whole semester in a seminary. Nonetheless I really had no idea what nuns did all day except teach and pray.

Katherine Sartori is a very talented writer, drawing her characters clearly and compassionately. Celie’s innermost thoughts and emotions pull the reader into her life with empathy. Celie’s contemplations highlight her spirituality, her daily visits with God.

While struggling with the direction of her life, Celie is wounded by her family throughout the book. Her mother and sisters come across as cruel and dismissive. Offsetting this, two men, Tony and Dennis, are fully supportive and potential love interests. She has friends among the nuns, one very sincere and another not so much. Finally, the convent is rocked by the Second Vatican Council, which in some ways modernized the church. The changes were tumultuous, causing some nuns to resist and prompting others to demand even more change.

The Chosen Shell is one of those books that are so unique they stand out in your head years later. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Penelope.
Author 5 books6 followers
September 1, 2017
I often wondered what happened to nuns after they took temporary vows. Being Catholic, I had a brief fling with the Church and some of my closest friends decided to become nuns. That was in the ‘50s, just before Vatican II and the loosening of the Catholic Church. The nuns I met during my 8 years of education by them were very human and my biggest complaint was the emphasis on religion vs. other studies. This book gave me the opportunity to see, through the eyes of Celia O’Rourke what indeed happens after a nun takes temporary vows. Sometimes, it is not-so-nice and other times, it's like being back in school. Except if your superior is a lesbian, or you can’t claim credit for all the work you do, or you can’t admit to yourself that there is a growing attraction to the opposite sex, or you can’t admit those times when you’ve had sexual longings.

The author is a fine writer. I’d be hard put to find anything wrong with her descriptions. My problem is there is too much of them. Convent, prayers, family, country retreats or getaways, reactions, etc. I counted 5 pages where 2-3 would have sufficed. That interrupted the sequence of events and sometimes obstructed the true course of the story. I found myself immersed in the romance vs. Celie’s career as a nun and ended up skimming through the lovely descriptions to get at the meat.
One question that was never resolved: if Tony, an Italian Catholic was divorced, how on earth would good Catholic Celie get together with him?
Profile Image for Sherrey.
Author 7 books40 followers
June 25, 2013
Katherine Sartori opens a cache of experiences and shares them with her readers through the fictional story of Celie O'Rourke, a young girl who enters a convent in the tumultuous 1960s. Celie's eyes become our eyes as we live her day-by-day existence inside the walls of the convent.

Sartori brings to the page characters so vivid and alive the reader feels as if he or she is living with them. One can feel pulses race, hearts beat, tears fill eyes. An example of her gift of character development is found here:

Celie couldn't take her eyes off this charismatic nun, a recognized dynamo in the congregation. No taller than five foot four, Sister Gerald carried her muscular frame like a Cherokee princess, her shoulders thrown back in a statuesque posture demanding attention. A smattering of freckles dotted the woman's imposing nose and high cheekbones. (Kindle Loc 547)

Immediately we see Sister Gerald. We know something of her personality -- charismatic, dynamic; her physical build -- not too tall, muscular; her carriage -- like a Cherokee princess, statuesque; her facial features -- freckles, imposing nose, high cheekbones.

All Sartori's characters are equally well-developed and described. It makes reading her work a joy.

Further, she develops scene just as well. As soon as Celie gathers with other novitiates and nuns for her first meal at the convent, the solemnity of the room strikes the reader at once:

Dinner was an austere experience, as they ate in complete quiet while a nun read about the life of a saint Celie had never heard of before. * * * Celie eyed the salt and pepper shakers, but they were just out of reach and no one noticed her need . * * * [T]hey must focus, not on their own desires, but on those of others. Celie decided she had to put up with the stew's bland taste. This would be her first sacrifice as an Augustinian. (Kindle Loc 373)

Imagine the heaviness of finding yourself at such a mealtime after growing up in a home full of family and lots of talking and sometimes shouting. The use of words like "austere," "complete quiet," "no one noticed her need," "bland," and "her first sacrifice" allow us to see into that room and experience the strangeness of this meal in Celie's mind and her growing awareness of how her life is changing minute by minute.

During Celie's first years in the convent, many changes are taking place in the Catholic church as well as the world, some of which the younger nuns welcome and some of which older nuns are definitely not favoring. In the midst of these changes and growing changes in Celie's life as a nun are the conflicting feelings Celie has as a woman coming into that stage of life when she begins to think of making a home, meeting that love of her life and raising a family. All of this makes for a story that moves quickly through each difficulty and emotion with rapid pace.

Coupling these gifts of writing with the ability to draw from her own story, Sartori gifts her readers with an amazingly well written story rich in detail and feeling. I cannot recommend this book more highly than to call it, in my opinion, a must read.
Profile Image for Christy.
854 reviews35 followers
October 28, 2013
The Chosen Shell is a beautifully written novel about a young girl in the 1960s who enters a convent after feeling God calling her to the life of a nun. Her life in the church and the influence of several nuns cause her to believe that she has been called to give her life to serving others. Whether God was calling her to be a nun or whether it was the recruiting by the sisters that led Celie to believe she should be a nun is explored in the novel.

I think that while it's fine for those in religious service to share their passion, there is a fine line between sharing your passion and coercion. And I say this from my own upbringing in the Protestant church rather than the Catholic church. In both cases, the church believes they are doing the right thing by wanting young people to go into service. And though serving others should be our ultimate goal as followers of Christ, how we do it is up to God. When a person is truly called to be a nun, priest, pastor, missionary, etc. they may face some doubts at first, but ultimately the peace they feel from following the calling of God will far outweigh that initial fear and doubt.

As in the case with Celie, her calling to service did not mean she was called to a life in the convent as a nun. Her initial peace gave way to doubt as she became aware of things that were happening in the convent that disturbed her. She was abused and taken advantage of by an older, trusted nun which caused Celie doubt and shame. She faced restrictions in exploring her own passion to be a writer. These things eventually pointed to the fact that this life was not the life she was called to.

The characters in The Chosen Shell are full of life and are very real in both their strengths and weaknesses. Celie's dad was one of my favorite characters because he seemed so true to the times. Men weren't supposed to be weak nor were they supposed to show too much affection. I think he tried in his own way to show love to Celie and thankfully he was able to open up to her later in the book. I really liked Lupe's character as well. She definitely did not allow the restrictions of being a nun to change her personality. Celie goes through so much growth in the book and finds that her true calling to service doesn't necessarily mean a life of separation from the world.

This is a book worth reading, though it is definitely for adults as there are some very adult situations. I would love to read more about Celie and see where her life leads her in her family relationships and her relationships with her male friends.

This review first appeared on my blog Christy's Cozy Corners.
Profile Image for S.L. Berry.
Author 1 book7 followers
July 3, 2013
After the onslaught from a vocal and sometimes impertinent media about the troubled state of the Vatican and Catholicism, Katherine Sartori’s The Chosen Shell is a nice surprise. It is not as in-your-face flashy as some books and television series like the Borgia’s are, though that is not to say that there are not a few gritty scenes. The sincerity and genuineness of Satori’s voice comes through the narrative in a way that does not cover up what so many non-believers (and some believers) find hypocritical in the church’s teachings versus its practices and attitudes expressed in the daily life’s of its followers, nuns and leaders.

The Chosen Shell is fiction and memoir combined. Because of this and the subject matter, the life of an introverted troubled teenager who on the cusp of a turning into an adult decides to become a nun, the flow of the novel was at times a bit slow. There were times I wanted the story to move along. The Chosen Shell is not a literary novel, but it could have been, and could be, if Sartori expanded on the other characters and allowed them to bring out more of the main character, Celie, through action or dialogue.

I absolutely love Satori’s description of San Francisco and Muir Woods having visited both places a number of times. I felt at home, like I was part of the action. I also liked Sartori’s description of the convent and other places Celie and other nuns gathered. It is a world that I wanted to learn about; Sartori is a diligent charismatic guide.

I loved about the novel was the way Sartori incorporates the writing life into the narrative, from the time she was a school girl in school through to the end. Celie feels and acts like a writer in the novel. I empathized with her struggle to maintain her voice even as her identity as an author is threatened by her vocation.

The Chosen Shell is a gem, one that I would highly recommend. I would give it on Goodreads 4-4.5 stars.

Reviewed also on Layered Pages, Amazon, and Susan Berry's Blog
Profile Image for Kathleen Pooler.
Author 4 books31 followers
September 21, 2015
Katherine Sartori’s coming-of-age novel about a young woman’s search for herself within the confines of a convent in the 60s was so compelling and well-written that I read it on two sittings. Actually, I felt like I devoured it.

Since I grew up as a Catholic in the 60s I could easily relate to the pressures and struggles of her protagonist, Celia O’Rourke as the Church experienced massive changes in protocol subsequent to Vatican II. Though I never felt the calling to become a nun, I was always curious about the cloistered life and even fearful at times when my Italian great-grandmother times kept questioning me about being a nun. Many of the nuns I came in contact with were stern and rigid and seemed to hide behind their austere habits. That would change with the loosening of Church rules and the emergence of more humane, less intimidating apparel and rituals. For these reasons. I was very intrigued to read Celia’s story. The fact that it stemmed from the author’s personal experience lent credibility to the story.

The plot is believable and engaging. Sartori’s writing pulled me right into her story with her vivid scenic details, realistic dialogue, and believable characters that I could see and hear as if I was right there. They came alive on the page. The pace flowed nicely –with a few surprises--and the tension built up in a steady fashion that kept me turning the pages. The metaphor of the shell on the beach is powerful and masterfully woven throughout the story. Her description of family dynamics-positive and negative- also adds a dimension to the story as it relates to her reasons for entering the convent. I trusted her voice and routed for her in this heroine’s journey to find love and meaning her life.

And as with any good story, the reader is left with the feeling of satisfaction that this young woman triumphed over her struggles.

I highly recommend this masterfully–written and compelling novel.
Profile Image for Kathy Pratt.
5 reviews1 follower
February 27, 2013
Celia O’Rourke, a young woman just out of high school, feels she is called to serve God by becoming a nun, like the nuns who’d taught her all through school. In reality, Celie is just a girl. A girl who doesn’t recognize the warnings going off inside telling her this may not be what she’s meant to do with her life. Celie’s first love is writing, but that isn’t the focus in the Covent. She also struggles with thoughts of having a romantic relationship with a man, and having a “real” family. In addition, problems in her childhood home have affected Celie’s ability to make decisions.
She puts all thoughts aside, however, and does the best she can as a Sister and teacher. Complicating matters further is a relationship that has developed with her mentor, Sister Gerald. Celie’s naiveté prevents her from understanding the change her relationship with Sister Gerald has undergone. That is until she goes on a retreat and meets Tony DeStefano, a young man who has his own struggles.
As I read this novel I ached for Celie. I wanted to give her advice. I wanted to tell her what she should and should not do. I couldn’t put it down. It brought out all kinds of emotions in me. That’s what a wonderful novel should do. I also felt like a voyeur, spying on convent life. I don’t want to spoil the novel for you, but I will say you won’t be disappointed in the ending.
Profile Image for Susan Weidener.
Author 8 books22 followers
June 13, 2014
The story of Celia O'Rourke is the story of an idealistic naive girl who by her own admission finds her decision to become a nun "impossible to comprehend." Yet, follow the calling she does despite the attention of a young man who hands her a dozen long-stemmed red roses before she leaves for the convent, pulling at her heartstrings.

This sets the pattern of much of what follows in the book - Celia's desire to help others and serve God, contrasted with her love of romance, poetry, and, yes, longing for sex. When she meets a man who appreciates her sensitivity and beauty and confides in her, we sense that Celia's path is leading away from the convent into a new and empowering direction as the woman and writer she was destined to become . . . away from the young girl who wanted to please her mother or was caught up in an idealized notion of what to do with her gifts and talents. It is here that I wanted more from the author, more soul searching, more edge to the writing and exploration of Celia's inner struggle.

Knowing that The Chosen Shell was inspired by Katherine Sartori's own life, I felt how human and real the novel is. For anyone who has searched for meaning and had a dream of making a difference when they were young, naive, idealistic . . . this book speaks to them.
Profile Image for Leslie Manning.
Author 6 books204 followers
February 27, 2013
Celie O'Rourke has found what she believes to be her true calling. But at what cost?

The 1960's play an important backdrop as Celie moves through the strict and papal rules of the Augustinian Order where she has made her vows with Christ. And Celie is a superior nun. She is respected by the other Sisters. She is awe-inspiring to the children she teaches. She offers advice to those in need while quelling her own uncertainties.

But things aren't what they seem, as Celie soon discovers. A handsome stranger, a manipulative nun, and a disjointed family life soon come to the surface, each pulling at her heart in an emotional game of tug-of-war.

Celie will have to make choices she never imagined...choices that will change her life forever.

In this down-to-earth novel that reads like a memoir, Katherine Sartori does an amazing job bringing the reader into a young nun's world. With lyrical imagery, and poems that the author wrote herself, Celie comes to life on every page. We laugh and cry with her, and pray that she overcomes the many obstacles set before her; that she will, indeed, find her true calling.
Profile Image for Kailey.
618 reviews65 followers
March 30, 2013
I received this book as a first reads book. I enjoyed it very much. It was way different than anything I have ever read before. Katherine Sartori did an amazing job writing this. I really felt for Celie.
Celie O’Rourke became a nun because she believed it was her calling. After facing many obstacles, she realizes that it may not be her true calling. She feels like something is missing. She has to come to terms with whether or not the lifestyle of being a nun is what she really wants or if she is missing out on following her dreams of being a writer.
The part that hit home the most for me was the parts with her father and their relationship. He was the one that was always in her corner. She was his “Beautiful Dreamer”. You could tell she wanted to make him proud. In the end, I believe she made the right choice for herself.
February 17, 2013
I grew up in the 60's and went to a catholic all 12 years. So many things I could relate to.
It was well written and it was a book you can't wait to pick back up and read.
I usually read one fiction and then one non fiction each month. This was a fun book for me.
But I also felt it was so close to being nonfiction. I do hope Katherine will write another book soon.
A very good read . . . Enjoy

I am lending it to many of my friends! You will too!

Author 3 books1 follower
October 17, 2013
Katherine Sartori takes us into a little known world of an Augustinian order of nuns and lets us feel the passion of her character, Celie O'Rourke, who enters the convent at a tender age. Yes, every woman should read this novel and every woman contemplating entering the convent.

I will long remember the struggles and lessons Celie O'Rourke learned the hard way and love that Katherine had the courage to tell us through her own life experiences how life really is behind those secret doors.
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