Dearest Sister Wendy . . . A Surprising Story of Faith and Friendship


Pages: 336

Binding: Softcover

Dearest Sister Wendy . . . A Surprising Story of Faith and Friendship

By: Robert Ellsberg and Sister Wendy Beckett
  • $28.00


*Catholic Media Association Award Winner"

Nautilus Award Winner

Illumination Award Winner - Biography/Memoir

Association of Catholic Publishers Award Winner


“To read Dearest Sister Wendy… is to be touched by a living flame of grace. The depth of genuine communication and connection between Sister Wendy and Robert Ellsberg is rare and exhilarating to behold. Yet, we are not simply left on the sidelines as admiring spectators. The Spirit animating the intimacy and scope of sharing between the two and bringing about challenge, healing, and enlightenment in the process also enfolds us into its transformative ambit. Page after page, I found myself moved and enriched in depths that I didn’t even know existed. I am roundly convinced that it is impossible to overstate the blessedness and wonder of this remarkable book!” –Michelle Jones, editor, Ruth Burrows: Essential Writings


“In their fascinating emails these two brilliant souls reflect one another, challenge one another, share dreams, disappointments, and hopes. Both Robert Ellsberg and Sister Wendy Beckett are brilliantly verbal so their reflections on almost any topic are provocative, touching, incisive, and frequently hilarious. But the chief delight of this wonderful book comes when all that brilliant conversation becomes something quite different, something far more fitting for a contemplative religious and a chronicler of saints. Dearest Sister Wendy… is—finally—a love story. We are privileged to watch in silent wonder as that love grows, ripens, and reaches its perfection as Sister Wendy’s breath finally runs out. ‘We have heaven already, we just can’t see it,’ she writes.  Thanks to Robert Ellsberg and Sister Wendy we see it very clearly.”—Bill Cain, SJ, playwright, author, The Diary of Jesus Christ


“This book blew open the gates of my heart. What a quietly magnificent example of spiritual friendship! A blossoming mystic disguised as an American publisher of progressive Christian texts and a passionate art critic disguised as an English contemplative nun, recognize each other, draw each other out, and lift each other up. The outcome is a powerful transformation for both.  It was a privilege to bear witness to the unfolding of this holy companionship through these carefully distilled letters. By the end, I felt I knew and loved Sister Wendy almost as deeply as Robert did, and I wept when she died.”—Mirabai Starr, author, God of Love and Wild Mercy


“Sit back and prepare yourselves for a magical, mystery tour! This living encounter between great hearts and minds will inspire you to reflect more deeply on your own path and calling.”—Sister Helen Prejean, author, River of Fire


“A tour de force which never loses momentum, Dearest Sister Wendy… is a riveting exchange between two correspondents of extraordinary intelligence and depth. If, at first, you feel you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation between a nun and a publisher, you soon realize you’re actually being drawn into a series of profound meditations on the spiritual life. Brimming with theological insights, humanity, and humor, this volume provides much material for prayer and reflection.”—Michael Ford, author and former BBC religion producer


 “For the last three years of her life, Sister Wendy Beckett corresponded on almost a daily basis with her friend Robert Ellsberg, a publisher best known for his writings on Dorothy Day and other saints. What followed is a rare treasure in the annals of spiritual literature—a moving, humorous, profound exchange about themes that mattered to them both: holiness, suffering, love, joy, and the things that make us human. This is a beautiful and profound book.” –James Martin, SJ, author, Learning to Pray.


 “This book surprises at every page. Beginning in wonderment as we witness the birth of an unlikely friendship, we grow to appreciate how necessary this friendship was for us all. An intimate look at the power of grace as it becomes real in the midst of our wounds, these letters of love will leave readers feeling grateful and awake. What a wondrous gift indeed.”—Cecilia González-Andrieu, PhD, Professor of Theology and Theological Aesthetics, Loyola Marymount University


“Thomas Merton once referred to his lifelong, prolific and wide-ranging correspondence as ‘an apostolate of friendship.’ This collection reflects precisely the kind of ministry of friendship Merton described, one marked by the mutually uplifting experience of deep relationship between two friends, while also providing a pastoral and spiritual resource for readers drawn into the collective story this personal correspondence conveys. This book is deeply captivating, not only because you come to learn more about the lives of two interesting people, but also and especially because it is in the particularity of their friendship that you come to learn more about yourself, God, and the world. Once you pick up this book, you won’t be able to put it down!”— Daniel P. Horan, OFM, Professor of Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Theology at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame


“In this spiritual gem we are given privileged access into an extraordinary conversation between two remarkable pilgrims on the Christian journey. The one, a famous art historian and hermit who lived most of her life sheltered from the ordinary world of human engagement, and the other a writer and publisher who had the good fortune to engage some of the most distinguished figures in modern American Catholicism. In their remarkably frank and intimate exchanges, we are privileged interlopers in a conversation that both provokes and edifies.”—Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College. 


“Reading these letters is like walking through the Louvre. Portal after portal into rich spiritual reflection is offered by the exchange between these friends long-devoted to the spiritual path.  Relevant, penetrating, grounded, and rife with character, this spiritual exchange promises to intrigue, challenge, and, like any good art exhibit, to draw the depth-hungry viewer (reader) back again and again.  It is a much-needed spiritual conversation for our time. I expect my copy will swiftly become a tattered dog-eared well-loved tome.”—Melody Goetz, artist


“This utterly captivating conversation in letters is a generous gift from two surprising friends and ever-curious spiritual pilgrims. Reading this book is like sharing a bottle of extraordinary wine. It will age well in the classics of Christian literature.”—Carolyn Whitney Brown, co-author (with Henri Nouwen) of Flying, Falling, Catching: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom


“‘Perhaps all along we had been writing a book unawares,’ Robert Ellsberg writes of the email conversation he shared with the late contemplative art critic Sister Wendy Beckett over a few short years before her death. At once mutually admiring, spiritually honest and grounded, Dearest Sister Wendy… invites us to imagine what waiting for heaven looks like.” –Rose Pacatte, FSP, DMin, award-winning film critic


"Balancing contemplation and social activism is challenging for many Christians. Wendy and Robert speak to us through their vulnerability in the language of our time but in conversation with our wider faith story. I am very grateful to have “met” them both."     -Jenny Dawson. Tui Motu InterIslands


This book is based on several hundred letters, exchanged on an almost daily basis, during the last three years of Sister Wendy’s life. Initially they dealt with lives of saints, the meaning of holiness, and the spiritual life, but they soon expanded into a deep and intimate exchange that encompassed our whole lives, the subject of love, suffering, joy, and the presence of grace in everyday life. For Sister Wendy—by calling and temperament, a hermit—this involved an expansion of her spiritual and emotional horizons that prepared her for her final days.

Sister Wendy, who died in Dec 2018, was a consecrated hermit who lived on the grounds of a Carmelite monastery in England. For some years she achieved highly unlikely fame when she was discovered by the BBC and given her own TV series to common on art. From this there followed many books on art and spirituality. But eventually she reverted to her solitary life. Many had urged Sister Wendy to write more about her interior life—but she always refused. That is what changed in the course of our correspondence, to the point that she observed that the book I had been seeking was to be found in our correspondence.

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief Orbis Books. He is the author of many books about saints and holiness, including All Saints, Blessed Among All Women, The Saints Guide to Happiness, and A Living Gospel: Reading God’s Story in Holy Lives. Strongly influenced in his youth by his work with Dorothy Day, he has edited five volumes of her writings, including Selected Writings, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, All the Way to Heaven: Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, and most recently, On Pilgrimage: The Seventies.

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