When Alice Ann O’Neill prayed for guidance in choosing a graduate degree, God guided her in a completely different direction.
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This Random Nun Clip is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry. I'm Sister Rejane of A Nun's Life Ministry. Our guest today is Sister Alice Ann O'Neill, a professional cellist with a doctorate in performance and teaching. She is a Suzuki teacher, teacher trainer and composer. Okay, so you're in Boston. And now, if I remember, you go there for performance, but you end up at some point, when you're getting your doctorate--I'm kind of fast forwarding--there was a struggle, wasn't there? Like, were you going to do performance? Or were you going to go with teaching? Right? And how did you figure out that struggle, that tension?
Sister Alice Ann
Well, I don't understand our academic fields still, even after all these decades, but we like to do fields of study in silos instead of, you know, intercollaboration, you know, interdisciplinary kinds of studies, which are a little more common now. But I decided to go to Ohio State for my doctorate, because it was the only program in the country that would allow me to be a performance major, but also take any courses I wanted. So I could design my own type of focus. And I was at that time very interested in research, music teaching research. And that's what was one of the top schools for that field. So I was doing both of them. And I had two advisors, one in performance, and then one in research, music research. And that advisor said, "You really should just switch to this, because you're very good at this research. And all the statistics don't bother you. And you can really make a difference in this field." And so I thought, okay, I could do that. Because I had also taught public school, that's one of the requirements for that degree that you had to have been a public school teacher at some point, for at least three years. So it was possible for me to take that degree fully, which was a PhD in music education. And so I went to do the interview, and the head of that department said, "You have to sell your cello." And I, I was shocked. Why would you sell your instrument when you're a musician, and he says, "If you keep your instrument, you will be too torn between these worlds of doing research and performing. So you have to just cut it off and stop it, sell your instrument." That's what he was telling all of these doctoral students, which makes me incredibly sad. But I just said, "No, I'm not going to do that." Because I knew I was a cellist. And I just couldn't choose. And so then my advisor was quite upset that he said that to me, but that is what people were expected to do in that program. So she said, "You have three more days to choose. So please think about this carefully." And so I went off and since I knew about discernment, I said, "Okay, I'll pray, I'll discern, see what happens. But I'm not too happy about selling my cello." So I was in the middle of this discernment, and I was just distraught about having to choose and not being able to do both. So I was at Mass one day, and I made this very deeply sincere prayer--which, I should make a notification for anyone: if you'd make a prayer like this, you better be ready for what happens. Because God is listening! I just said, "If you are clear, and tell me exactly what I should do, I promise to follow it." And in the very next moment, it was like a voice behind my head said, "Be a sister." And I was just shocked.
That wasn't what you were asking, was it?
Sister Alice Ann
I was like, that was not one of the choices, what's the deal? So first of all, that didn't help me at all with my choice that I had to make. So I'll just fast forward to that answer, which is, what I chose to do is to not choose between the degrees. I chose one degree, but I did the equivalent of both. And nobody had ever done that before. So I didn't fit in fully in both. But I was happy. Because I still got to do all the music research I wanted to and still play six recitals for my degree and all that. So.
You turned an either/or into a both/and, basically.
Sister Alice Ann
Right. And they were not pleased that I still chose that because they really felt I should get a PhD. If I had written two dissertations, I've could have had both degrees, but nobody is that crazy. Well, there are a few people have two PhDs. But it's really hard to do that. It's because the first dissertation pretty much kills you, which is why figure you can't do another one. That was me.
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.