JOLIET – A Joliet college student has become a celebrity in the world of reality TV.
Claire Halbur was one of five to appear on the recent Lifetime series, “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns,” which filmed last summer and aired its six episodes in November and December.
Technically a “reality docuseries,” Halbur said, the show followed five young Catholic women from California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York through a six-week period of exploring the vocation of sisterhood.
Halbur had contemplated becoming a nun for several years when she was approached about the possibility of being cast in the show. It was a startling proposal.
“Getting cast to do a TV show was the last thing I expected,” Halbur said, “because I don’t even watch TV. ... The show was very unique in that discernment is a very personal thing for people. It’s not usually done in a manner that’s going to be watched by other people.”
Halbur said the media company contacted her through a Catholic blog for which she used to write.
“They had emailed me months before, looking for Catholic young women for a TV project,” Halbur said. “I didn’t hear from them again until last spring. They said it was a show that would focus on religious life and discernment on Lifetime network. I didn’t even know what that was.”
Halbur said it was the producer – a lifelong Catholic – who convinced her it would be worthwhile since the show would help promote religious vocations. As a young girl, Halbur wanted to become a nun. Two great-aunts were nuns, and Halbur grew up in a devout Catholic home.
“The saints have always been my heroes,” Halbur said. “They lived for God and for the church.”
Home-schooled through high school, Halbur was active in parish ministry even as a teen. Later, she founded and directed the Joliet-based Cherubim Catholic Children’s Choir, was director of music at St. Mary Parish in Plano and coordinated a Catholic children’s day camp.
Halbur is a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet, where she also helps with the children’s choir. She also is a music student at the University of St. Francis in Joliet.
During her teens into her early 20s, Halbur said her life goal changed to one of marriage and motherhood. Then, through what she calls a series of undeniable events at the age of 21, she knew she was called to serve.
“I knew Jesus was proposing to me,” Halbur said. “I thought, ‘If this is my call, I will be happy with Jesus as my spouse and a spiritual marriage.’ I knew he wanted me to be totally his, 100 percent. I felt like I was betrothed to Jesus.”
Halbur said that at the time, she thought sisterhood was imminent. She later realized God wanted her to first learn, work and serve in the world. She vowed not to date boys, and when she was asked on dates, she explained her situation.
“I was honest with them,” Halbur said, “and told them I was claimed.”
A couple of Halbur’s fellow convent explorers in the reality show outright told her that Halbur shouldn’t become a nun before she had known romantic love with a man. One in particular said Halbur couldn’t know what she was forsaking if she never had kissed a boy.
There was drama during the series – as is expected with today’s reality shows, even when they’re filmed in a convent. Mostly, Halbur avoided those moments, even isolating herself in prayer during one biting conversation among the four other women.
“I think they focused more on the dramatic moments,” Halbur said of the series, “but the crying and the conflict, that was not happening every single day. There were a lot of peaceful moments, too. ... We actually did have time without the cameras. ... The shows were made from hundreds of hours of shooting. They are just snippets.”
Halbur said that at the beginning of the taping, she was aware of the cameras and crew but tried to not let them affect her experiences. For Halbur, the television show also was a spiritual journey. Except for several retakes of the women going in or coming out of a building, everything was real and authentic.
One of the best things the series did, Halbur said, was let viewers see what nuns are like and how convents operate. For Halbur personally, the show cemented her decision to become a sister.
“I felt like God was asking me to take this step with him and trust him,” Halbur said.
The last episode featured the young women returning home. Shots of Joliet were shown as Halbur went back to her parents, John and Barbara, and her siblings to tell them of her decision to continue. Halbur has since made a retreat at one of those convents.
“I came away with a sense of being loved by God and being privileged to participate in that experience,” Halbur said. “I know that for each of the five of us, none of our stories are over yet.”