'Little Hours': A set-in-Weymouth book about faith, friendship and the Red Sox

·3 min read

The search is for big answers when life is painful and confusing. Yet life is alight with shining moments of grace when bonds are forged between unlikely friends in "Little Hours: A Novel," written by Lil Copan. (One Bird Books, June 2021, $18.99, 323 pages.)

A fictional Catholic monastery is set in Weymouth where Sister Athanasius, a nun, writes regularly to new pen pal Miriam, a married, working mother of two teens. The exchange is sparked when Miriam sends two questions: “Is there really birdwatching at the monastery? And, what do I do about my husband?”

"Little Hours" by Lil Copan
"Little Hours" by Lil Copan

Thus begins a yearlong correspondence from the viewpoint of Sister Athanasius, who introduces Miriam to the “Bings,” the Sisters of Saint Hildegard of Bingen.

Why did the author set the convent in Weymouth? Perhaps an excerpt from Sister Athanasius’ letter to Miriam is revealing:

"Just now I was thinking how interesting it is that we share a common state with the very long name, Massachusetts. You near Quabbin, we in Weymouth on the South Shore. Do you know that our spit of land used to be a munitions bunker? Now it is heeding nature’s call to move back to its original form, with sumac bushes, meadow grasses, pines that claim proper place near the shore, as though as soon as it could, the land reverted itself from a sword to a plowshare."

The convent’s characters are Sister Anne, an avid Red Sox fan; Sister Patrick Gertrude, a clean freak constantly at odds with Sister Farm, a lover of nature and animals who tracks muck through the convent; Little Sister, the baker; Sister Bird, who reports on winged sightings; and Mother Lourdes, the prioress, who keeps all the plates spinning. Sister Athanasius reveals herself and monastic life as comic and touching. Her wisdom is born from solitude and observation, which are enviable and missing aspects in Miriam’s modern life.

In one letter, Sister Athanasius writes about the hard work of personal change:

Lil Copan has released her first novel, "Little Hours," with One Bird Books of Falmouth.
Lil Copan has released her first novel, "Little Hours," with One Bird Books of Falmouth.

"Sister Anne once told me that every ten years or so we redefine our lives. We have to study them and revisit them and then shake them up. And if we don’t, she said, not to worry: Illness or loss or fear or something would sneak in there and shake it up for us. And at that point you either say yes, let it shake, or no, I want to keep it this way. 'Don’t ever,' she said, 'insist on keeping it the old way if you haven’t tried the new one.' She was like that. From the outside it looked like she was living the same life of the religious for over 50 years, but she reinvented her life as a person, creatively and intuitively. And I was witness to the renewal."

"Little Hours" is a 2022 Gold Winner of the Nautilus Book Awards (fiction) and a 2022 finalist for Next Generation Indie Book Awards (regional fiction).

First-time novelist Lil Copan, 57, lived in Dorchester for 16 years and now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her father was a pastor of a Slavic Christian church in the Anabaptist tradition in Ohio.

Yet the story features Catholic nuns because Copan is fascinated by the religious practices.

“I came from a community that has very few rituals in that sense and I was drawn into the little hours of prayer and what that means and what they can hold," she said.

“For me, a lot of the spiritual greats, the contemplatives, the mystics, the people who did profound spiritual work in the larger Christian tradition were Catholic.”

The title, "Little Hours," refers to monastic prayer rituals.

“There are hours that are kind of like the big prayer hours of the day, and then there are hours that not everyone observes; the hours of the interstices, where the smaller aspects of life and prayer are lived out and prayed out,” Copan said.

A growing friendship between a nun and a modern married woman takes root, but it is the reader who blooms from Sister A’s grace and kindness.

Suzette Standring, of Milton, writes the Bright Side column for The Patriot Ledger.
Suzette Standring, of Milton, writes the Bright Side column for The Patriot Ledger.

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Milton resident Suzette Martinez Standring writes Bright Side, a good news column featuring information on the South Shore and the people who live here. If you have an idea for a future column, reach her at suzmar@comcast.net. Also, visit www.readsuzette.com.

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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: 'Little Hours': Weymouth-set book about faith, friendship, Red Sox