Convent to Catwalk…My Experience Writing My Story

Written by Panorama resident, Mary Jo Shaw. May 2017

Why would I enter a religious convent, stay 13 years, leave, and become a high fashion model? (Catwalk: ramp for models to show fashions.)

Before we moved to Panorama in 2011, my family and friends knew most of the answers to those questions, coaxing me to write my stories. I always loved to write, and won the first prize award in two different poem contests…a whopping $15 for each. A lot of money in the 50s, especially to a child!

What opportunities to learn to write at Panorama?

Write Your Life…with Charlotte Wiseman as facilitator, met twice a month (still does) and was free! We’d each read about 10 minutes, but did not critique. We were eager to know the next episode in our class-buddies’ lives. My jaw dropped when I pictured my elderly friends in their missions as fighter pilots in WWII, Vietnam, or Korea. One had been a prisoner of war. Others were teachers, ministers’ wives, farm wives. I always had plenty to write. Encouragement again–to put words to print.

But I craved constructive edits and critiques.

Answer? PanWriter’s Class. World renown playwright, Bryan Willis, taught three writing classes on campus for a small fee. (Today he adds another: screenwriting.) We wrote from a prompt, read aloud from copies made for each student, and offered each other ideas for a better read—constructive critiques! Bryan passed out books to borrow or keep. We could read to learn still more. I claimed the books–with underlines and highlights!

After about a year, a published author Patricia moved into our neighborhood and joined Bryan Willis’ class. The story she read proved she had experience in writing. After walking home together from her first class, Patricia offered, “Mary Jo, would you lend me some of your stories to critique for you?”

“Oh, I’d be honored!” I dashed into my garden home, grabbed some pages from a 3-ring binder, and shoved them into Patricia’s opened chair-walker.

“I’ll call you over when I’ve finished. We’ll talk about the papers.” She putted home.

That began the first of weekly help with her challenges to read books on writing, to study, and to improve. Encouragement from Bryan Willis and substitutes when needed, I braved up to self-print Convent to Catwalk. Twenty years of my life with 60 pictures!

After 5 ½ years, hours of daily writing, I consigned my books in our Gifts, Etc. on April 1, 2017. Volunteers display and sell residents’ handmade items and books.

Picture 1

I am blessed with the explosion and constant excitement of Convent to Catwalk’s success. It has spread to six states in one month, with reorders for gift giving, and encouragement and help from my hubby, Chris.

This is just one exciting opportunity offered by Panorama and its volunteers. Write right!

12 thoughts on “Convent to Catwalk…My Experience Writing My Story

  1. Hi Mary Jo,
    I am manager of The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio where we have gotten a request for your book after the article was written about you last Sunday. It seems to have been received well!

    Would you consider consigning two or three of your books to us?

    I included our store website here, so you can check us out. I’d think your book could be a good fit.
    Thank you for considering.
    All best,

  2. I received the post from the CDP Facebook page and it was a surprise to see your picture from the convent days. It took me awhile to track down the article about your book and the pictures. You still look like yourself back then, a lovely lady as ever.
    I left the convent in 1966 after only two years on the mission, leaving from my last in Fredericksbug. A few years later I was back in San Antonio where I am still living.

    It is so great that you have been able to write about your life. I have thought about writing mine a few times but haven’t started. It seems I have too many blank spaces in my memory of life that I’d never be able to fill a book. Off and on I have written some poetry, the earliest during some dark times before I left the convent.

    The article in the San Antonio paper says your book is out of print. From your blog it seems that you were selling your book through the retirement center there. If you have additional books printed, I would like to purchase a copy. I can be reached at the email address I provided.

    I was Sister James Francis when we were in the convent. You were probably at least 2 years ahead of me.

  3. I read the article on your book, Convent to Catwalk, in the San Antonio Express News this past Sunday. I graduated from OLL in1969 and I would love to read your book!

    If it goes back in print, please let me know. I would like to order 3 copies.; one for myself and the others for OLL graduates now living in Louisiana and Wisconsin. It sounds like a great story and a great life.

    Thank You,
    Alyce Robbins

  4. I loved reading about you and your book in the San Antonio paper. You wouldn’t remember me, but my grandma lived next door to your family on WHuisache. I always looked forward to visiting my Grandma Brieger and playing with her neighbors. Suzy was my age. I’d be interested in purchasing your book if it becomes available. Can it currently be purchased?

  5. To all of you who have written to me about Convent to Catwalk.
    I am printing 200 more copies, and will have them Oct. 17, 2017.

    I am the only source of obtaining them, since I have them printed and delivered to our apartment at Panorama. Please go to i can write to you from that email address. I can’t get your information of where to send it, etc. unless you go to my gmail address. You could contact Panorama, but it might be a while before the message gets to me.

    Mary Jo (Barbera) Shaw
    Author, Convent to Catwalk

  6. Hi Shawn,
    If you live in the area, you can purchase Convent to Catwalk at our on-campus gift shop. They’re open Monday-Friday from 10:00a – 2:00p (closed on bank holidays). If not, just let me know and I will forward your contact information to the author.

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