Red Cardinal

A cardinal during the early February ice storm.  Photo by Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC

Photography is now such a part of my life and artistic expression that it’s hard to believe I didn’t even own a camera until 2007. Up until then, if I needed a picture and someone else wasn’t willing to take it, I just bought a disposable camera from the drugstore. The film was typically in that disposable camera for a year before I took it to the drugstore for developing.

So, what made me decide to get my first camera? Before entering the monastery in 2008, I had the opportunity to go on the Assisi Study Pilgrimage with Murray Bodo, Andre Cirino, OFM, and Frances Teresa Downing, OSC. I thought this would be a great time to take a camera and record my experiences on pilgrimage, so, I emailed my brother and asked if I could take his camera on the journey. His immediate reply to my email was, “no!” In his defense, I was asking him to let me borrow an expensive DSLR camera with multiple long-range changeable lenses. I wouldn’t have had a clue as to how to use his camera! Luckily, my brother was kind enough to include with his “no!” a link to the Walmart website and suggest an inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera that had “auto everything.”


A fledgling Cooper’s hawk, photo by Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC

Only having the most basic knowledge of how cameras work, I took the phrase “point-and-shoot” literally. I thought, “if I take enough pictures of the same thing, one of them is bound to turn out good.” Off I went on pilgrimage with my new camera and a memory card that would hold up to 5,000 pictures. While on pilgrimage, I fell in love not only with Assisi, but also with taking pictures.

Fast forward to 2016. My community allowed me to take a 30-day Spiritual Exercises retreat in Cohasset, Mass. The retreat house was on the ocean with its own private beach. Wow! I was sure glad I took my camera (still a point-and-shoot), but this time I took extra memory cards and could take a lot more pictures. It was on my 30-day retreat that I fell in love with taking pictures of birds and other wildlife.

seagull in the sky

A seagull in flight near the ocean, photo by Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC

After returning to Cincinnati, I began spending more time outside looking for birds and following deer. One day, I was looking out the sewing room window waiting for a blue bird to land on the hermitage sign, when a red fox came out of the woods right in front of me! I learned that day to be open to whatever beautiful creature or scene God placed before me and create the best image possible in celebration of God’s creation.

red fox

A red fox coming out of the woods. Photo by Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC.

Then, in 2019, I found a male Cooper’s hawk flying back and forth through the trees and discovered he was building a nest for his mate. I have followed three seasons with the Cooper’s hawks. In 2019, three offspring survived; in 2020, only one offspring survived; and in 2021, a total of five offspring survived.

At Christmas in 2020, I received a “Secret Santa” gift: a DSLR camera with changeable long range lenses. The note in the box said: “Keep taking those bird pictures!” Thank you, Secret Santa! I will definitely keep taking those bird pictures (the male Cooper’s hawk has already started rebuilding his nest).

(Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC, is a Poor Clare Nun at the Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare in Cincinnati, Ohio.)

hawk in tree

A female Cooper’s hawk on a branch near her nest. Photo by Sr. Vickie Griner, OSC.