Mary Perrot suffered through boot camp on South Carolina's Parris Island. She learned to shoot straight enough to earn the rank of Marine gunnery sergeant. She served six months in Operation Desert Storm.
Now, after 20 years in the military, she is signing up for a different tour of duty: The 47-year-old woman is studying to become a nun.
"There's an element of commitment and dedication in both the sisterhood and the military," said Perrot, who lives with three sisters of the Roman Catholic Ursuline order. "I'm still working with a group of people for a common purpose. There's also a sense of discipline in both worlds."
Perrot has been stationed all over the United States, and in Japan and Saudi Arabia. She worked briefly as a substance-abuse counselor for military men and women, then served mainly in finance and accounting jobs. In her six months in Desert Storm, she worked as a payroll agent for civilians and the Navy.
She enjoyed her work and the financial security of being a Marine.
"I wanted to travel, so I joined the military," said Perrot, whose athletic build and firm handshake remain even though she has left the corps. "My spiritual journey didn't begin until a few years ago."
Raised Catholic, she had several times experienced what she called "mini-callings" to religious work.
"Religion had always caught my attention," she said. "But I always dismissed it, especially early in my military career. I kept saying, 'No way is that a life for me.' "
It wasn't until 1996 that she began to seriously consider becoming a nun.
She was stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., where she expected to stay until she retired, but was then transferred to Okinawa. She was pained by the idea of being so far away from her 10 brothers and three sisters, and interpreted the feeling as a signal from God that she should return to Louisville to be near her siblings and serve her community.
"I was ready to be with my family," she said.
She began reading about spirituality and attending religious retreats. When she returned to Jacksonville for her final stint as a Marine, Perrot began speaking with a sister from the Ursuline order. By Perrot's retirement in 1999, she was ready to enter religious life.
"Mary was an unusual case when she came to us because of her military career and because of her age," said Sister Margaret Ann Hagan, who joined the order when she was 17. "I think a lot of people struggle with the question of, 'Is this what I'm supposed to do?' "
Jo Warwick, also of Jacksonville, was a close friend to Perrot while she was contemplating joining the order.
Warwick said in the Marines, Perrot was known as a prankster with a dry sense of humor. Perrot also loves to shoot pool, a pastime she learned at her brother's pool hall while she was growing up. Warwick expects Perrot to bring that sense of fun to her new vocation.
"She hasn't lost her sense of humor," Warwick said.
Perrot began her two-year novice period in January 2000. She said she was not troubled by the vow of celibacy, since she had no serious romantic relationship when she left the military.
Perrot began her study program on July 15 at St. Ann's Convent near Cincinnati. The training will allow her to deepen her relationship with Jesus Christ and to study the Ursuline congregation, Hagan said.
The Ursuline Sisters teach, work in diocesan offices, serve as hospital chaplains and minister to the poor in rural areas in the United States and other countries.
"I was at her house and she was relaxing on the couch," Hagan recalled, "and I said 'You certainly look at home,' and she said, 'I am.' "