Global religion reporter Giovanna Dell'Orto and Athens, Greece, photographer Petros Giannakouris gained unprecedented access to a convent housing 13 cloistered Catholic nuns on the trendy Greek island of Santorini, a favorite of tourists. The nuns devote their lives to praying for those visitors and for the world — their near-constant prayer deemed necessary to support more publicly engaged ministries.

The AP pair won the trust of the nuns, who opened the doors to areas of the convent off-limits to visitors while sharing what calls them to this sequestered life of devotion to God. The result is a distinctive and revealing package of Dell’Orto’s illuminating text and Giannakouris’ equally compelling photography.

The rare access resulted first from Dell’Orto’s efforts over many months to convince those overseeing the convent that AP’s coverage would be responsible, and then from the two journalists’ warmth and respect when they met the nuns in person.

Dell’Orto discovered the convent while visiting Santorini in 2019; she subsequently studied its history, and reached out to Santorini’s lone Catholic priest and the Dominican order’s Spain-based leader to propose an AP story. Earlier this year, she contacted the convent’s prioress, who agreed to accommodate a visit. The priest and most of the nuns are native Spanish speakers; Dell’Orto’s fluency in Spanish helped build rapport.

The journalists’ warmth and respect won the nuns over when they met in person.

Heading into the visit, the AP journalists were told Giannakouris could take photos only at the daily Mass and in the convent’s parlor. Here is Dell’Orto’s account of what ensued:

“In the space of a couple of hours of talking in the parlor, the sisters were discussing among themselves how they could help Petros get more shots … one opened a window in the dome of the church so Petros could go up on the rooftop and take photos during Mass from there. ... Once we got on the rooftop, they agreed it was OK for Petros to take pictures of them during recess and in the garden — and when we asked if we could come back the next day at a later hour for better light, they not only agreed but had prepared more homemade lemonade.”

“Why do I think this ‘miracle’ happened? Just the way it does with every source — from the very first approach, they realized we respected them and cared to learn about and tell their story, not a ‘look at these weird people’ story."

Among the multitude of outlets using the story and highlighting the remarkable photos were the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, The Independent and Yahoo.com.

Perhaps most rewarding, after Dell'Orto sent her a link to the story, the prioress wrote back, “GRACIAS!!!! GRACIAS!!!! GRACIAS!!!!”