The Other I

June 19, 2007

The night I left the convent

I left the convent nine years after I had entered as an 18-year-old, and three months after I had taken my final vows.  Yes, final vows does mean final, and just ninety days before leaving for good I had taken a solemn vow to live the rest of my life as a nun.  The life I led in the convent, and how I got to the office of the Mother Superior that night to sign the papers releasing me from this ill-fitting promise I will describe in more detail some other day.  This is a short version.  Actually, there are two versions of this story.  One is the story I would have told in all sincerity at the time.  The other is the one I think now is informed with a modicum at least of somewhat rueful self-knowledge.

I had joined the Maryknoll Sisters, an American missionery order, with the idea that it was a kind of life-time Catholic Peace Corp.  In the world outside the walls of our idyllic retreat in Westchester in upstate New York, Pope John XXIII was creating havoc with what so many had assumed was the unchangeable tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.  Out went the Latin Mass, and in we came with our guitars and folk songs.  I avidly read the pope’s encyclicals, along with the writings of intellectual rebel theologicans.  Consequently, I spent most of my time as a Maryknoll sister with a coterie of other young sisters fighting the Establishment.  The Establishment fought back by assigning me to the bakery, the sewing room, the pantry, to clerical work, and for two exciting years to the publicity department where I was the chief presenter on a weekly children’s religious show on NBC.  After six years, I was sent to earn a degree to equip me as a primary school teacher.  I was not asked.  Just told.  It was an ill-suited choice for me, but I was too much of a trouble-maker to be trained as a doctor or sent to study a dangerous subject like psychology or philosophy.   And I was kept safely in New York, rather than sent to work in an underdeveloped country, which is what I had come to Maryknoll for.

But the outside world was beginning to intrude.  In America, Martin Luther King was galvinizing the civil rights movement, and the protests against the Vietnam war were beginning.  Drugs and hippies and free sex had not yet penetrated our walls but many of us were convinced that we of the younger generation were at the cutting edge of world-wide renewal.  The older generations, both inside and outside the convent, feared we were at the cutting edge of outright revolution. 

The young sisters agitated to get out of our old-fashioned habits that covered us from head to toe, and inch by inch our garments were shortened, our arms and heads uncovered, a discrete calf and ankle shown to the world.  We were sent to live in houses in the slums of the Bronx in New York, and Paterson and Hoboken in New Jersey.  The regular trips into New York City to record the TV show introduced me to a dynamic world of committed people who often were not even Christian, let along practicing Catholics.  Most of the NBC television staff were New York Jewish intellectual types who could not fathom what a group of young, intelligent, vibrant young women were doing locked away as nuns, however modern we thought we were.

The speed of change was either too fast or too slow, but by the score, young sisters began to leave.  I convinced myself that if I were to continue the true work to which Maryknoll was dedicated, I too had to leave the convent.  I did not think I was rebelling against a life without sex, a life of poverty, or of daily unrelenting discipline.  I was rebelling against what I thought – and still think – was the demand for idiotic obedience.  But I gave myself high marks for moral integrity, and thought all my own motives were selfless.

Which is how one day in September I went to the Mother Superior’s office and asked her to petition Rome on my behalf to be released from my vows.  She had no choice but to do so, but not saying a word, she closed her face and turned her back on me.  I left the room. 

Three weeks later the permission had come through.  Later, Rome began to deny these requests.  How long I would have stayed if I had not been given permission to leave is a matter of conjecture.  Maryknoll or the Church had no legal right to demand that anyone remain, but for many, the moral authority of the Church was so great that they would never have considered going against it.  I do know I would not have remained there forever.

In the event, I was in the Mother Superior’s office at eight o’clock that September evening.  She placed the papers in front of me to sign.  Inexplicably, I broke down in violent sobs.  I fled the office and sat in the back of the choir stall of the chapel.   I guess I was saying good bye to an impossible dream.  Whatever I was doing through my tears, I wasn’t considering changing my mind.  Eventually I regained my composure, returned to the office and signed my departure papers.  Then I walked downstairs, caught a taxi to the train station, and went back to New York City.

I thought I had left the convent, and indeed I had.  But psychologically I thought of myself as an ex-nun for several years.  I was 27 years old but terrifyingly naive and innocent. Gradually Maryknoll receded and become a part of my childhood.  Today I rarely tell people I used to be a nun.  Not because it is something of which I am ashamed or embarrassed, but because it is misunderstood by so many, and I am no longer the compliant, believing, innocent young woman who left the convent that night more than 40 years ago.


  1. I was in the convent for 18 years and from the distance of 20 years as a lay adult I feel I owe my convent training much – I was where I was supposed to be then – I received an education I could not have otherwise afforded – and I believe I helped to make the world a better place for the handicapped children I served – however I was called in a different direction – I was married -adopted two kids – and enjoy professional success – what I have found also is that you never LEAVE really
    it becomes very much part of the fabric of the life you lead – and who you are – God bless us all – those who left and those who stayed


    Comment by mcccmar45 — June 3, 2008 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

  2. Wow. Beautifully written. You have read Karen Armstrong haven’t you?

    Chris Lawrence.
    thinking makes it so


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — March 14, 2009 @ 10:19 am | Reply

    • Thank you. Yes, I am familiar with Karen Armstrong’s work. Her work is admirable. I have also visited yourWordpress blog, ThinkingMakesItSo, and been struck not only by our Cambridge connection – yours early in your life, mine rather later – but even more by the similarity in our blog titles. Thinking Makes It So says, in other words, what I believe when I say there is always The Other I – another point of view, another way of seeing things.

      I will go back to read more of what you have to say. Your exploration of the relationship between science and religion impresses me as well-thought out, and one which I might, even from an initial position of broad agreement, learn something more. The Other I


      Comment by theotheri — March 14, 2009 @ 10:49 am | Reply

  3. Thank you. Any feedback would be more than welcome, and I’ll certainly make a point of following your blog, which comes across refreshingly transparent.

    Chris Lawrence.
    thinking makes it so


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — March 15, 2009 @ 9:23 am | Reply

  4. I can’t say that I’m an ex-nun, since I left the convent only five months into my novitiate. Somehow though, with all the closer relationships I’ve developed since that time, I manage to tell them that I lived with nuns, as if I were saying I lived in a psychiatric ward. I’m amazed at how that experience has marked my life.


    Comment by jooliedee — March 24, 2009 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

    • I think that entering the convent – for however long or short a time – is psychologically much more akin to getting married than most people appreciate. Entering the convent is a much more serious decision than choosing a college or a major or even a career goal, and leaving the convent also involves a much deeper shift in the foundation of ones world than changing careers or short-term boy friends. I don’t know your personal story, but I doubt the “convent episode” is anything like finished. Along with a shift in beliefs and values, there is also a whole new set of relationships with ones family. It is rare that everyone in a family changes in lock step and in the same way, and since some of the beliefs involved are so basic, a sense of alienation can last for years. Sometimes it is, in my experience, irrevocable.


      Comment by theotheri — March 25, 2009 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

      • The important thing is that one moves on with life and still be under God, our Creator’s protection. There will always be people making mistakes, including ourselves, but the spirit of understanding and forgiveness will help us move forward, always in the direction towards God. I hope your story will keep on inspiring young people to make mature and deep spiritual choices, focussing on loving God.


        Comment by freechoice1 — February 9, 2010 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

        • Thank you for taking the time to share your comment. Yes, I agree we will all keep making mistakes, though perhaps that is not quite the right word to use if we learn from them. I do not actually think of my entering or my leaving the convent as “a mistake.” Nor have I written about it with the hope that it will inspire young people to make deep spiritual choices. I’ve lived long enough to know that taking responsibility for my own choices is more than sufficient for my one life. That is a very big change from the view I had as a young person, when I thought I had all the answers, not only for myself but for how every one else should live as well. The Other I


          Comment by theotheri — February 9, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

    • @joodielee Iam very interested to hear more of your story. Would you be interested in being interveiwed for an online publciation? If so, please contact me via email directly contact.keesha[at] Thank you.


      Comment by gibsonk2011 — August 15, 2010 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  5. Sorry the church didnt meet your needs. Maybe the secular one is better for you. No you dont owe anything. Just abandon the little ones coming up behind you because it was not for you. Feel free to work for the state and make a difference to an athiest. Hopefully you saved enough money to keep yourselves in a middle class life because your needs are whats important here. God bless.


    Comment by katheen mary f. — August 29, 2011 @ 10:30 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your comment. Though I admit that I am baffled by it. You seem to think you know me which makes me wonder if you have me mixed up with someone else. Or perhaps my post reminded you of someone who seems to you to be self-absorbed and materialistic and you have assumed that I have a similar biography. The least palliative alternative I have thought is that you are among those who believe that faith in a loving and all-knowing God automatically makes the believer loving and all-knowing as well. But I fear the human condition is not so easily transformed. Faith is important. But as St. Paul said “and the greatest of these is love.”

      And as Jesus himself said “it is by their fruits you will know them.” Not by their belief. He castigated the Pharisees for thinking it to be so.

      You sound angry and sarcastic, but the printed word is often misunderstood and conveys a meaning the writer did not intend. I would – sincerely – be interested to know why you seem to think that working for the state is necessarily so self-serving. As a matter of fact, I don’t work for the state, but I do know people who do and who are immensely generous and sacrificial and serve as carers, teachers, and other public servants in a way that impresses me as truly magnanimous. Yes, I do know of course that there are those who use the system merely for financial gain. But they do not represent every one in the system, do they? Or do you think they do?

      I have a similar question about your aspersions against those who are “middle class.” Again, is this in itself something to be castigated? Being poor is not in itself a passport to holiness anymore than it is an automatic path to criminality. In fact, helping the poor is often seen as the mark of generosity. Surely we should not try to keep people poor then, but rather rejoice when a society does develop a thriving middle-class?

      As I said before, I think I have perhaps not fully understood your comment. I should very much like to hear from you again.

      And again, thank you for your comment.


      Comment by theotheri — August 30, 2011 @ 11:50 am | Reply

    • i was going to react to y our comment but after thinking about it – there isnt anything one might say to soften your heart


      Comment by mcccmar — September 12, 2011 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

  6. Its a shame you dont understand the way secularism has injured the church. I have no problem with the middle class but I am bringing into your rosey dream a disturbing reminder that the vow of poverty was yours and not the rest of the worlds. Please dont misunderstand me or continue to take me out of context in this matter ever again. I am not against middle class but against the hypocracy of secularism which is socialism that usurps the poor under the state law of eop while paying a middleclass wage to seculars and leaving the poor to the athiest state.


    Comment by katheen mary f. — August 30, 2011 @ 6:37 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your reply. I know that I asked you to and I appreciate your taking the time and making the effort to do so.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — August 30, 2011 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

      • It wasnt an attempt to respond, I did, I did respond quite clearly. For some reason a nun has always commanded respect from me and I had the humility to allow her to dimiss me. Perhaps I am wrong and correct me if thats the case, but after leaving the convent were you not instructed to live a quiet life and disregard church business? Its true Mother Theresa left her convent but she didnt go around like a bully making public policies and telling rich people they were spending their money unwisely and demanding a fair share from them. No she begged and people flocked to her because of her good work and loving humility. She didnt demand entitlement like the seculars are doing here in the U.S. She is a saint and used every dime of that money to better the poor and not keep herself in “middleclass”. She only owned 2 tunics when she died. She kept her vow of poverty chastity and service to the poor. Thats the difference. If a nun needs my money all she has to do is ask its hers. But ex nuns and seculars can mind their own regarding my money and property. Thankyou for your effort in making your point.


        Comment by kathleen M.F. — September 6, 2011 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

        • Thank you once again for your continuing dialogue.

          I think when I said in my first response I was baffled by some of the things you were alleging that you may have thought I was being sarcastic. I really wasn’t. Nor was I deliberating twisting your words. Perhaps my difficulty will be a little clearer to you when I tell you that on this blog I have received many comments from people whose perspectives vary hugely. Some are ex-nuns themselves, some are still nuns, some have never been Catholics, some are atheists, some are Buddhists, others Muslims. Some have known great love and sensitivity from nuns that has changed their lives. Others have suffered sustained humiliation and abuse at the hands of nuns who themselves were mentally unstable and should not have been trusted with the care of children. Some have never met a real live nun and see them as something extremely mysterious, if not actually mystical.

          But nuns, like any collection of human beings, are a mixture of the good and the bad, or the caring and cruel, of the arrogant and the humble, or the sinner and the saint. Likewise, different orders of nuns do different things. Some live in a cloister and never go out into the world, but spend their time in prayer and solitude. Some teach, others work among the poor, often not wearing a habit. Mother Teresa was that kind of nun. So are the nuns of Maryknoll where I was a nun.

          If someone leaves the convent, it may be because they were asked by the community to leave, others because they believe that they no longer belong there. In either case, the Church gives us no instruction whatsoever about how we should live as lay persons. We are not instructed to live quiet lives. As a matter of fact, we are expected to support ourselves and neither the convent or the church assumes any responsibility for our welfare at all.

          You might also not know how many ex-nuns continue to work for the poor. I am in frequent contact with Maryknoll and ex-Maryknoll nuns who often work together. One ex-nun is now a doctor and works on a medical ship that visits the poor every summer and carries out medical operations and treatments people could get no other way. Another friend is going to Kenya in several months to contribute her social worker skills there, another is helping to support an orphanage in Tanzania. Etc.

          That is my personal acquaintance with ex-nuns. And so I am asking you in all sincerity what kind of ex-nuns you know. To tell you the truth, I strongly suspect that I know more about the dark side of the lives of both nuns and ex-nuns than most. As I say, nuns aren’t all saints. They just aspire to be. But they too include many who are wounded, are mentally disturbed, who are not as loving and humble as they aspire to be.

          And so if you say you know ex-nuns who are selfish, greedy, self-serving, self-absorbed, and uncaring, I believe you.

          But I know from my own personal acquaintances that not all ex-nuns can be tarred with that brush. Some of them truly are incredibly generous and humble.

          Do let me know if in some way I have clarified any of my confusion for you. Or if the waters are still muddied. I am a great believer in the value of dialogue. We may be looking at the world from widely different perspectives but with respect we may at least be able to explain to each other what the world looks like from where we are each standing. To our mutual enrichment.

          Thank you again.


          Comment by theotheri — September 7, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  7. You have clarified beautifully and I thank you for that. Every exnun I have known has been lovely and every time I see a nun tricked with bad information it enfuriates me. Please excuse and dismiss my attitude and hard approach. I am sorry. Peace.


    Comment by katheen mary f. — September 12, 2011 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

    • Thank you. I appreciate your response more than you know. It occurs to me that, although the internet is an incomparable source of information and and communication, it also has its unique limitations. We are deprived of so much of the information that is available in direct interpersonal exchanges. A facial expression of confusion, of sincerity, of concern, or alternatively, of indifference or dislike or disrespect, for instance, or even the tone of voice, can make such a difference. Especially when one is trying to communicate about values that are so important to each of us.

      Again, thank you. I take your peace into both hands.


      Comment by theotheri — September 13, 2011 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

    • Dear Theothen, I’m curious as to why some nuns humiliate and are abusive to children as you have noted. Granted these nuns
      bring baggage with them when they enter an order. Orphans seem to have been at greatest risk. No parents can mean no
      You may be aware that Ireland has had very serious nun abuse issues in it’s industrial schools over the years.
      Might the stresses of convent life be a contributing factor to such cruelty? Take the vows for instance. Chastity:
      turning off or ignoring hormonal needs must be very stressful for some. The vow of obedience that you have characterized as
      “idiotic” must be difficult to master as well. Pat Beasley in her book, The Tears I Couldn’t Cry, refers to “blind obedience”
      and obedience to the “whims” of others as particularly frustrating. She cites many other examples of denial of self-expression:
      no media, no mirrors, no corresponcence with friends or family, sisters were forbidden to enjoy their food and many other
      ways innate human inclinations, needs and desires were suppressed. Could the rigors of convent life cause a sister to perhaps
      “take it out” on children? Young children especially do not mind well naturally. They must be taught. They are naturally,
      noisily, high spirited, exuberant and egocentric.
      If you know of any books or other writings that cite reasons why some nuns subject innocent children to harsh punishment I’d be
      grateful if you would cite them in a reply or email. Thank you for your most informative blog and any time and consideration
      you might give to my query.

      Bob Hagman


      Comment by Bob Hagman — February 12, 2012 @ 9:07 pm | Reply

      • Oh Bob, I wish I knew the answer to your question: why do some nuns abuse vulnerable children in their care? Unfortunately, it and the parallel question of clerical abuse are still agonizingly relevant. I do, though, have some thoughts which are complimentary to your own.

        But first let us recognize that all nuns are not abusers, nor do all orders of nuns engage in the self-destructive denials you describe. Some do. I have no idea how many. The order of sisters to which I belonged did not. Some nuns are and have been down the years incredibly generous, loving, insightful, caring. What makes the difference?

        Perhaps nuns who are or become abusive have been subjected to the same kind of destructive socialization as children who do not become nuns. As I said in my post “Why do abused children become abusers?” it is often because it is too terrible for a child to recognize he is not loved. It is easier to tell him or herself that the person is punishing him or her for her own good. How easy it would be to carry this attitude over into a convent which believes that the body is bad, that sex is impure, that all pleasure is sinful.

        In that context, I have wondered often in later years whether some aspects of Catholic teaching contribute directly to the abuse of children. I fear there is a streak in Catholicism that is pathological about sex, and indeed about all pleasure. Somehow suffering is so often seen as superior to joy, pain is a mark of piety (leading even to self-inflicted pain that is sometimes difficult in my view to distinguish from masochism).

        But these difficulties are obviously not limited to Roman Catholicism. How much easier the problem would be to eliminate child abuse if it were only Catholics prone to such viciousness. But it seems to exist in wide-spread swathes of society. Children are still beaten and starved to exorcise the evil in them, they are still locked into rooms for years on end, they are still burned with cigarettes by adults who simply want to punish them for needing a diaper change.

        You asked if I could recommend something to read on this topic. I’m afraid I can’t think of anything directly relevant. I will keep your request in mind, however, and make some inquiries.

        Lastly, may I thank you for your gracious words about my blog. I greatly appreciate them.

        Terry/ The Other I


        Comment by theotheri — February 13, 2012 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

  8. I would like to know you more. I am a religious though out of the convent working in Kenya with orphans and abandoned. For I believe clearly that this is my vocation and not to be in the cloister.


    Comment by onyi — September 22, 2011 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for getting in touch. I think I understand completely what you mean when you say you are a religious but not in the convent. It seems to me that the core of being religious is to love, to care for our fellow creatures. It isn’t in the dogmas we believe or in trying to convince others to become Christians or to convert to any other religious set of beliefs, is it? It is in love – “the greatest of these.”

      I would be interested to know how you came to be caring for orphans and the abandoned in Kenya, and if you are doing it in cooperation with others or by yourself. How long have you been there?

      Again, thank you. I hope you can write again soon.


      Comment by theotheri — September 23, 2011 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

  9. […] The night I left the convent « The Other IJun 19, 2007 … Yes, final vows does mean final, and just ninety days before leaving for good I had taken a solemn vow to live the rest of my life as a nun. […]


    Pingback by Nuns leaving | Selcer — March 29, 2012 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  10. Your the bitter one. Its unbelievable you claim to understand the difference between yourself and someone who kept the vows. Stop trying to justify when i have known nuns that kept their vows. So many have left after recieving the free p.h.d.s and left nothing to the poor. So many usurpers. Dont try to insist that you found mysticism in other religions as if it was ever revealed to you. One true faith. End of subject.


    Comment by katheen mary f. — May 3, 2012 @ 4:16 am | Reply

    • Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective. Like me, you too have known nuns who kept their vows and whose life of generosity and sacrifice is truly worthy. I too know many ex-nuns who have lived lives of truly edifying generosity. I do not include myself among these outstanding women, but many of them have continued to work for years as ex-nuns and at their own expense, using their talents and training along side the sisters working in Africa, Latin America, Cambodia, Bangaladesh, and Burma to name the places with which I am personally familiar. They are not bitter or angry, but loving, giving, joyous women. Should you ever have the chance to know them as I have, I am sure you would consider it a great gift. I know I do.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — May 3, 2012 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

  11. I know a woman who is leaving the convent a month before her 60th birthday. I can imagine what is going on inside her. What would be a GREAT gift to give her as she begins her new life? Does one leave with any bank account? How do you find a place to live, before having a job and establishing some type of credit? Where does one begin? How does one begin this new life with no backup? J


    Comment by JSC — May 30, 2012 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

    • As you suspect, I agree that leaving the convent at the age of 60 is apt to present a very big challenge. Your initial questions about the fundamental practicalities of daily life are the same questions I would ask. It is impossible to answer in the abstract, however, because the lives of individual nuns and of various communities vary widely. At the very least, nuns are given back the dowry women are required to give to the order when they enter. It may be returned without interest, however, and be worth very little in today’s terms. On the other hand, I know ex-nuns who have been given as much as $20,000 after the long years of service you describe. In any case, it is unlikely that this person will have a pension or even social security, so the biggest question may be for the future when she is no longer able to work.

      You ask what would be a GREAT gift. Two things come to mind. The first you seem to be offering already – friendship and support. I can’t tell you how much this can mean. Visits, telephone calls, emails, any kind of contact that is possible is something that makes a bigger difference that you might imagine.

      The second thing is financial support If you are in a position to help, my experience for myself and with other ex-nuns is that small but regular gifts are apt to be more useful than a single larger amount. This is particularly true if your friend has had little experience having to handle her own budget.

      This is all it occurs to me to say, given that I know so little about the individual’s circumstances. If you want to do more, I would ask her. And if there are any questions you think I might be able to address from this distance, please ask. I would be happy to help in any small way I can.


      Comment by theotheri — May 30, 2012 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

  12. I eas a religipis and studying for the priesthood. I went to meinrad for four years and.then joined a religious order. I left before fonal vows in my third year pf theology. I still see myself as an ex seminarian and religious. I left in my late twrnties in my 40s now. I think I am scarred and people do not understand. Sometimes I think I need to leave catholicism to work through this.


    Comment by crsig — October 18, 2012 @ 2:51 am | Reply

    • Sorry about the errors my phone is hard to type on.


      Comment by crsig — October 18, 2012 @ 2:52 am | Reply

      • It’s OK – I’m all thumbs when it comes to those tiny keypads.


        Comment by theotheri — October 19, 2012 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences on leaving the religious life. I think that perhaps only those who have actually done it can appreciate how traumatic it is to leave what one thought was a life-long calling. I am still gaining insights into the process and the assumptions I learned as a Catholic.

      For some, staying within the Catholic fold after leaving the religious life is a supportive choice. For others – like me – it was suffocating both intellectually and emotionally. As you struggle with your own choice, I wish you the best. And do know you are not alone. I don’t know how many you are acquainted with personally, but there are thousands of ex-s living in the world today. Some of them, to my surprise and great good fortune, are now among my best friends. I hope the same for you.


      Comment by theotheri — October 18, 2012 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

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    Comment by Sal — December 16, 2012 @ 11:03 am | Reply

    • Thank you for such positive feedback. It means a lot.

      I would be interested to know if you have any particular posts that you would have liked to be longer. Are they posts in which I discuss particular topics or ideas? like Asperger’s syndrome, or economics or religious or philosophical ideas? Seriously, it would help me a lot if you did not more than point to two or three specific posts that you felt were too brief.

      Thank you again. I will look forward to hearing from you.


      Comment by theotheri — December 16, 2012 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

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      Comment by theotheri — January 28, 2013 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

  15. Hope you’re doing well. I wanted to leave you a comment because I’m interested in getting in touch with you about your experience as an ex-nun. I’m a Columbia Journalism School graduate student and writing in-depth about the Maryknoll Sisters. I’ve been working on this for several months. I would love your perspective – I think it would really be helpful considering what you’ve written above. I’m most interested about your realization that you had to get out, the changing times (the 1960’s) and the effect that had on you, and your contact with other ex-Maryknollers. I’d love to explain to you further. My email address is, otherwise please let me know how I can get in touch with you. Thanks very much for your help and I hope to hear from you soon! – Kellianne


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      Comment by theotheri — May 12, 2013 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  20. To theotheri: I find it interesting how quick some people are to judge and even criticize/condemn another person’s response to a call to serve. The fact that you or I still recall the leaving so many years later confirms that the decision was not made lightly or easily. There is no condemnation for anyone who follows a path, finds it not to be right for them, and seeks another way.


    Comment by m6512 — May 19, 2013 @ 1:56 am | Reply

    • Yes, I know what you mean. I find myself reluctant to trust the judgement of people who are so sure they know what everybody else should do. Or even how to run the world. Still, there are times when I have to remind myself as well that I’d best put down that stone too.

      Thank you for touching base. It would be interesting to hear from of your thoughts.


      Comment by theotheri — May 20, 2013 @ 6:52 am | Reply

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    Comment by Wilbur — August 2, 2013 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

  23. I left the convent forty some years ago, but have never seen myself as anything but a nun who left her calling. Pat S.


    Comment by patricia winesettle — February 19, 2014 @ 11:26 pm | Reply

    • That is a hard one. Your experience sounds much more difficult than mine. I left the convent 45 years ago, and am now deeply grateful for the time I spent there. But I know it was not where I belonged for all my life. Thank you for sharing.


      Comment by theotheri — February 20, 2014 @ 7:48 am | Reply

      • I left the convent after nearly two years (before my novitiate was over) because I needed surgery for my back. I had the surgery while I was still in and stayed for six weeks more to recuperate, but it was made clear to me that “we” had made a “mutual decision” that I should take some time out to heal and could come back when I was fully recovered. I did not want to leave, but as I learned in the 23 years that followed, I was spiritually immature (and I joined at 39 yrs old!). It turned out that I was censoring my prayer, thinking that anything more “nitty-gritty” would be inappropriate for a religious sister. Fortunately, through some excellent spiritual direction, I learned better and continue to do so.

        BTW, I never did go back to that particular community as I realized that they operated mostly on the parent-child paradigm (or it could just be that they didn’t know how to deal with older women in formation). I must say I was grateful for much of it, and hurt by a lot of it, too. One thing that I DID learn though, was that I had the right to seek spiritual direction. I also learned that I could live out my call to holiness by returning to the workforce and active duty in the military.

        For what it’s worth, I found that early in the thread, folks were using the word “seculars” like it was something dreadful. I used to think that it was the opposite of “sacred”; or when used in speaking of people, there would be clergy/religious and seculars. I do believe that “seculars” was being used as shorthand for “secular humanists”, but not being the original writer, I can’t be sure.

        Thanks much for giving me a spot to get to know others with the in/out experience.


        Comment by Mary K Higgins — January 8, 2017 @ 9:32 am | Reply

        • I left the convent closer to 50 than 23 years ago, but I recognize some of the things you are writing about. Older entrants in my time were also treated more like adolescents than mature adults. And although I have not reflected on the hidden meanings underlying the description “seculars,” now that you point it out, I certainly recognize it. Interestingly, I have also remained friends with a fellow novice who had shoulder surgery and who was then counselled out. Like you, it took her years to fully process the sense of rejection. Looking back on the number of sisters who were rejected on grounds that in retrospect look authoritarian, if not even simply nasty by superiors who felt threatened, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to decide for myself that I did not have a life time call as a religious.

          Thank you for sharing your own experiences. I know there are those who will be grateful to know they are not alone.


          Comment by theotheri — January 8, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

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    Comment by Britany S. Wiltberger — September 21, 2014 @ 10:54 am | Reply

    • Thank you for your comment. Actually, I have written more than 70 posts describing various thoughts and events about my convent days. If you want to take a look at them, go to the right-hand column of my blog, scroll down and click on Select Category, then on Life as a Nun. If there is any further or specific you’d be interested in my writing about, please do let me know. I will do my best to oblige. Again, thank you for your feedback.


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  35. Dear Sister,

    The first time I read your blog, my impression was that you were always being sarcastic especially on topics about Catholicism. However, I have read your other posts and I think now I understand where you are coming from or what you are trying to point out.

    I’d like to ask a few questions if you don’t mind.

    Are you still a Catholic?

    Are you now a Protestant?

    Do you still believe in God?

    When you entered the convent, did you have a strong desire to serve Jesus?

    I also know that nuns are allowed to get married because they are not ordained so it’s not really a problem if you left the convent.

    Anyway, I’m a fan of your blog and will keep on coming back.



    Comment by The Manang — December 14, 2015 @ 9:39 pm | Reply

    • You may be surprised to know how interesting I find your comment, and I do plan on responding to it, perhaps even in a separate post. Your questions sound like simple, but I find the answers are not simple “yes/no” answers. So it may take me some days. But I promise to respond.
      And thank you for taking the time to send me your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by theotheri — December 15, 2015 @ 4:51 pm | Reply

  36. […] weeks ago, I received a comment asking several questions on this blog post of June 19, 2007  “The night I left the convent.”  The questioner asked if I was still a Catholic, if I believed in God, and if I’d felt a […]


    Pingback by Am I still a Catholic? | The Other I — December 27, 2015 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  37. It has been 3 years since I was asked to leave. The pain of the rejection never seems to go away despite the passage of time. I have a high paying job now but all I can think of is how empty my life has become. I was told it’s a different vineyard and I try to persevere where I am, but all I feel is quiet desperation as the days go by. How does one go on? Did I just imagine the call? If it was real, how can I still trust God who led me thus far only to stand back and let me be rejected? I have grown afraid to serve again and envy those who still gave of themselves freely even after having left the convent…


    Comment by myra — January 1, 2016 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

    • Myra Thank you so very much for sharing your pain so honestly. There are many people who are dear friends from my days in the convent, and many others who read this blog who have struggled with the sense of rejection you describe. Several of my friends have described it as similar to the sense of rejection that comes with an unwanted divorce. For many of them – despite happy marriages and fulfilling lives – the pain has never left them. How they have dealt with it varies from person to person. One of my dearest friends used the sense of rejection to help others who have experienced rejection that seemed even deeper than hers. In her case, she dealt with abused children. As she pointed out, Jesus himself was rejected, and her own rejection gave her a sense of what these unloved and abandoned children were going through.

      In my own life, I have learned that sometimes the worst things and the best things that have happened to me are the same things. I would never have chosen the “bad things,” but they have stretched me, opened me up to new perspectives for which I am profoundly grateful.

      It’s not easy. I know, I know, and I hope I do not sound as if I think it is. It is not. But perhaps your pain has a meaning, perhaps it can shine a light on a path where, despite the brambles & thorns, there is also fulfillment. Your gifts may not lie in working with those who have been rejected. Mine don’t, but I hope nonetheless, I have been able to use the gifts I have been given with love. I have learned that we are all incomplete, that we all need each other in ways that we often do not appreciate. I cannot but believe that you, like all of us, have a contribution to make that others need.

      Thank you again for sharing your struggle. May it also, perhaps only after many years, become what you see as a gift.


      Comment by theotheri — January 1, 2016 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

    • Dear Myra, I remember my first 5 years after I had to leave for health reasons (I was told I was welcome back when I was fully healed, but the way my infirmity was handled left me emotionally scarred–long ugly story). Those years were very difficult for me as I felt that I had made an offering to God and He rejected me (of course, intellectually I knew better). It was only fairly recently that I realized that I never shared my hurt on a heart-to-heart basis with Our Lord in prayer. So I have, and now I can talk about even the hurtful parts without bawling.

      I think that there is a good chance that neither your nor I just “imagined the call”. It was a pretty inconvenient time for me, and perhaps it was tough for you, too. But you and I may have been called for the time we were there for some reason. For me, it may have been realizing that I was deficient in the spiritual maturity department, and strangely enough, I wouldn’t have had the courage to identify and face it in the convent as I would have seen it as not fitting for a religious sister. But I WAS there long enough to realize that I have the right to seek spiritual direction and to a rich life of prayer and living a life that is the fruit of that prayer. Sometimes I think that those with the most heroic virtue are the ones who can live a faithful Christian life in the workaday world without the support of religious community.

      Just my two cents, but know that I will pray for you as you navigate your way through the unexpected waters.


      Comment by Mary K Higgins — January 8, 2017 @ 9:58 am | Reply

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