The Other I

December 31, 2007

The forbidden farewell

Filed under: Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 11:03 pm

The paradox of my work in the publicity department at Maryknoll is that it was the best and the worst of events that happened there that were most significant in my finally leaving Maryknoll.  It is the only work to which I was assigned as a Maryknoller that I found stimulating and challenging.  Sister Francis Louise was a creative writer with talents and a character quite different from my own.  It was the first time in my life, I think, that I was ever challenged to be creative instead of being merely right.  It was the other half of the world I grasped so eagerly in courses with Sister Mary Edith.  Despite – or perhaps because of – our differences we were compatible and made a good team. 

Sister Francis Louise and Sister Maria del Rey, the veteran journalist and department head, were not so compatible.  In fact, they constantly trampled on what each considered their own patch.  Sister Maria del Rey, I think, was threatened by the talent of this young sister who did not show the traditional deference to her superior accomplishments.  Sister Francis Louise, for her part, was sharp, incisive, and educated.  Although I would not describe her as a natural trouble-maker, I also would not list her as a talented peacemaker either.  The individual friction between these two was exacerbated by the overall atmosphere in the Motherhouse where more than 300 of us were living in close quarters with few outlets beyond the Maryknoll compound.  The older and younger nuns were in constant conflict about changes in the Church, and  Sister Maria del Rey said unambiguously that we young ones should “shape up or ship out.” 

Both Sister Francis Louise and I were scheduled to renew our vows in June.  I was accepted for a further three years.  Sister Francis Louise was asked to leave Maryknoll.  I was distraught by the decision and went to Mother Mary Coleman to ask them to reconsider their rejection, but failed.  Leaving Maryknoll in those days was a pretty secret affair, and women were spirited out the door and into a waiting car without any farewells.  One day they were there;  the next they were gone.  Sister Francis Louise left on the day before I was scheduled to renew my vows.

I was already in bed the evening before we were to renew our vows, when someone shook the curtains of my cell and said that Sister Mercy, acting for Mother Mother Mary Coleman in her absence,  wanted to see me in her office.  I dressed and went upstairs.  Sister Mercy may have given the gentle impression of a kindly mother, but she was tough.  She told me that because I had attended a forbidden farewell party for Sister Francis Louise that afternoon, the ruling Council had decided that I should be permitted to renew my vows the next morning not for three but for one year.  “But I didn’t go to the party,” I objected.  Well, Sister Mercy replied, the Council had decided anyway.

It is a reflection of my naivete that rather than argue about the injustice of this kangaroo court decision, I said I would accept it but that I wanted to tell her what was really happening with the younger nuns at Maryknoll.  I said she needed to know the attitude of those in authority was alienating many of us, and that if they did not change, very few young nuns would be left in Maryknoll at all.  She said she would pray for me.

It doesn’t give me a great deal of joy – no, in truth maybe it does – to look back and see how right my prediction proved to be. 

Of the 64 original women who entered Maryknoll in my group, two are today still Maryknoll Sisters. 

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