When Doubt Set In

Neri4.jpg This is me in the 2nd grade at St. Philip Neri. I had always romanticized the lives of the very religious, but by the time this photograph was taken I had already lost my naivete. When I got to the 5th grade I announced to my mother (shaking and terrified) that I could no longer in good conscience go to church. She told me it was my decision and that was that. (Or was it the 6th grade? It was right after confirmation.)

I bring this up because I’ve had to contact nuns and priests for this book and apparently, they still scare me. I just called a nun back and even though I need the information I was calling about I was so relieved when they told me she wasn’t there! I was like, “YAY! Oh wait, no. I need that answer.”

I’m waiting to hear from the Diocese of Belleville, IL about a report a priest made about a possible poltergeist, demon or guardian angel, and from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington about a request for an exorcism that was made in 1958.

For the record, everyone has been great and patient with me. They’ve explained concepts and procedures, and given suggestions where to find things when they couldn’t help me. (<--- See? Still trying to make sure I never get sent to the Mother Superior.)

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

5 thoughts on “When Doubt Set In

  1. The picture is just too cute for words. I have a sister-in-law who’s a nun (my husband refers to her as “my sister, the sister”). It was initially pretty weird for me, a non-Catholic, but I have found that we have several common interests as well as several differences. Hard to think of a person for whom that would NOT be true.

  2. I never asked Pat specifically why, but I did ask her once what the deal was with all the nun atrocity stories that parochial school people tell. She said those were the “old” (pre-Vatican II, I think) nuns, who were assigned an occupation, so you got a lot of people teaching who had no talent or interest in it. I assume the same was true for the dour nuns who did little to comfort the kids in my community who ended up in St. John’s hospital.

    My own theory about it is that being a nun was a way of being liberated, in a weird sort of way, for a certain group of women –post-Vatican II and pre-women’s lib. For example, Pat, (who just turned 60), once drove a donated pick-up truck (along with another nun) from New York to El Salvador, where the village she worked in was without motor transportation. She got an MSW and counsels torture victims from Central and South America. She & the other nuns she worked with in El Salvador considered sexist priests one of their biggest enemies. In an effort to counteract the sexism of the culture, they opened a BodyMindSpirit center for abused women. Pat believes that the church should “maintain a dialogue” about abortion. In no way does she or the nuns that I’ve met through her conform to the stereotype I had of nuns, formed through my experience of the hosptial nuns and what I heard from parochial school people.

    Someone once explained to me that the different orders have different “personalities” or philosophies– the Carmelites are intellects (I think it was) and the Franciscans (which Pat is) are fiesty & brave, etc. I did ask Pat how she chose which order, since she went to the aspirancy at 14 (I can’t imagine making such a monumental decision at that age!) — there were three different mother houses in Dubuque, IA. She gave me a vague answer — she hadn’t really weighed all the different philosophies and made a choice.

    A year or two after Pat took her vows, the number of women entering her mother house (and most all the convents) dwindled to nothing. By then, women could choose to have a career, delay marriage & childbearing, not marry, etc. It surprised me to hear on the news two or three weeks ago that convents have recently seen a dramatic increase in young women joining them. I wonder what THAT is all about?!

  3. Deb, that is absolutely fascinating, and I’m sure you right in that it was actually a liberation of sorts. But that recent surge is a mystery … could it be related to strengthening conservative movement in this country?

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