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May 18, 2021 49 mins

PART ONE - We enter a hidden world behind convent walls to learn what it’s like for a young sister to join the Missionaries of Charity. MC sisters take strict vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. As aspirants, they start to learn the rules of this closed society, one that contains secret ceremonies and countless rituals

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This series was inspired by Mary Johnson’s memoir, “An Unquenchable Thirst.” Find it HERE -


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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:05):
I wonder if you could tell me that story about
the time that sister had to go to the hospital
and you thought, this is gonna be my chance. So
one of the sisters she had been in the hospital
recently and she needed to go back and have a
check up. It felt like this opportunity fell from heaven

into my lap and I would I would escape. Why
why didn't you just walk out, just tell someone I'm leaving,
and just walk out the door. We always went out
to buy two We were never allowed just to to
walk out and do something, so I wouldn't have been

able to go, you know, more than five or six
paces before somebody ran up to me and said, where
are you going? But I knew, because I had been
in that hospital and was familiar with it, that there
was a room where there was a collection of clothes
that the patients had left behind, so I knew where

that was. I could find myself some clothes there, some
normal clothes. I thought, I'll drive in with this sister
who's ill, and then when we get there, I would
just leave. I would leave her there, and I would
have at least, you know, a few hours before anybody
figured out what I had done. So I took some

phone tokens and I got in the car. Then there
in that car on the way to the hospital, I
was perspiring. My hands were clammy, my heart was racing.
It was so hot. And as we left the city
and we drove towards the seashore, there was a breeze
and it started just to feel really nice. And there

were palm trees, and there was the sky and you
could see the water off in the distance. It was
like a breath of freedom. It was like like a
way to breathe again. And I just wanted more and
more of that air, that that freedom, that life, that light.

I thought, this is my chance. I just have to
take it. There's a box in Mary Johnson's house a

boxer rarely opens. Well, you know, I've been talking with
you lately about all of these things, and so I
brought this box down from the top of my bookcase
because I think these things do help me remember better
and get back into the feeling. We all know this box,

the one full of memories of a version of yourself
that with time and experience becomes more distant, hard to
relate to. But we keep these things as proof out
of you it's there in case we need reminding. Mary's
box holds mementos from twenty five years ago, a time
when she was devoted to a different world, an insular
community that asked her to separate from her family and

her past, to focus her life on one thing love. Well, first,
there's this plastic display case like you might get some
ear rings in or something like that, and underneath it's
just little tiny pieces of Mother Teresa's hair. Wow, it's
probably four strands or something. Would you say, Yeah, that
looks like or strands and they're arranged in a cross shape.

So I mean, it's the hair of a saint that
you have in a box on your bookshelves. And it's
not only hair of a saint. I haven't a box
on my bookshelf, but the hair of a woman that
I knew and had a very complicated relationship with. Mary
Johnson has these strands of hair and her keeps a box.
Because she made a vow, a vow to devote herself

to serving the poor and God. She became a religious
sister with the Missionaries of Charity, the Catholic Order formed
by Mother Teresa. So I did spend a lot more
time alone with her than most sisters had the opportunity
to do. And I loved her. I loved her deeply.

Mother Teresa helping the poorest of the poor, Revered by
popes and president's queens and princesses. Practically anything that's known
about her is shouted in mystery and myth. Though fiercely private,
the small nun in a white and blue sorry became
an icon, and thousands of women abandoned their previous lives

to follow her. We were to love the unlovable. If
you feel God is asking you to do something, it
doesn't matter how hard it is. She was so close
to God, and you knew it. When she was there,
everything changed, you know. I heard about Mother Teresa when

I was a kid. She seems like the ultimate example
of selflessness, of someone who saw poverty and actually did
something about it. She seemed like this perfect person with
a simple message. But the more people I've talked to,
the more I've realized how little I understood her, how
unusual her spirituality actually was, how her legacy was filled

with controversy, and how thorny and complicated her order could
be for the people inside it. The order was wired
that you had very little time to think you're only
getting input from one source, You're oscillated from everyone else.
That's what I mean by Brian washing. They become the

voice of God for you, That's all they keep saying.
Under your valive obedience. Right. One doesn't always know where
to draw the line between religion and cult. When Mary
was nineteen years old, she dropped out of college and
joined Mother Teresa's Order of Nuns. There was no legal contract,
nothing physical that bound her to the group. She could
leave at any time, but from the beginning she was

convinced there was no turning back. As she went deeper,
she learned more secrets about this way of life. She
saw vows taken to extremes. She felt the rigidity of rules.
How separate the society, this culture, this world really was.
Many former sisters like Mary entered the Order seeking love
and purpose, only to lose themselves along the way, And

it was a long road back. My story is the
story of a woman who disappoints the most admired woman
in the world. From a Coco Punch and I Heart Media,
this is the turning I'm Erica Llance Part one, No

turning back. Mother Teresa was busy as usual saving the world.
And I mean that quite literally. Ronald Reagan's in front

of the French doors of the West wing of the
White House. Her Order of the Missionaries of Charity has
spread throughout the world, serving the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa stands beside him and her white and blue
sorry a foot shorter than he is. Mother Rasa is
a heroine of our times. And to the many honors
she has received, including the Nobel Peace Prize, we add

with deep affection and endless respect, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I am most unworthy of this generous gift of her,

President Sagan and his wife and new people of United States.
But I accepted for the greater glory of God and
in the name of the millions of poor people. But
this gift in spirit and in love will penetrate the

hearts of the people, for in giving it to me,
you are giving it to them. Mother Teresa founded her
Congregation of Sisters and Calcutta, India in ninety She called
them the Missionaries of Charity MCS for short, and she
became famous for tending to what she called the poorest

of the poor, especially in her home for the dying.
She explained her mission with a Bible passage. Jesus said,
I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I
was naked, you clothed me. I was homeless and you
took me in. I was seeking in prison, and you

visited me, and you took care of me. Mother Teresa's
Missionaries of Charity believe that each sick person on the
street is Jesus and disguise, that's the same Jesus in
the distressing disguise of the poor. The Missionaries of Charity
are still headquartered in Calcutta, but Mother Teresa expanded her
mission far beyond Indi You. She founded convents in other countries,

and she created new MC branches for fathers and for brothers.
As her order grew, so did Mother Teresa's fame. People
loved her message. She spoke of love, of having compassion
for everyone, of doing your small part to help others.
It's a message that appealed to Mary Johnson. Mary grew
up in Michigan and Texas in a Catholic family. She

was the oldest of seven kids, and at a young
age she had a special relationship with a higher power.
I had always found church to be something I enjoyed
if it didn't last too long. I enjoyed Catholic school
when I was in class, but on the playground at
lunch time, I really have many friends, and so I
would find someplace on the distant side of the playground

and I would just talk to God. And I think
that's kind of where it started for me. In second grade,
Mary's teacher told the class to write about what they
wanted to be when they grew up. Boys, you could
be fireman, you could be doctors, you could be policemen.
And she gave this long list of careers possibilities, and

then she said, girls, you could be nurses or teachers.
So right your, I say, now, I didn't know what
to do because I wanted to be either an archaeologist
or the director of the New York Philharmonic. I used
to watch Leonard Bernstein on television and I just loved that,
and I thought it was just the best thing in
the world, Just two options for girls neither interested. Mary.

Here's what she wrote in the end, when I grow up,
I will be whatever God wants me to be. I
have figured that way. God has lending more possibilities, and
he said than the sister does, and so I I thought,
that's that's it. But somehow it wasn't just an essay
for me. It was like a pact. It was like, Okay, God,

you show me what you want, and I will do
that thing. When Mary was twelve years old, her parents
got in to charismatic Catholicism. They were pretty involved in it.
The local group often met at their house. They'd pray
and speak and sing in tongues. But Mary didn't quite
connect with that type of spirituality. She waited for her
own message from God. In high school, Barry joined the

debate team. She wrote for the high school newspaper, and
then when she was a senior, the message arrived. And
I was walking past our library, which had glass windows,
and I saw a cover of Time magazine and there
was this face of this wrinkled nun with a with
a white veil with blue stripes, and she had these

eyes and and I took the magazine from the shelf
and I started reading in the ball rang for French class.
And I didn't care. I just sat there and I
read about this not in Calcutta, who was doing these
fantastic things with taking in dyeing people and caring for them.

She was attracted to the mcs focus on love and
working with the poor, but it was their commitment to
the vow of poverty to live like those they were
serving that grabbed her. I mean, the Missionaries of Charity
took poverty really seriously. And one of the places in
the Bible where Jesus talks about poverty is during that
Sermon on the mount when he says, stop worrying about everything.

Look at the birds of the air, Look at the
lilies of the field. See how your heavenly Father takes
care of them. He knows what they need me make
sure they get it. It's going to be less for you.
He has every hair on your head counted. What do
you think He's gonna let disaster strike? No, no, just
just consider the lilies. The article just pulled her in

like nothing before. This was like my whole heart on fire.
And I really felt like that was God talking to me.
And by the time I got up, I said, this
is what I gotta do, and I went home and
started writing letters and trying to figure it out. Mary
wrote to Mother Teresa and asked to join her order.
You know, it's kind of that impulsivity of a teenager.

It was the summer of nine when Mary arrived in
New York City. She made her way through the city
to a new life as a missionary of charity. I'd
never been in a big city like that before. Um
enormous buildings and wide streets, and all of these people

out on the streets, so many cars, so much action,
and it was exciting. Mary was headed to the Bronx.
That's where the main empty house in the United States is,
and it's where she joined you sisters in training. She
carried a cardboard box tied with string. It held two
skirts and two blouses. That's all the sisters said she'd need.

New York was a different place. In the summer of
s a widespread blackout shut down the city and led
to looting. It had nearly gone bankrupt just two years before.
Landlords were setting fire to their own buildings to cash
in on insurance, and one of the biggest man hunts
in New York City history was on for the son
of Sam, serial killer who was shooting and murdering young women.

But when Mary arrived, but she noticed was the energy.
I do remember very clearly emerging from the subway station there,
and walking into all of this sounds Spanish music, Spanish speaking.
I see mangoes on the on the sidewalk there in
front of the fruit stand, and just all the excitement

and the energy of the South Brown in the summer
of nineteen seven. There were these groups, especially of young
men and older boys, gathered around boom boxes and doing
these enormous gymnastic moves. Is very, very impressive breakdancing, and

I just feeling like I had walked into a completely
different world than the one I'd known. The convent looked
like any other house in the area, a simple brick building.
So I ring the doorbell and wait a little while,
and wait a little while, and then finally sister Rochelle

comes down. She welcomes me with a big smile, and
she knows my name, and she knows what I'm there for.
They've been waiting for me. And I went inside and
everything inside was quiet. Rossell whispered to me and she says, welcome,
and she says, let's go say hello to Jesus. After
a quick stop to pray in the chapel, they climbed
the stairs to the refectory, the room where they did

most everything they ate their meals in the refectory, studied
how to be a sister in the refectory. Inside was
applywood table, two benches at a stool. I was kind
of amazed at how there it was, how minimal it was.
On the wall hung side by side images of Mother
Teresa and Jesus. There was also a plaque with the

motto for new Sisters, a quote from the Gospel of John.
Jesus must increase and I must decrease. Then Sister Rochelle
showed her the dormitory, a sacred space that must stay silent.
They were never to speak inside it. It was one
room with thirteen cots and they were really close together,
just enough room between them to get into bed. Mary

was excited for this unadorned life. Things can weigh you
down so much, and there was a sense of freedom
to it. How are you going to get along with
just these few little things? And but it's it's nice.
It's the lilies of the field and the birds of
the air don't need much. Mary arrived in time for adoration.

She and the other sisters filed into a pewless chapel.
They knelt in rose and put their heads to the floor.
The center of this life was God. Nothing else mattered
in the way that those moments of prayer did that time,
that time with God, they're chanting mixed with the sounds

from outside backfiring cars, boom boxes. She felt like she'd
entered a distant, peaceful planet she didn't understand. She prayed
she'd have the strength for this life. At dinner that night,
Mary and her twelve new sisters gathered around that plywood
refectory table and stair. Carmeline said, Praise be Jesus Christ,

and everybody there started clapping their hands and singings, we welcome,
welcome sister, We welcome, welcome sister, We welcome, welcome sister
from our heart um, just as they had song to
each new sister who arrived, and would continue to sing
to each one after me. When a woman enters the

Missionaries of Charity, she starts as an aspirant. Mary's aspiancy
would last six months. She wore a conservative blouse and skirt.
The white sorry would come later. She quickly learns that
days in the Missionaries of Charity were strictly regimented. A
bell rang to signal time for a new task. The
bell marked absolutely everything we did, and whenever it rang,

whatever it rang, Mother told us we were to stop
immediately doing whatever we were doing, because the bell was
the voice of God. The sisters had a tight timetable.
Wake up at four or forty in the morning, pray,
make beds, clean the house only twenty minutes for that,
wash clothes by hand at ten, mass, eat breakfast all

before eight o'clock, then go out to work in the community.
There was also the kneeling and praying hours of it
every day. I loved the fact that prayer was so
central to the lives of the missionaries of Charity, but
my knees hurt like hell. There were times for spiritual

reading and instruction, and they got thirty minutes of what
they called recreation, basically when they all sat in the
refectory and caught up on work like mending clothes. The
aspirants reported to a mistress in charge, the aspiring mistress.
She taught them how to follow the rules. I was
under very close scrutiny, and my aspirment mistress would correct

every mistake she saw, and she'd do it publicly, and
she'd do it loudly, kind of like the drill sergeant
the idea behind the mission of Charity training is just
like like military training, to break you down into nothing.
This is Kelly Dunham. She also joined the Missionaries of
Charity and began her training in the same convent as Mary,

but seventeen years later. In those first months, it seemed
like the whole idea was to make you feel as
alone as possible, with the idea that you would depend
only on God. Kelly says that like in boot camp,
you did what you were told, whether or not it
made sense to you. She struggled with that, but she
loved the moments of beauty working as a group for

a cause and their nightly songs. After evening prayer, all
of the sisters would walk outside and stand around ound
a statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Then you
sing a little song to Mary and everyone does like
a little silent prayer and usually touches the statue. I think,
on the feet and then goes up. Created a moment,
a moment of honoring something bigger than yourself. And it's

just like by candle lights, right, so it's actually extremely
like poignant and it's a moment right like it's a
moment I still can almost get tearful thinking about that.
And I can remember one night we were all standing
around the statue of Mary with all the sisters, their
faces reflected lighted up by just the candle light, and
I remember thinking, Oh, man, I get to be with

all these beautiful women the rest of my life. Mary
Johnson had been in the convent for two weeks when
there is a big announcement Mother Teresa was coming. We
got so excited, you know, we just shouted there, just

oh so excited. She told us during dinner. So it
was the time when we could speak, and we did.
Mary couldn't believe she'd finally meet this woman people called
a living saint. You know. I'd heard about saints. Some
of saints had these abilities where they could read people's souls.
If she was like that, she probably wouldn't like me,
I thought. And the other thing I was scared about

was what would happen if it turned out I didn't
like her. I decided what I would do was I
would go to the top of the staircase because Mother
Streets would come in the front door, and if I
positioned myself just right on those stairs, I'd be able
to see her and when the door opened and Mother

was the first one to come in, and I saw
her there, this this tiny, short woman with so many wrinkles,
and she just looked so small and so determined. And
the aspirants who had been waiting, and we're down there
on that floor, Oh, Mother, Mother, and they were saying things,
and she was like, let me say hello to Jesus. First,

Mother must say hello to Jesus. It was the first
time I heard her talk about herself in the third person,
which was something she did all the time. But I
didn't know that then, I thought. Mother Teresa looked utterly
focused as she took off her sandals and walked to
the chapel. Then she knelt to pray. I had never
seen anyone somehow that connected with God. I felt that

something holy was happening there. One day, Mother Teresa sat
down at the aspiran's table to talk with the young
women entering her order. She shared a clear message, one
that would reverberate in Mary's mind for the next twenty years.

God called you to come here. Jesus did not call
your sister, did not call your neighbor. Jesus called you
to be here. And she said God has called you.
You must be faithful for life, or pack up and
go home right now. And she was so clear and
so strong and not a little bit scary. And she

was saying, just to people who had been there for
for two weeks basically, and I hadn't figured it out yet.
You didn't know exactly did God call me? That's a
very amorphous question. But Mother was sure. She said, you're here.
That means God called you here, and now you must
be faithful for life. She brought the twelve aspirants to

the chapel and had the kneel in a row at
the front. Then she went down the line and gave
them each a crucifix. She brought the crucifix to each
sister's lips for a kiss. She pressed that crucifix so
strongly against my lips that you know, it's like you
can hardly respond with any sort of kiss because she
pushes it there and then she pulls it away. Mother

did everything forcefully, wholeheartedly. You know, you feel that kind
of electricity when something special is happening, where your whole
body just kind of tingles and feels alive. And at
the same time, there was a kind of a I
think the reluctance wasn't so much in my body. The

reluctance was more in my mind. But physically I was
very excited. I was kind of full. And I remember
whenever Mother spoke, just being so taken in by her
words and by her conviction and by the power of
her own belief, that you really just looked at her

and could not look away. Okay, now I have to
be a better person than I have ever been in
my whole life. The bar has been raised. When Mother
Teresa told Mary and the other aspirants that they were chosen,

she said it came with a lifelong commitment. It was
like a marriage. They must be faithful to God and
their vows. All Catholic nuns take vows of poverty, chastity,
and obedience. Mother Teresa added a fourth vow for her sisters,

the vow of wholehearted and free service to the poorest
of the poor. Mother Teresa said, to succeed in your vows,
you just need to do one thing. Follow the constitutions.
That's the governing document of the missionaries of charity. Legend
was that early on, while everyone slept, Mother Teresa wrote
the constitutions by candle light. Then the Vatican authorized it

as an infallible path to holiness. The Constitutions laid out
a life of love and service in the extreme that
the attraction is really that life of sacrifice. You want
to do something different, you want to do something radical,
even if it's very conservative, it's also very radical to
do this. The Aspirans had a daily rule class taught
by the mistress. Mary's mistress wore glasses. She was short

and stern. Sister calmly sat on her little stool at
the head of the table, and she passed out the
Constitution books, page to open to, which number on that
page to read, and we'd read it together, and then
we'd close the books. And then at the end of
class she would collect them. And it's kind of like,
I knew there were things in that book she did

not want us to see it as curious about those.
Gradually Mary learned the rules from her mistress. She learned
how to walk briskly, quickly, you don't want to waste
any time, but not like wild elephants. How to talk.
We weren't supposed to talk about really anything that went
on outside, you know, whether it was books or movies,

how to wear her hair and make a ponytail like
decent girls. How to keep custody of the eyes. We
weren't supposed to be looking around at anything really um,
but especially not billboards or newsstands. Even how to fall
the napkin always in a triangle with an extra part
hanging down. And that was that triangle is the Trinity.

I should think of the Trinity every time you fold
it in this particular way. Your superior was considered the
direct voice of God, and the vow of obedience meant
obey your superior without question. Any time a superior entered
the room, we were all to stand and to sit
only when she sat or indicated in some other way
that we should sit. Then there was the vow of poverty.

Pretty Much all Catholic nuns take avow of poverty, but
Mother Teresa took it a step further. She explained it
in an interview on Irish TV. If you really want
to know the poor, we must know what is poverty,
and that's why not society. Poverty is our freedom and
our strength. The missionaries of Charity relied on donations and
divine providence, and over the years the Order received large

donations millions of dollars worth because of the interest their
work inspired. But the sisters lived meager live regardless of
how much money the organization raised. They lived as though
they didn't have any for the sake of their vow.
The life of poverty of the Missionaries of Charity is
is um is a very poor life. It is a

poor life, This is Sister Kathleen Hughes. I remember my
first breakfast in London. I never forget. It was kind
of moldy bread, and then we got the airport cheeses
from the air you know, somebody would bring us these
little individual cheeses from the planes, you see, and and

they were over ripe by the time we got them.
So I had a mouthful of moldy bread and this
over ripe Commembert cheese. And I remember saying to the Lord,
is every breakfast for the rest of my life going
to be like this? Oh? No, it was an initiation.

It was a test. The mission is a charity. Don't
have fans or air conditioners. That's kindly Dunham again. And
in the Bronx at that time, we weren't even opening
the windows during the night, you know, So it was
really really hot, so we didn't wear deodorant. We're wearing
like three or four layers between the outside, so even

when you sweated, it didn't make you cooler because it
wasn't evaporating, was just getting trapped by the outside layer. Um.
And I remember saying to the sisters like, we don't
smell very good, and she's like, oh, such a blessing
to help with chastity. No. Mother Teresa was very concerned
about maintaining the vow of chastity, really almost to the

point of paranoia about it, and she passed then on
to everybody else in rural class. Mary learned chastity meant
more than not having sex for missionaries of charity, and
meant no touching period. The sisters should never touch each
other and the people they cared for. Mother Teresa said,
touch them as little as possible. She would say, sometimes,

of course it's necessary. You have to touch the babies,
you have to feed the babies. But as soon as
that baby is sped, you put that baby down. The
vow of chastity is why talking was so controlled, To
make sure sisters didn't get too close. They could only
talk at approved times, usually when they were all together.
When sisters walked outside the convent, always in twos, they

didn't talk. Instead, they prayed the Rosary. Allowed together, on sidewalks,
on busses, everywhere, you could not have a friend. This
was very specifically prohibited. They call it particular friendship. If
if somebody saw you getting kind of closer to one
sister than to another, you would be called out on it.

They were. They were afraid that if if you got
too close to somebody, everybody else would feel excluded. And
then the other fear was that particular friendship was kind
of a name for like relationships of a homosexual nature.
If you got too close to somebody, it was really
you were playing with fire. I'm cutting in here right

now because I think for a story like this, it's
important for you to know where I'm coming from. And
to do that, I'd like to introduce you to someone.
Her name is Allen so High. I'm Ailan, and I'm
your sister Erica, like actual sister, not religious sister. And
over the past year we've actually been working on this

podcast together. We've been producing it together. I'm curious. I mean,
when I called you and asked you to work on
this project, what did you think? I thought, you know what,
that makes a lot of sense. Really. I think it's because,
you know, we went to Catholic school when we were young,
even though we weren't Catholic, and we had nuns as teachers,

and I think you really looked up to the America. Yeah.
I looked up to them, and I was also really
interested in them. Remember they lived in a house like
right by the school. We it was down the drive
from the school. We'd passed it every day. It was white. Yeah,
whenever we went past that house, I would look at
it and just wonder what their lives were like in

that house, Like what are the rooms they're sleeping in?
How did they become nuns? Like? How do you make
that choice? It's weird to look back, but I actually
think in second grade I made a list of all
the things I wanted to be when I grew up,
which was a really long list, but one of the
things I included was to be a nun. Which is
strange to think back on now, but I was really

taken with them. Yeah, you were. I kind of feel like,
in a way this podcast, it's like I'm getting to
look inside that house, you know. Hm. You know. That's
one reason I wanted to work on it with you,
because you have a PhD in psychology and you're really
interested in the extremes of human behavior and why people
do what they do. And I feel like that's a

big part of this too, because the missionaries and charity,
it's an intense way of life. Yeah, when I first
heard about this story, I thought there would be a
lot of beautiful moments and also how life is an
m C is difficult at times, you know, But I

guess what we ended up finding is there was a
lot more darkness than I realized. M And you know,
just hearing these women talk about even how years after
leaving they were having nightmares about times as an MC.
I don't know. It's just hard to grapple with all that.

It's just hard to keep all the beautiful stories and
all the dark ones in my head at once, and
so I'm constantly changing how I feel about this. Yeah,
it's a lot more complicated than I thought. Early on,

maybe a week into Mary's time at the convent, she
saw what it was like to be on the wrong
end of her rule. It was the end of the day,
so Mary took her nightly shower. Then she walked out
of the bathing room. So I'm there with my bucket
full of my dirty clothes. I'm wearing my night dress,
and I would walk out the door and immediately standing
right there so I can't even move, is sister Carmeline.

And then she says, Sister Mary, you took the shower.
I said, yes, sister, and she says, and you did
it last night too. I heard the water falling. You
took the shower, yes, sister, having you no shame? I mean,
it was really She was getting very upset. She ended

up calling me all sorts of names that I was
vain and lazy and immodest. And I could not figure
this out. What on earth had I done that was wrong?
The water coming from the shower head was cold water.
I hadn't broken poverty by turning on the hot one.
I hadn't taken very long. I was really pretty quick

about it. I couldn't understand. Earlier that day, Sister Carmeline
had taught the aspirants how to respond when corrected. You're
supposed to stay silent, never talked back, and only speak
when it's clear your superior is done. Then there was
only one thing you could say, thank you, sister, Sorry, sister.
And so all the while my mind is racing, trying

to figure out what on earth I've done wrong. At
the same time, this instruction is coming back. Stand there silent,
like Jesus before Pilot, sister Carmeline had said. And even
that morning that had caused a little confusion for me,
because I knew before Pilot Jesus did not stand silent.

Jesus and Pilot had a conversation, and Jesus talks about
the truth. Pilot asked, what's what is truth? There's there's
this dialogue between them. Jesus was silent before King Herod
when he was brought before him. But at the end
I could only say those five words, thank you, sister, Sorry, sister.

The next morning, Mary asked another sister what she's done wrong.
Mcs don't take showers. She said, instead, you're supposed to
pour water over yourself with a tin can. And then
at the end I just said thank you and just
kind of tapped her on the arm, and she got
so furious she said, no, don't touch, don't touch you know,
I was like, oh, I can't do anything right. Mary

started her training with eleven other women. Six months later,
only she and one other aspirant remained. Each time my
sister left it felt abrupt. They'd only find out about
it after the fact from their mistress, no explanation, just
that they'd left. The remaining sisters didn't get to say goodbye,
and they weren't allowed to talk about it. It made
Mary wonder about her own vocation. Inside of me, there

were all these questions about so what does it mean
to be called? And how do you know if you're called?
Mary prayed over and over to know whether she should
go home or stay, and it just always came back
to this, this tug, this poll to come and join
Mother Teresa in following Jesus. It was like, yes, this

is what I was meant to do. This is it.
Mary finished her aspirancy, so she was ready for the
next step. And I should say there are a lot
of steps to become an m C or any kind
of nun. They each have different names and it can
get confusing, but don't worry about it. I'll help you
along the way. Basically, first year in training, then for
a while you take vows that last a year, and

finally you take lifelong vows. But Mary says, even before
those final vows, Mother Teresa believed you were committed for life.
Any urge to leave was the devil's temptation. Yes, in
the book it says you take your vows for one year,
but you know in your heart you do not tell
Jesus yes for one year, you say yes for your

entire life. I think Mother Teresa took everything to its
most radical conclusion. It's a lot of pressure for anyone,
especially a teenager. At this point, Mary was ready to
become what's called a postulant, and for that she was
sent to Rome. I arrived in Rome at the beginning
of night. I was still nineteen years old. Rome was

full of life and history. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum,
the Pantheon, they were all nearby. At the time. The
city was in turmoil too, fights in the streets, new
divorce and abortion laws that led to protests. But Mary's
life centered around the convent at the San Gregorio Church.
A little world inside this bustling city. Across a gravel

yard and through a gate was the convent, a block
of low cement buildings. As a postulant, she still wore
her own skirt and blouse. No sorry. Yet whenever she
felt overwhelmed, she remembered Mother's words, you're here. That means
God called you here, and now you must be faithful
for life. After postulancy, Mary became a novice, and that

meant it was time to take a new name. Once
she picked for herself sister Donat don it and freely given.
There is also a ceremony. Mary and seven other sisters
lined up in a chapel in front of Mother Teresa.
One by one, Mother called the sisters by their new names.

When Mary heard Mother Teresa call her new name, Sister Donata,
it felt like a wave crested over her. It carried
away Mary, the postulant who struggled with all the rules.
And so I suppose in that since my old self
was decreasing, Mother handed her new clothes. In a few moments,

Mary's skirt and blouse would be gone forever, replaced by
the white saries of the Missionaries of Charity. Mother had
Mary kissed the habit. She said, let the world be
nothing to you, and you nothing to the world. Then
a sister handed Mother Teresa a pair of scissors to
take the first snip of Mary's hair. Mother Teresa cut

off just one little lock of hair, laid it on
a tray. Another sister cut off Mary's ponytail. They were
all singing this song, I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to

follow Jesuss No turning back, no turning back. And we
got dressed in our new clothes. And then as we
were leaving to go back into the chapel, we were
given that ponytail to hold into our hands, and we

were told that this is like the bouquet of flowers
that a young bride would carry to her wedding. And
so we brought that ponytail, holding it in our hands,
and laid it there in front of the altar and
a little basket that us there. After the ceremony, Mother
Teresa ate dinner with the new novices. Mother explained that

cutting their hair was a sign of a sacred commitment
to God. Once dinner was over, grand silence began, like
every evening, no talking aloud until breakfast the next day.
But that night something unusual happened, without anyone saying a word.

One of the sisters began to pull each of us
new novices aside, and then she signed to us that
we should follow her, and we went into a back room.
A fire was burning and so the room was quite hot.
The ceremony wasn't over yet, no one spoke. There were

four stools in the middle of the room. There were
eight of us novices waiting there wondering what on earth
was going on. And then the first four got motioned
to sit on the stools. The professed sisters held scissors.
All Mary watched. They were moved to the novice's headpieces.
They trained what was left of their hair, cutting it

shorter and shorter and shorter down to the scalp. The
sisters were saying, Hail Mary, full of grace, and we
were answering, Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
And I remember one was had had tears in her
eyes as her hair was falling, and others are just
kind of sitting there with their eyes shut as tight

as they could. That was kind of kind of frightening
to see it all happened all at once like that.
It became very real. Then it was Mary's turn to
sit on a stool and cutting started. There's very little
hair there, there's and now there's less, and there's less,
until there was really just just nothing, as close as

you could get with a pair of scissors. After it
was done, someone handed Mary a bucket of water. She
took it to the bathing room to wash herself. Just
as I was finishing my bath, at this horrible smell

came through the bathing room door. It was just like
this acrid, awful, awful smell. And I followed that smell
back into the room where our hair had been cut,
and I saw there our novice mistress was tossing our
ponytails into that fire, and just tossing our hair into

the fire. And I could hear again that him that
had been sung earlier that day, now turning back, now
turning back, And it really felt that way. The Turning

is written by Allen lance Lesser and Me. Our producers
are Allen lance Lesser and Emily Foreman. Our editor is
Rob Rosenthal. Andrea Asuage is our digital producer. Fact checking
by Andrea Lopez Crusado. Special thanks to Amy Gains, Sarah
oh Leender, Catherine Joyce, Georgia Young, Beth and Macaluso, Travis Dunlap,
and consulting producer Mary Johnson. Her memoir and Unquenchable Thirst

provided inspiration for this series. President Reagan's remarks and presentation
of the Medal of Freedom to Mother Teresa and her
remarks in the Rose Garden on or use courtesy of
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library under a Creative Comments license. Our
executive producers are Jessica Alpert and John Trotti at for

Coco Punch and Katrina Norville at I Heeart Media. Our
theme music is by Matt Reid. For photos and more
details on the series, follow us on Instagram at for
Coco Punch. You can reach out via email to the
Turning at for Coco Punch dot com. I am Erica Lance.
Thanks for listening.
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