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July 20, 2021 46 mins

PART TEN - “I couldn’t come to any clarity unless I took off the habit and was seen.”


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This series was inspired by Mary Johnson’s memoir, “An Unquenchable Thirst.” Find it HERE - https://amzn.to/3whsTeO


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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Mary was out. After twenty years, twenty years of uplifting
moments of spiritual grace, twenty years of vexing questions about
her vocation. Mary Johnson put on her Paisley skirt and
gold blouse and stepped out of the convent in Rome
and into a van. This was it. Mary left the
Missionaries of Charity. Her sister picked her up from the

(00:26):
airport in Houston. On the way to her house, they
made a stop. Mary would be living outside the convent
for the first time in decades, and her sister said,
she need a few things. I need to pick up
a mattress for you. I didn't know if you like
the hard ones or the soft ones. Mary wasn't used
to getting to choose a mattress, let alone having a
real mattress. As a missionary of charity. They'd stuffed their

(00:49):
own mattresses with wool or whatever was around, and it
was only about three inches thick. And here I was
going to get to choose my own mattress from this
enormous selection. So that was kind of weird. Then her
sister had an their errand in mind, she had a
pool at her place, and she knew how much Mary
loved the water, at least when she was a kid.
So of all things to do after twenty years in
a convent, they went some suit chopping. I mean, most

(01:12):
of my body hadn't seen the son in twenty years.
And there I was going to get a swimming suit,
and I was just so embarrassed and like, I wouldn't
let her come into the dressing room with me. And anyway,
we found a swimming suit that fit end and brought
her home. Mary had her own room, and even though

(01:33):
so much was new, new mattress, new swimsuit, new bedroom,
she still automatically woke up at four or forty every morning.
It was like she was still in sync with the
community she had left as an MC. She felt that
sense of community from the moment she woke up. But
now early in the morning she just lay there quietly alone.

(01:55):
She might even go back to sleep. And she liked
that too. No l was going to ring, that was
going to force me out of bed and onto my knees.
That was really nice. I could choose what I wanted
to get up. First thing each morning, Mary went to
her sister's pool and swam. It felt luxurious, It felt free.

(02:22):
You can take off the habit and grow your hair
and start walking around like a regular person. But inside,
being a missionary of charity leaves a very, very very
deep mark. And for me, I've been there for twenty
years and so deeply immersed. Separating wasn't just simply a

(02:46):
matter of of leaving from a cocoa punch. And I
heard radio, this is the Turning America Lands Part ten.
Out there the world had changed since Mary Johnson became

(03:19):
a missionary of charity in the late seventies. Some things
she had a reference point for, but a lot of
it was completely foreign. Pumping your own gas going to
be a t m using a computer. One time, my
niece made popcorn in the microwave, and I thought the
house was going to explode because I had no idea

(03:40):
what that was. I had no idea these noises. Popcorn
in the microwave was a revelation. When she left the order,
a sister gave her four German marks, the equivalent of
a little more than two hundred dollars for her twenty years.
I looked at that deposit slip and I thought, look
at that. They gave me eleven dollars for every year

(04:01):
of services. Oh my gosh, talk about a minimum wage
a year, eleven dollars a year. Mary still trusted in God,
but that wasn't going to pay the bills. One of
her first jobs was at J. C. Penny in December,
the Christmas rush. I was used to to silence and prayer,

(04:25):
and here it was Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and
Frosty the Snowman playing all the time. And it was
all these people with credit cards buying gift after gift,
and a lot of the stuff in the gift department
were useless Chatski kind of things, you know, these little figurines.
I couldn't figure out why people wanted little figurines. I

(04:49):
was used to repairing broken toys to give to kids
who would otherwise have nothing on Christmas. It was strange.
It was strange for me. Mary still remembers the first
time she went out to eat in a restaurant. Her
sister took the whole family out to dinner. I was
faced there with this menu, with all these choices. It
took me forever to make up my mind. I didn't

(05:10):
know if I would ever again, and you know, have
a chance to choose what I was going to eat.
It was like this momentous decision. I think everybody was
getting kind of nervous with me because I wasn't making
up my mind, and the waiter had to come back,
and then eventually I ordered something. As Mary mapped out

(05:32):
her new life, her mind wandered back to Tom Father.
Tom had made the thought of leaving possible. He had
helped her imagine a life outside the convent. They pictured
waking up together, making coffee, holding hands in public without
guilt or shame. He'd given her a taste of a
fuller life, and she knew that's what God wanted for her.

(05:53):
When Mary asked the MCS for ex claustration that year
of contemplation before officially leaving the order, she had called Tom.
He had asked her, does this mean you would consider
marrying me? She couldn't tell if he meant it. It
was such an awkward proposal, but she needed time. Now
she was in Texas, out of her sorry and away

(06:13):
from the convent. So at a certain point I knew
I was ready to talk to him, and that if
he was going to ask, actually, really directly, if I
would consider marrying him, I was ready to entertain that notion,
so she called him. It was the first time they talked,
and she left, but once she got him on the phone,

(06:38):
it was clear Tom had decided to remain a priest.
I definitely had to honor that. That's that's what he wants,
That's that's the way it is. And yeah, how did
it feel to hear that? I was prepared to hear that,

(06:59):
you know it it was. It was kind of sad,
you know, it kind of shut one door for me.
There's very often even if something said, if it comes
to a certain sense of clarity, it's a kind of
a gift. I appreciated the clarity that was. That was good,
and she moved on, still trying to hear what God

(07:22):
had to say. When Mary left the Missionaries of Charity,
she had work to do, not just finding a way
to make money or learning how to use technology. She
had to face the way the m c s had
changed her internally. She told me about a time she
was staying at a religious center. She had moved out

(07:44):
of her sister's house after a couple of months, and
she found the center with sabbatical programming and wellness treatment
for clergy. It was around this time that she noticed
how muddled her emotional responses were. I was talking with
the sister who was in charge of the place, and
it was some thing very sad or upsetting. I don't
really remember what I was talking to her about, but

(08:07):
I remember that I was. I was very sad, and
I felt like I wanted to cry about. What came
out was these giggles and this laughter. It was like,
I don't know how to express my emotions properly anymore,
because missionaries of charity are not supposed to be sad.
You're supposed to be cheerful all the time. You're supposed

(08:29):
to smile. And I had just been disconnected from what
I might be feeling inside. How to express that I
didn't know, And so whenever there was something said, I
was like laughing instead of crying. I think that one
of the big things that I've been working on for

(08:52):
many decades now is trying to reconnect my emotions and
their expression, trying to reconnect my mind and my body,
trying to be fully connected. I have been consciously working
on that. In a way, she had to relearn how
to think and how to feel. God had called her out,

(09:14):
but in the real world, it would take time to
shift her mindset. She had to untangle guilt and questions
about faith, come to terms with her relationship with Mother Teresa.
There is no one moment, no final epiphany. Mary was
at that center for priests and nuns when Mother Teresa died.

(09:34):
I found out from one of them who had heard
it on television, and it was it was a shock.
It was very hard to mourn Mother Teresa's passing alone
without the sisters. Why well, you imagine someone who's very

(09:57):
close to you in your family, and perhaps you're own mother,
and when she dies, you can't be with the family.
You have to be off on your own, by yourself.
That's hard. I had tried to call the sisters in
Rome many times, but never managed to get through. Of course,

(10:18):
the phone there was always busy, even during regular times,
so when mother died, even more so I never managed
to get through. A few days after Mother Teresa died,
there is a memorial celebration at a cathedral in Houston.
Mary went and sat in the back. In his homily,
the bishops spoke about how he met Mother Teresa once

(10:40):
when her plane had a layover in Houston, and he
spent about half an hour with her, and there I was,
who had known and followed and loved her for twenty years.
In the back, she knelt in the pew and cried,
and it all felt so strange. They had a big
picture of her up at the front, and after nearly
everyone had gone, I went and stood in front of

(11:02):
that picture. For a long time I did. I felt
like I had lost a family member or someone who
knew me, someone who I cared for, someone who cared
for me. Of course, my last conversation with mother had
been very, very difficult, so that's also kind of hard
knowing that somehow I had disappointed her. That feeling did

(11:27):
not go away easily. Over the course of your life,

(11:53):
there are times when you have to leave things behind,
maybe a relationship, a job, your family, home. Leaving the
m c S is all of those at once, and
that's just the first step. Then you have to make
your own way. I mean, the first couple of weeks
you're just happy to be back with great meals and

(12:14):
a great bed and you know, incredibly loving people around you.
But for me, the other piece of the pain is
you're gone for so long and you're trying to come
back into your family and so many years of their
connections and growth and life you are not a part of.

(12:36):
Sue Webber is the sister who ran the AIDS hospice
in San Francisco. Even now, for me, there's elements, and
they're not good or bad. I think they're just I
think it will always be that way where you're you know,
you're a part of the family and you're super connected.
But there's an element that there's so much that you
missed in that journey that you're a lot of time

(13:00):
was on the outside looking in. People don't really know
what you've been through. How could they? How do you
describe what it's really like inside a closed community led
by celebrity sat How do you get past people's assumptions.
When Sue first left, she still wore her sorry. She
was still weighing what to do, go back to the

(13:20):
m CS or leave. She'd moved to her hometown in
Pennsylvania to live with her parents. She says, when you
wear the white and blue sorry, everyone notices you. You know,
people would stop you on the street and be like,
can I touch you? It's like people didn't see her.
They saw what she wore and what that represented. They

(13:43):
saw a Mother Teresa. The Mother Teresa they thought they knew,
and that got in the way of her decision making.
I couldn't come to any clarity unless I took off
the habit and was seen. So she wrote to the
m c's and got permission to wear street clothes. Sue's
sister Joan, has been out of the MCS for more

(14:03):
than three decades. She still has a picture of Mother
Teresa in her office. I love her to death, and
she is I consider I have certain saints in heaven
that I love and read about and call out to
and you know, ask for divine intervention many times. She's
one of them. So it was weird for her when

(14:24):
she was teaching a religion class for kids and a
Mother Teresa impersonator came by. She puts an outfit on
that looks like Mother Teresa's outfit, and then she like
hangs laundry, and then she kind of tells the story
of Mother Teresa's life. I don't know, it's really weird.
It's just you look at her and you're like, I
can't even explain it. It's like, you know what the
demeanor of of a Mother Teresa none is you know

(14:47):
what it looks like and what they do and really
do you know? You know, you're sitting there and you're like, Okay,
that's not true, that's not true. You know what I mean.
It's like they try to understand by her readings or
her or things that have and written about her, but
they really don't know, and so it wasn't there. That's
all I used to saying. It's weird for me to
watch someone portray mother Teresa. Sue and Joan both new

(15:11):
Mother Teresa. It's a comfort that they can talk about
their time in the missionaries of charity and they get it.
It's part of what makes them close. There's not many
people that understand the missionaries of charity, and no matter
how many times you try to explain it, a lot
of people look at you like you're weird because of
the penances that you did and didn't understand where we
were coming from when we did the penances. So so

(15:33):
I don't share my I really do not share my
story because people can't relate. If you haven't had the experience,
you can't relate. Mary Johnson doesn't usually tell people she
was an m C. It's just easier not to go
there where It usually comes up actually as people will

(15:55):
ask me where are you from, because I still have
a slight accident in my voice, and I'll say, well,
you know, I I was born in Michigan. Um kind
of grew up in Texas as you don't sound like that,
And then you know, eventually I get around to saying
something very vague, like, well, I lived for a number

(16:15):
of years in an international community where we all spoke English,
but hardly anyone as their first language, and I had
to develop a way of speaking so they could understand
me with clear vowels and clear consonants, and they'll look
at me with this big question mark on on their faces.
And sometimes I just have to explain what I did

(16:35):
with my life for twenty years. And when I do,
people who aren't Catholic, they say, oh, what a wonderful
thing to have done with two decades of your life.
And tell me about mother Teresa. What was she really like? Nearly,
without exception Catholics, they say why did you leave? Because
there are some acceptable reasons for leaving in some that aren't.

(17:01):
I had so much shame. Kelly Dunham, the former sister
who's a stand up comic. I felt rejected, like Jesus
gave up on her offer to give her life to him,
And now here she was on the outside with no money.
And I really didn't have any skills. I didn't have
any more skills that were applicable to the American workplace.
Like I was two years old and I had almost

(17:24):
a four year gap in employment history. That was hard
to explain, you know. And I remember I had a
composition notebook that had like all the jobs I was
applying to, and I'd cut out a New Yorker cartoon
and it was a guy doing a job interview, and
he said, am I a team player? Are you kidding?
I was in a cult? And I had crossed out
cult and put convent uh. And that cartoon actually helped

(17:48):
me a lot, because I felt so alone. When she
first left, she was embarrassed about leaving, but over time
she feared being judged for joining in the first place. Yeah,
I was more closeted about it. I didn't know anybody
else who was an ex nun. And then as I
started going to something called the Conference for Catholic Lesbians,

(18:10):
and the whole thing was full of X nons. Kelly
was done to learn just how many lesbian x nuns
there were. They had pool parties and prayed the Rosary,
which I thought was like such a great thing to
do at a pool party. And then at some point
everyone took off all the clothes and went swimming, and
I was like, this is great. This is than the convent,
this is really great. When Colette Livermore left the m

(18:35):
c s and went home in Australia, mother Teresa sent
her letters asking her to come back. She talked little
cards inside them. Three times she sent me, uh God,
depicting a crossed figure. In the illustration, Jesus was covered
in wounds and bleeding, with his hands tied, with her
riding at the bottom, saying be the one. But Collette

(18:58):
didn't go back. It's edge pursued what she dreamed of
as a teenager. She went to medical school. Most of
her classmates were thirteen years younger than she was. She
says in med school she learned to think again, to doubt,
to analyze the evidence rather than to give unquestioning assent
to what she was told. But even as her world
view shifted, she still felt the shadow of her eleven

(19:18):
years as an MC. In med school, she avoided telling
people she'd been a sister with mother Teresa. They treated
her differently if they knew, and instead of volunteering for procedures,
she'd find herself hanging back hoping she wouldn't be selected.
My confidence was gone. I was very unassertive as well.

(19:39):
You know in classes, who got all these young people
around you bringing with self confidence and they want to
have a go as a doctor. For a while she
worked in Northern Australia and every week or two she'd
fly two hundred and eighty miles on a mail carrier
to a remote settlement and treat the Aboriginal community there.
Sometimes Collet work alongside EMC sisters. On a rare occasion,

(20:03):
when Colett got a chance to eat a meal with them,
they asked her why she left. She explained, and Collett
found that they too had experiences when superiors told them
to refuse help to the sick. She was relieved it
validated her experience. Collett's professional life was fulfilling. Her work
as a doctor was busy and she got a chance
to travel and experience cultures that were new to her.

(20:26):
Her life was full, but the empty imprint was there. Well,
I haven't married, I would have liked to have. I
was really really wanting to find a life partner, but
it just it just didn't happen. Do you think the

(20:46):
missionaries of charity had affected some of that? Was it
timing or also just kind of it took a while
to break out of that mindset, do you think? Or Oh?
I think it was both. I know I did want
a partner and to have kids because the biological clock
was ticking, I had very poor self confidence. I mean,

(21:08):
lots of people leave the comment and find partners the
next day, so I don't know what it is with me.
That's what I chused to wonder. But yeah, I didn't anyway,
and I'd get very sad and thinking everyone can find
a partner except me, what's wrong with me? Blah blah
blah and so. But I got over that in a while.

(21:33):
I thought, you know, if it happens, it happens. But
never did. Oh, everybody gets a lonely Sometimes I'd get
hope from friendships, and I find hoping. You know, my
nephews had a new little girl. She's beautiful. I've got

(21:56):
a great nieces and I find a lot of solace
nature and beautiful things when I go bush walking and
seeing flowers and beautiful vistas of the sea. All that
makes me feel happy. You get those moments where you're
just there and it's everything. The most important thing is love.

(22:23):
Everything you can do to strengthen that is the most
valuable thing. I would have been happy to date there.
Nobody was interested in me. I really stuck out in
Southeast Texas. You know, I wasn't really kind of dating

(22:45):
material also in the beginning, and I was still trying
to figure things out for a while. Mary Johnson toyed
with the idea of starting her own community, one for
women and men, open to many faiths, even those with
no faith. It would be only the good parts of
the MCS, a life focused on love and serving the poor.

(23:06):
She ended up working a number of different jobs. She
ironed clothes, worked as a receptionist in a doctor's office,
and as a liturgical director at a church. She went
back to college and then went on to graduate school
to study writing, and that's where she met Luke and
we just had an immediate connection. About three years after

(23:28):
she left the m c S, Mary was at a
ten day writing residency. On her first day, she was
overwhelmed and intimidated the people she met, pontificated about authors
she'd never heard of. At lunch, a charming but shy
fellow residence that opposite her, they started talking. Luke was
a doctor, but he was studying poetry. He'd gotten frustrated

(23:50):
with parts of being a physician, like dealing with insurance companies,
and he felt like studying poetry was a way to
restore his soul. And I wouldn't even say that we
ever really dated. It was this one week together. I
went back to Texas and uh, you know, within a
couple of months he was inviting me to move in,

(24:10):
and that was it. Mary says Luke was a good listener, creative, quirky,
the type of person who wants to keep growing, always
improving with time, getting deeper better. Somehow they could talk
for hours. Moving in with Luke for the first time
put on display how many habits from MC life were
still a part of Mary. She apologized constantly for things

(24:33):
that didn't matter, because that's what she did for twenty years.
If you broke a plate as a missionary of charity,
you had to kneel down and kiss the floor and
confess your fault for having busted displayed, and so you know,
I was apologizing. I was asking permission for things that
nobody asks permission for. You know, it wouldn't be all
right if I have a cup of tea. Now we're

(24:56):
you know, just ridiculous things. But it took a long
time for a lot those things to fall away for me.
Getting closer with Luke allowed to process some of her
darker times with the MCS. She says he recognized what
she was struggling with, partly because of his past experience.
In college, he worked on a crisis intervention hotline and

(25:18):
he had also been on a board of an abused
women's shelter, so he was very familiar with the cycle
of women who get get stuck in abusive relationships of
one sort or another. And I think he saw my
relationship with the Church, with Mother Teresa, with Jesus as
having a lot of those elements of abuse, and how

(25:42):
very often that abuse can be something that actually strengthens
the bond between the abuser and the abused, reinforcing feelings
of guilt, reinforcing an unequal power dynamic, um holding you
captive in one sense or another. So I think he
understood all of that even more clearly than I did.

(26:07):
Mary was racked with guilt for disappointing Mother Teresa, for
turning her back on her vows in the convent. She
had rituals that helped with the guilt, and she had
the discipline. Without those, it lingered, and she couldn't hide
it from Luke. At one point, I was still feeling
all this guilt for all sorts of things. One day

(26:29):
I said, beat me, beat me. And he knew about
the discipline. He had seen the callouses on my knees,
he'd seen the scars on my arm. He he knew
that history there and helped me in his arms for
a long time. And I cried, And you know, it
took a while for the guilt to go away. It

(26:52):
took a long while. Yeah. When Mary left the Missionaries

(27:25):
of Charity, she often dreamt about the sisters she'd left behind.
They weren't happy dreams. She'd be in a tunnel trying
to run away, the sister is chasing her. Or she'd
be in a house with the sisters and they'd block
all the exits so she couldn't get out. When I
awake from those dreams, so I realized there's this icky
residues still kind of stuck to me, and I can't

(27:46):
get rid of this goopy, tary stuff that's clinging, you know,
to me metaphorically. When she moved to Vermont to be
with Luke, she stopped going to church every week. She
was still religious, but things just didn't feel as sure
as they used to. I began to feel more and
more that the church, in many ways just wasn't making

(28:11):
a lot of sense. Now she had a chance to
explore her own spirituality, to reclaim faith for herself, to
find a way to relate to God without that relationship
being mediated by rituals and rules. It was liberating, but
it was also confusing. So it was just a couple
of years after I had left the Sisters, and I've
been through so many different changes. I was trying to

(28:33):
figure out, you know, do I even believe in God anymore?
I don't know. And it was confusing because there has
been all these promises about how God was going to
take care of you and this and that, and I
don't know. It just didn't seem to be happening exactly
in the way that everything was just so confusing. She

(28:58):
and Luke lived in an idyllic house at the end
of a road with a forest behind it. She went
out on a walk one day. I went up on
this hill in the green mountains, overlooking upond. She thought
about this God that used to be her best friend,
who she talked to and saying to on the playground

(29:19):
as a kid, the God who became her spouse. I
just stood up and I shouted. I shouted, God, if
you're out there, I need to know. I really need
to know. Please tell me, Hey, listen, I need to know.
And there was no immediate revelation, but it was just

(29:47):
a gradual coming to unawareness that what other people meant
when they said God, that didn't seem accurate from my perspective.
Eventually she became an atheist. She says, the stories about
God just don't ring true anymore. Physics and literature and

(30:09):
music they feel honest. She says, the mystery of the
universe is exciting. She's okay living with questions. It just
became very clear to me that reality was a lot
bigger than religion, and that any effort to contain reality
in a box or in a story was doing a disservice.

(30:36):
How much harm do we do by pretending to know
things that it's impossible to know. But she still thinks
love is at the center of it all. When you
say love and is it a feeling or is it
an action? Is it is love something someone will's love
is both a noun and a verb. For me, I

(30:58):
seek that verb love. I want to love. In two
thousand seven, ten years after she left the Missionaries of
Charity and ten years after Mother Teresa's death, Mary headed
to Pennsylvania. She went to a conference marking a decade

(31:21):
since what they called Mother's entrance into heaven. A number
of empty priests and sisters would be there. She might
have a chance to talk to them. She wanted to
be around people who knew her in her past life
and people who loved Mother. She felt on some level
that celebrating that previous life might finally let her leave
it behind. During the conference, Mary attended a mass. She

(31:47):
slid into a pew near the back. She could recognize
some of the sisters from behind, their gestures a telltale
slump the way one leaned in. During prayer, the Superior
General of the Empty Fathers gave the homily. He talked
about the growth of the MCS that a thousand sisters
had joined in the past ten years. Mary thought he

(32:08):
didn't mention the sisters who left. After Mass, she watched
a documentary about Mother Teresa ate in a room where
people sold Mother Teresa books, Mother Teresa dolls, Mother Teresa
c d s medals. She wondered what Mother would think.

(32:28):
The next morning, during the final hymn of Mass, she
hurried to the front of the church. She approached the
superior general at the time, Sister Narmala. She recognized Mary
the Nada. She said. Mary bowed her head for a blessing,
but Sister Narmala put her finger under Mary's chin. She
shook her head as if to say no, no blessing.

(32:53):
When the other sisters saw Mary, they greeted her with
a bit more warmth. Initially it was like oh, stern
to and there was like, oh no, I can't say that,
I don't have to. Oh no, Mary, Mary right, Mary. Yeah.
It was It was confusing for them because they for them,
I was always sister do Not Being called to Nada

(33:13):
felt good because it felt like she belonged. For some reason,
she still wanted so badly to belong She hoped she
could sneak in to have lunch with the sisters, even
though eating with outsiders is against the rules. They ate
in one place, and I ate in another place, and
I didn't belong anymore. At one point, she looked over

(33:41):
the shoulders of a huddle of nuns and spotted the
person she wanted to talk to you most, Sister Prema.
I'd always um felt a certain affinities, just a Prema.
She it was a very loving person. In fact of
the name Prema means love. When they were stationed together
in Rome, Mary says Sister Prema even called her her

(34:04):
twin because Mary resembled Sister Prema's actual sister. Sister Prema
eventually went on to become the Superior General, the head
of the m c S, a position she still holds today.
Mary called Sister Prema's name, and she eventually recognized Mary.
She smiled and took both of Mary's hands in hers.
Sister Donata, she said. At that moment, Sister Prema was

(34:28):
motioned away. She told Mary find me later. After a
couple of talks, Mary was leaving the auditorium when a
sister tapter on the shoulder walk with us. Sister Prama
wants to see you. When Sister Pramma finally talked to Mary,
she told her she wished she could invite her to lunch,
but Mary knows the rules. We were talking and at

(34:48):
a certain point she turn't me and she said, but
you still love the sisters, don't you? I said, of
course I love the sisters. Had you heard that ques
from sisters before? When I left? The sisters asked me
one of them, just a couple of days before I left,
when everybody knew I was going to my sister, will

(35:11):
you still love us? And I said yes. It's always
very touching for me because they knew that I loved them,
and they knew that for them it was that was
an important question. I think it wasn't always obvious that

(35:32):
people in authority and the missionaries of charity actually really
cared for their fellow sisters. It was a sorrow and
a disappointment to Mother Teresa as well. But um the
sisters had had felt that from me, Otherwise they would
never have asked that question, do you still love us?

(35:53):
And that it was still important to them after so
much time. It was very touching too. I've interviewed Mary

(36:15):
for hours over many months. She says, looking back at
her story is strange. It's been a long time, almost
twenty five years since she left. She leads a totally
different life now. She married Luke. She taught creative writing
and Italian. She officiates weddings as a humanist, non religious celebrant.
She wrote a book. She helped create a community and

(36:37):
platform for female writers. And they are free time. She
and Luke watch movies, go to film festivals. They bike,
they read, they garden, they talk. She says when she
looks back at that young woman in a sorry that
Mary is a different person. I do remember once when

(37:03):
I was cleaning my office, I saw this box at
the top of my bookcase, and I didn't remember what
was inside it, you know, And I said, well, what
what's in that box? Why am I keeping that box
way up there? She took down the box and opened it,
and she saw all of these things from her time
as a missionary of charity. There's a scapular, which is
a small wearable token that depicts Mother Mary holding Jesus.

(37:27):
There was a rosary made by an MC sister from
Seeds Miraculous Metals, Mother Teresa's hair in a plastic case.
And then there was a cross the size of her
hand with an iron Jesus on it. The crucifix Mother
Teresa wedged between Mary sorry and belt during her vows.
When Jesus became Mary's spouse, she thought she'd wear this

(37:49):
cross until she died. And when I saw this cross,
and I hadn't seen a crucifix for a long time,
it struck me in such a completely different way than
it had before. And it was like, this is a
man being tortured to death, and it struck me as
a kind of a tragic thing. For a while, Mary

(38:18):
wrestled with her relationship with Mother Teresa. It felt complicated
and therapy. She did the empty chair exercise to talk
to her, where you like, pretend there's some person in
the chair in front of you and you talk to them.
I did that sort of thing, but nothing felt like closure.
When she left the Missionaries of Charity, Mary received a

(38:38):
lot of letters from sisters telling her to come back,
and one of them sister included notes from a talk
that an empty father gave after Mother Teresa died. The
pages are crinkled now. The typewritten notes are cramped and
tight up against the margins. Not to waste paper the
Empty Way and this rough transcript. The Friest described Mother

(39:01):
Teresa at the end of her life in the months
leading up to her death, and in these notes it
said that Mother was walking the halls of mother house saying,
no one loves Mother in her own house. We loved her,
but she didn't. She didn't feel that all those rules

(39:25):
that kept us so far from each other, and that
we're never supposed to reveal ourselves really to each other.
It's just all of these wonderful women living in their
own little cages of loneliness. And Mother at the end
of her life, whom all the world loved and admired,
is walking the halls saying, no one loves me. I

(39:49):
don't think that you have to be lonely to serve God.
H There are so many images of Mother Teresa and

(40:12):
Mary's memory, her toughness, her sharp eyes, Mother's firm hand
on her head for a blessing, when Mother pressed a
crucifix against her lips when she was just an aspirant,
when they traveled to Sweden together and shared a room
with two twin beds, Mother hitting the desk in their
last conversation as she pleaded with Mary to talk to

(40:32):
mother tell Mother explained to mother why she wanted to leave,
how Mary refused mother's disappointment. Mary dreamt about Mother Teresa
for a few years after she left the m c's.
Those dreams weren't nightmares, they were calm. The last one

(40:53):
she remembers, Mary was lying in her own bed. Mother
Teresa walked in and without saying anything, she went to
the bed and lay down next to Mary in this
sweet way. They were side by side, just close to
each other. I don't remember that she said anything, but
there was just this feeling that she understood me. She

(41:17):
wasn't mad at me anymore. One thing that's helped Mary
talk about her past is something her husband, Luke said.

(41:40):
He told her, just remember it's a love story. I agree.
But love comes in many forms, and some aren't healthy.
I've learned that in my own life, and I've learned
it from the story. Sometimes I think about all of
the hurt I've heard about from these former missionaries of charity,
sisters who gave everything of themselves and suffered in the process.

(42:04):
Love to be real has to hurt. Mother Teresa used
to say, maybe love hurts, but it's usually a side effect,
not a goal. I don't think sacrificing people for the
sake of a mission is right, no matter how much
love they feel. I'm grateful to the former Sisters who
shared their stories, but it hasn't been easy for them.

(42:26):
Hurt was part of the telling too, but they shared
their stories because it felt worth it. I think it's
worth it to look at why we put people on
pedestals and what can happen when we assume someone in
power is perfect. You could say a series like this
is digging up old dirt, and maybe it is, but
you can also hear it as a story from people

(42:48):
who are just as important as Mother Teresa, just as
human and just as valuable, who should also be heard.
It's not easy to figure out exactly what's right when
beliefs and God are involved, but it's worth talking about.
It's worth listening to. If you ask me, that's love.

(44:12):
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 Aswah is our digital producer.
Fact checking by Andrea Lopez Crusado. So many thanks to
all of the people who helped with this project, including
Liz mac Emily Kwan, Jasmine Aguilera, Organ Gibbons, Daniel Giemett

(44:34):
and Bryce Street, Cant, Joshi, Ivan Suarez, Susan Bryer, Susan Fields,
j Bostick, Elizabeth Gavitt, Chubby Such, Dave, Jacob Silber, Gretchen Gavett,
and Andrew Lesser and the whole wonderful team at Rococo
Punch and I Heeart Radio for their support. Special thanks
to the team at Type Investigations and Katherine Joyce, Amy Gains,

(44:55):
Sarah oh Luder, Maron Frischkoff, Bethan Macaluso, My Guest Hat Ticketter,
Christine Rogassa, Jen Powers, Travis Dunlap, Andrew Kenward, Brianna Hill,
Simon Pullman, Sarah Gates, Allison Cantor, Nicky Etre, Holly Decan,
Dan Conaway, and consulting producer Mary Johnson. Her memoir and
Unquenchable Thirst provided inspiration for this series. Our executive producers

(45:18):
are Jessica Alfert and John Ferratti at Rocco Punch, I
Could Trina Norville at iHeart Radio. Our theme music is
by Matt Reid. For photos and more details on this
series follow us on Instagram at Rococo Punch. You can
reach out via email to the Turning at Rococo punch
dot com. I'm Erica Lands. Thanks for listening.
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