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What Happens When Nuns/sisters Leave The Order?

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nunsense
It seems to me that communities are a bit like individuals; they each have their own 'personality' and handle things their own way. Some of this depends on the superior of course, but it is also the traditions and customs, and basically the 'character' of each community. I have been in three Carmelite Monasteries, one laura of hermits and two newly formed religious communities. Each experience of leaving (or being asked to leave) has been totally different. I won't go into detail about all of them, but the interesting thing is that I have kept regular contact with those communities who treated me well when I left (or was asked to leave). I still feel like a part of the 'family' with some of them, so it isn't 'the Church' that is the problem here, it is simply the way that different communities handle this situation. And they all differ; it isn’t only the ‘old ones’ or the ‘traddies’ that can be cruel.

I do think that some communities feel threatened when anyone leaves, that’s why all the secrecy for some of them. This seems to show a lack of trust in God, as far as I am concerned. There is a bigger problem involved if simply having one sister leave causes the others to start worrying about their vocations. After I had been at one monastery for only two weeks, another postulant left. Everyone was terrified that I would want to leave too and tried to reassure me, but her leaving had nothing to do with me, and had no affect on me at all. When I did finally leave (eight months later) it had nothing to do with anyone else except myself! I also think though, that some communities can feel 'hurt' if someone leaves, as if they are being rejected, just as the woman can feel hurt and rejected if she is asked to leave. We are all human after all.

At one of the communities where I entered, there was a solemnly professed sister who was thinking about leaving. They didn’t hide the fact or get all secretive about it. We all knew what was happening and then they offered her three years exclaustration to go back into the world and think about it before being released from her vows. She had entered as a young girl and didn’t know how to do anything, and saw everything as a major adventure. She came back for special events and we were all so glad to see her and prayed that she would return. She told me once that she didn’t want to leave because she loved everyone so much, but she needed to do this for herself since she had entered so young. In the end, it took a lot less than three years for her to decide - months only actually, and she did choose to come back; but she asked if she could come back as an extern sister, and this was allowed. Even was happy in the end, she feels a sense of freedom, and the community didn’t lose her. That community understands about 'family' and treats each sister as an individual. They also manage to stay 'friends' with women who come to try their vocation and don't stay. In fact, one woman who lives nearby, goes regularly back inside the enclosure (with permission from the Bishop) to help nurse the elderly nuns, even though she decided not to be a nun herself.

I just think that there is lot of room for improvement in this whole area of how departing women are treated, whether they choose to leave, or are asked to leave. Some things take time to change, so we may have to wait awhile, but I think how a woman is treated can make a difference on how she views the Church after she leaves (some actually leave the faith). It is very easy to blame the Church for the failings of a community or a superior because they are supposed to represent Christ to us. I know for myself that I have had to deal with a lot of pain in the past six months because I felt rejected, not just by the superior or the community, but by God Himself, even though I knew in my heart that this wasn't true, but hurt feelings can be very strong (call it self-love or hyper-sensitive, the fact is that emotional pain hurts just like physical pain).

Now I try to see things a little more objectively and tell myself that the Church had nothing to do with this feeling of rejection, and Jesus had nothing to do with it either, and even the person who made the decision wasn't being personal, but she was doing what she thought was the right thing to do at the time. Sure, God knows all and sees all, but sometimes He allows things for our own good, painful as they are at the time. In my situation this last time, the main problem for me was the same one that others experienced, the secrecy. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone, and that hurt most of all. I compare that in my mind with another monastery I left, where they all lined up in the hallway to kiss me goodbye and offer me prayers. I still write to them and love them all. Charity isn’t as common as it should be in monasteries…. But when it is there, the fragrance is so sweet.

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Cherie
To everyone who shared your stories, I want to thank you sincerely for doing so. It's not easy to talk about sometimes, and while of course everyone's story is personal and there are certain aspects that one would still like to keep private, still, it's very good for someone (like me) who went through something that without God's grace could have been considered traumatic to hear others' testimonies. It really makes me feel like I'm not alone, and is a little glimpse of God's love and mercy despite difficult situations. I know you weren't writing them for me, but nonetheless, I am very grateful!


[quote name='nunsense' date='26 March 2010 - 06:55 AM' timestamp='1269600935' post='2080449']

I do think that some communities feel threatened when anyone leaves, that's why all the secrecy for some of them.
[/quote]

I agree. That seemed to be my experience.

Another thing I will admit is that I have tried to keep a "healthy" contact with my Community (just a bit of contact every few months), trying to be charitable and show them that despite my leaving and certain hurtful things, I am still grateful for them and my time spent there, not to mention the fact that I consider the Sisters my family -- and originally, they were open to it. Recently, however, although they agree we are on good terms, they made it clear they don't want any regular contact. I'm honestly not sure why, but maybe it's for the best.

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nunsense
[quote name='CherieMadame' date='27 March 2010 - 12:00 AM' timestamp='1269608437' post='2080514']

Another thing I will admit is that I have tried to keep a "healthy" contact with my Community (just a bit of contact every few months), trying to be charitable and show them that despite my leaving and certain hurtful things, I am still grateful for them and my time spent there, not to mention the fact that I consider the Sisters my family -- and originally, they were open to it. Recently, however, although they agree we are on good terms, they made it clear they don't want any regular contact. I'm honestly not sure why, but maybe it's for the best.
[/quote]


That's sad because there is something nice for both sides in keeping up a good relationship, I think. Sometimes women who have left become benefactors for a convent, while the sisters can offer prayers for special intentions for the woman. I don't stay in touch with all of the communities I was in, but with the ones that I do, it is so nice to know that the link is still there. Once again, it seems to be some kind of fear, although perhaps they think they are doing you a service by having you 'move on'. I don't know.

I don't write often to everyone, but I do like to hear the news from time to time, and I let them know what I am doing too. And last year, when I thought I needed somewhere to go because of a visa problem in one country, I contacted a former community in another country, who invited me to come as a guest for a retreat. This kind of thing is nice. I am sorry that your community has decided not to continue contact with you. Try to see it in the most charitable light possible if you can. I don't think anyone ever really intends to be cruel or hurtful, so we have to assume good motivations if at all possible.

It all teaches us to focus on God after all. Nothing drives a person into prayer better than suffering. When it gets hard for me because I don't know where I belong, I remind myself that Our Lord had no place to lay His head and then I feel as if I am sharing my sufferings with him while also sharing His and it doesn't all seem quite so hard to bear.

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Cyprian
I was never a Nun. But I can tell you that the "leaving" without the "goodbye" impacted many, and not just fellow Nuns. I recall (and this was just before Vatican2) there was a beautuiful young nun who taught in our school - we were little. On nice days this lovely nun would take us to the park - just across the street from the school/Church. A young man was usually parked in front of the school in his convertible , watching her, and each time she ignored him. Well, one day this lovely, kind nun was simply not at school. She was not my teacher so I did not know her all that well. But I recall that her little students were devastated - rumor had it that she had left the Order. Of course, no one in authority said aything about all of this, and we simply went on with school. In those days, no one really expected an answer. I am not passing judgment, but I can tell you that the lack of a "goodbye" was hard those little ones.

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HisChild
So, Cyprian, I'm confused. Are you saying this man parked across the street watching her had anything to do with her leaving? I guess I'm not able to make the connection, based on what you wrote. :huh:

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Cyprian
[quote name='HisChild' date='26 March 2010 - 08:52 AM' timestamp='1269611562' post='2080535']
So, Cyprian, I'm confused. Are you saying this man parked across the street watching her had anything to do with her leaving? I guess I'm not able to make the connection, based on what you wrote. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/huh.gif[/img]
[/quote]

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CatherineM
Years after I graduated, I heard that the principal of my former parochial school who was a Carmelite was going to return the next year as a lay principal. There was a lot of talk, but it apparently worked out just fine. I'm not sure it would have been allowed while I was a student.

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Lilllabettt
Thank you to everyone for sharing your stories. I am personally grateful.

For me, when it happened, it was kind of a surprise. I didn't see it coming. Although in retrospect I probably should have. I didn't say goodbye; it was a secret. Actually it was a secret for a few days, during which time I stayed in my cell until arrangements could be made! I had anger and hurt, but the predominant feeling was scariness ... I had to go live in a place where I'd experienced abuse before; my old friends had scattered to the four corners. And I was so sick. I wondered how I would be able to find a doctor, or buy medicine. How could I get insurance with this pre-existing condition. I remember thinking, I can barely make myself a turkey sandwich let alone find a job like this. What is going to happen to me? I really thought it was likely that I would die. And (this is bad) that upset me only because I knew it would hurt like hell.

But now I am grateful, not only for the time I had in religious life, AND for people making the decision that I should leave, but also for the experience of the pain itself.

God took care of all my needs in the midst of that deprivation. It was a real miracle, and something I cannot attribute to any human power. I can never deny His mercy now. That is a gift I doubt I could have received any other way.

I think some communities don't know what to do or how to act with someone who has left. I think it can be such an uncomfortable situation, socially, it makes them nervous... since its so hard to know what the "right thing" to do is ... I certainly didn't know what to say or do. I know for certain I said and did the wrong thing at many points.

I know of a (progressive) community where the process of discernment is very out in the open, and they do keep in touch with their former Sisters, inviting them for service days and for reunions, etc. I think there's a lot to be said for that. It's healthy, mutually respectful, and emphasizes that there's nothing shameful or embarrassing about having left religious life. Edited by Lilllabettt

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laetitia crucis
[quote]God took care of all my needs in the midst of that deprivation. It was a real miracle, and something I cannot attribute to any human power. [b]I can never deny His mercy now.[/b] That is a gift I doubt I could have received any other way.[/quote]

Lilllabettt, I just wanted to say, "Thank you" for what you've shared -- especially the bit above. Beautifully said and so very true in my experience as well. "I can never deny His mercy now." -- Amen.

Also, one of the ladies from my former parish was in a community much like the one you mentioned in that last paragraph. She told me about her experience in religious life, her discernment, her leaving, and her community. It seems they are very, very similar to what you've described. The lady I know (who is pretty much a grandmother to me) goes to their annual class reunion with those that are still in the order and those that have left. All of them keep in touch frequently and seem to have such a bond of Sisterhood, you know? I always thought that was really kind and caring.

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kavalamyself
This is my story. I tried to shorten it, but I thought the truth is better. What's the quote from St. Catherine of Siena? Speak the truth, silence kills the world? So...here it is:

I entered a Monastery a while ago that I absolutely adored. I felt it was the perfect environment for me, the nuns were warm, welcoming, encouraging - all the nuns that I had (I see now) childishly wanted in religious life. I was given a name, a beautiful entrance ceremony and began to live the life.

Slowly, so slowly I can't even name it - things began to change. The Mother Abbess became angry, strident and controlling (I know that the Mother Abbess of any community has responsibilities, but this was different - she began to point out my faults to in a public manner (even during times we weren't supposed to talk - like after Grand Silence), which to me, was crushing - my Spiritual Director now believes she might have been attempting to make me stronger, but to me, it had the opposite effect - it was mortifying.

The Novice Mistress followed her lead and mirrored her actions; some of the postulants, clearly wiser and smarter than I, left quickly, without even saying goodbye, and I was sort of stranded - alone. I stayed, not fully comprehending that the Monastery hadn't really been able to retain vocations. Now I know that many Abbeys and Monasteries attract people anxious to live the life, but actually retaining the postulants is a different story.

The original warmth that I experienced was replaced by coolness and the core group of nuns made it clear to me they were there first, it was their Monastery and I was to have no part of it. Obviously, if I had been in a healthy/ok Monastery, they would have separated the novices and postulants so this kind of thing wouldn't happen. But by the time things "got bad" - I was the only novice left. Their attitude was done quietly, almost secretly. In short, their doors had been opened, but not their hearts.

Most painful, most crushing, most upsetting was that the Council had a secret vote about me (after I had settled in!). Never ever was anything about me discussed with me in private by the Novice Mistress or by the
Mother Vicaress or even by the Mother Abbess! I am still not over this pain.

What was the most cruel of all was that I had been assigned to arrange a shrine leading into the Chapter
room. Sister Sacristan (with the approval of Mother Abbess) had wanted the shrine to reflect the changing
liturgical season and I had been instructed to take everything down, clean it and replace it with the different colors (and new flowers).

It was at that time the Council had their meeting (in the Chapter room). Why didn't they close the door? I can't imagine - I can't tell you! I stood outside the Chapter Room door and I heard every last word of their conversation, their complaints about me, their voting me out of the Monastery - everything! One of the nuns there is very hard of hearing, so they spoke loudly - to me, it felt as if every last word was directed right at me - a pain and wound so deep in my heart, I could barely breathe. The things they complained about were awful - I was too fat (I am heavy, but to hear a nun say that!), etc. One of the nuns I knew was a hoarder (hard to believe a nun in a Monastery could be, but she was! and she complained loudly that I "invaded her privacy!) The complaints were so childish and hurtful. (And, I think you know that the Abbess later left - after me - to MARRY a Jewish man! Not even of our faith!) Knowing that Monastery fell apart to an even worse degree after I left made me hurt all the more. Truly.

I felt faint - honestly. They hated to have me at recreation, I talked too much, I asked too many questions, I ate all of the candy, I was too light hearted, I changed too many of the statues, I wasn't learning the Divine Office fast enough, perhaps I was crazy, I had been warned, time and time again, said the Novice Mistress - which was a terrible shock, since I had never been corrected about any of that, and I had never even CONSIDERED the possibility of being "kicked out!"

One of them was confused (so many voices, I couldn't really tell who was who at times - they were talking over one another) and thought I had already left, [i][b]and rejoiced at my being gone[/b][/i] !!!! Right while I was
outside the door!

I hadn't been talked to! I stood out there mostly in shock because of the lies! I heard the Mother Abbess and The Novice Mistress lie to the others and say they had worked at correcting me! At first I thought perhaps it was a light hearted joke, and as their voices became louder and more shrill, I realized they were
serious. I began to shake and cry. I couldn't finish the shrine - I ran to my cell and I collected all of my things. Quickly.

All I could think of was I was a failure, a failure - a miserable person with no reason for living. Why hadn't I left with the other postulants? Why hadn't the Mother Mistress taken the time to speak to me? Why hadn't the other sisters done so? Even one!? All it would have taken would have been a simple note slipped under the crack in my cell..."don't ask so many questions, lose weight, can I help you with the Divine Office..." or whatever!

Anything! How could they have let me go on with my happiness at being a Bride of Christ when they were hating me? And how could NUNS hate anybody in any event? Couldn't they have some sense of compassion at my newness; my happiness and my stumbling? How could NUNS in a Monastery sit around and gossip and be so cruel to let me hear their very thoughts?

Why hadn't they closed that door?! How could they not have remembered that I had been assigned a task right
outside the very room they were having their secret meeting!? I realized this cruelty was intended to be bone crushing.

It was worse than bone crushing, it was soul crushing. I can honestly say - without dramatics - that at that moment, I wanted to end my life. I felt iif I couldn't exist in the Monastery that I had grown to love, it wasn't worth living. I felt that if I could be so stupid to misread all of those Sisters' intentions.. .if they hated me that much!...and I didn't know it.....and I lived with them!...how could I go on? I was under the horrible impression that they were my Sisters. They hated me!

I wrote a goodbye note. I couldn't face any of them. I told them that I heard their conversation and their vote
to kick me out. I told them a vote wasn't necessary, I would not stay where I was not wanted and I apologized for any problems I so obviously caused them. I told them that I had wished I had been instructed as to my behavior, as I did not realize my very presence was so upsetting and horrible for the community.
I left without saying goodbye. I had nowhere to go. The only thing I took was my spiritual journal, which has been of invaluable help as I have attempted to put this entire situation into perspective.

I called the priest who had been my spiritual director before entering. He had received all my letters outlining my happiness, the details of my entrance, my new name - just stupid little notes I wish I could have take back and burn! How horrible! I could barely talk, I was so upset - crying and sputtering. I was
still wearing the shabby postulant's dress I had been given as mortification for admiring one of the professed nuns' Feast Day habits. He took me to the retreat center his order owns, and I lived there until I could "get my act together."

I can tell you all that I know my story isn't the norm. I have been in a lot of therapy, and even met with the Vicar of Religious of that diocese. I know the Monastery is in bad shape (obviously) and that the core group of nuns were obviously too isolated. It is one thing to be accepted into an order or a monastery - it is another to be "accepted spiritually" and in the hearts of the community. After the Abbess left, they got appointed some kind of "outside" adminstrator. I'm not sure what that is called.

I am doing well now. It has taken time, and even writing about this makes the whole thing seem so fresh, and painful. All in all, I can tell you that I was too young, I didn't ask enough questions BEFORE entering, I was entranced by the habits, and I did make a lot of mistakes. If I done a little more homework, I would have known that a lot enter but a lot leave and sad to say, unlike some other communities, those who leave are NOT on good terms with the community.

I still want to enter religious life, but to be honest, I am a little afraid of cloistered life after my experience. Both my spiritual director and therapist have talked a lot to me about accountability and responsibility. It's not that hard for a really tightly knit community to become unhealthy though please nobody here think I am saying that cloistered orders are all like the one I stupidly entered. This concern is mine and mine alone, and I do believe that there are lots of really cool healthy orders that are out there. The one question I am sure to ask now, though, is if they have an extern sister and how much interaction do they have with outsiders. Since I know I am drawn to contemplative life, I think I will probably end up as a Bennie, since they don't have Papal enclosure and I would probably feel more comfortable with that - given my story.

Kavala

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nunsense
[quote name='kavalamyself' date='27 March 2010 - 09:15 AM' timestamp='1269641727' post='2080929']
This is my story. I tried to shorten it, but I thought the truth is better. What's the quote from St. Catherine of Siena? Speak the truth, silence kills the world? So...here it is:

I entered a Monastery a while ago that I absolutely adored. I felt it was the perfect environment for me, the nuns were warm, welcoming, encouraging - all the nuns that I had (I see now) childishly wanted in religious life. I was given a name, a beautiful entrance ceremony and began to live the life.

Slowly, so slowly I can't even name it - things began to change. The Mother Abbess became angry, strident and controlling (I know that the Mother Abbess of any community has responsibilities, but this was different - she began to point out my faults to in a public manner (even during times we weren't supposed to talk - like after Grand Silence), which to me, was crushing - my Spiritual Director now believes she might have been attempting to make me stronger, but to me, it had the opposite effect - it was mortifying.

The Novice Mistress followed her lead and mirrored her actions; some of the postulants, clearly wiser and smarter than I, left quickly, without even saying goodbye, and I was sort of stranded - alone. I stayed, not fully comprehending that the Monastery hadn't really been able to retain vocations. Now I know that many Abbeys and Monasteries attract people anxious to live the life, but actually retaining the postulants is a different story.

The original warmth that I experienced was replaced by coolness and the core group of nuns made it clear to me they were there first, it was their Monastery and I was to have no part of it. Obviously, if I had been in a healthy/ok Monastery, they would have separated the novices and postulants so this kind of thing wouldn't happen. But by the time things "got bad" - I was the only novice left. Their attitude was done quietly, almost secretly. In short, their doors had been opened, but not their hearts.

Most painful, most crushing, most upsetting was that the Council had a secret vote about me (after I had settled in!). Never ever was anything about me discussed with me in private by the Novice Mistress or by the
Mother Vicaress or even by the Mother Abbess! I am still not over this pain.

What was the most cruel of all was that I had been assigned to arrange a shrine leading into the Chapter
room. Sister Sacristan (with the approval of Mother Abbess) had wanted the shrine to reflect the changing
liturgical season and I had been instructed to take everything down, clean it and replace it with the different colors (and new flowers).

It was at that time the Council had their meeting (in the Chapter room). Why didn't they close the door? I can't imagine - I can't tell you! I stood outside the Chapter Room door and I heard every last word of their conversation, their complaints about me, their voting me out of the Monastery - everything! One of the nuns there is very hard of hearing, so they spoke loudly - to me, it felt as if every last word was directed right at me - a pain and wound so deep in my heart, I could barely breathe. The things they complained about were awful - I was too fat (I am heavy, but to hear a nun say that!), etc. One of the nuns I knew was a hoarder (hard to believe a nun in a Monastery could be, but she was! and she complained loudly that I "invaded her privacy!) The complaints were so childish and hurtful. (And, I think you know that the Abbess later left - after me - to MARRY a Jewish man! Not even of our faith!) Knowing that Monastery fell apart to an even worse degree after I left made me hurt all the more. Truly.

I felt faint - honestly. They hated to have me at recreation, I talked too much, I asked too many questions, I ate all of the candy, I was too light hearted, I changed too many of the statues, I wasn't learning the Divine Office fast enough, perhaps I was crazy, I had been warned, time and time again, said the Novice Mistress - which was a terrible shock, since I had never been corrected about any of that, and I had never even CONSIDERED the possibility of being "kicked out!"

One of them was confused (so many voices, I couldn't really tell who was who at times - they were talking over one another) and thought I had already left, [i][b]and rejoiced at my being gone[/b][/i] !!!! Right while I was
outside the door!

I hadn't been talked to! I stood out there mostly in shock because of the lies! I heard the Mother Abbess and The Novice Mistress lie to the others and say they had worked at correcting me! At first I thought perhaps it was a light hearted joke, and as their voices became louder and more shrill, I realized they were
serious. I began to shake and cry. I couldn't finish the shrine - I ran to my cell and I collected all of my things. Quickly.

All I could think of was I was a failure, a failure - a miserable person with no reason for living. Why hadn't I left with the other postulants? Why hadn't the Mother Mistress taken the time to speak to me? Why hadn't the other sisters done so? Even one!? All it would have taken would have been a simple note slipped under the crack in my cell..."don't ask so many questions, lose weight, can I help you with the Divine Office..." or whatever!

Anything! How could they have let me go on with my happiness at being a Bride of Christ when they were hating me? And how could NUNS hate anybody in any event? Couldn't they have some sense of compassion at my newness; my happiness and my stumbling? How could NUNS in a Monastery sit around and gossip and be so cruel to let me hear their very thoughts?

Why hadn't they closed that door?! How could they not have remembered that I had been assigned a task right
outside the very room they were having their secret meeting!? I realized this cruelty was intended to be bone crushing.

It was worse than bone crushing, it was soul crushing. I can honestly say - without dramatics - that at that moment, I wanted to end my life. I felt iif I couldn't exist in the Monastery that I had grown to love, it wasn't worth living. I felt that if I could be so stupid to misread all of those Sisters' intentions.. .if they hated me that much!...and I didn't know it.....and I lived with them!...how could I go on? I was under the horrible impression that they were my Sisters. They hated me!

I wrote a goodbye note. I couldn't face any of them. I told them that I heard their conversation and their vote
to kick me out. I told them a vote wasn't necessary, I would not stay where I was not wanted and I apologized for any problems I so obviously caused them. I told them that I had wished I had been instructed as to my behavior, as I did not realize my very presence was so upsetting and horrible for the community.
I left without saying goodbye. I had nowhere to go. The only thing I took was my spiritual journal, which has been of invaluable help as I have attempted to put this entire situation into perspective.

I called the priest who had been my spiritual director before entering. He had received all my letters outlining my happiness, the details of my entrance, my new name - just stupid little notes I wish I could have take back and burn! How horrible! I could barely talk, I was so upset - crying and sputtering. I was
still wearing the shabby postulant's dress I had been given as mortification for admiring one of the professed nuns' Feast Day habits. He took me to the retreat center his order owns, and I lived there until I could "get my act together."

I can tell you all that I know my story isn't the norm. I have been in a lot of therapy, and even met with the Vicar of Religious of that diocese. I know the Monastery is in bad shape (obviously) and that the core group of nuns were obviously too isolated. It is one thing to be accepted into an order or a monastery - it is another to be "accepted spiritually" and in the hearts of the community. After the Abbess left, they got appointed some kind of "outside" adminstrator. I'm not sure what that is called.

I am doing well now. It has taken time, and even writing about this makes the whole thing seem so fresh, and painful. All in all, I can tell you that I was too young, I didn't ask enough questions BEFORE entering, I was entranced by the habits, and I did make a lot of mistakes. If I done a little more homework, I would have known that a lot enter but a lot leave and sad to say, unlike some other communities, those who leave are NOT on good terms with the community.

I still want to enter religious life, but to be honest, I am a little afraid of cloistered life after my experience. Both my spiritual director and therapist have talked a lot to me about accountability and responsibility. It's not that hard for a really tightly knit community to become unhealthy though please nobody here think I am saying that cloistered orders are all like the one I stupidly entered. This concern is mine and mine alone, and I do believe that there are lots of really cool healthy orders that are out there. The one question I am sure to ask now, though, is if they have an extern sister and how much interaction do they have with outsiders. Since I know I am drawn to contemplative life, I think I will probably end up as a Bennie, since they don't have Papal enclosure and I would probably feel more comfortable with that - given my story.

Kavala
[/quote]


That must have been very painful to share, and obviously very painful to endure. It's hard to remember sometimes that nuns are human beings, like everyone else, and like us, they don't always behave admirably either. Look at the priest abuse scandals. The reason why even non Catholics are upset is because priests and nuns (and sisters) are all expected to be a little 'better' than we are because they are 'closer to God', but the real truth is that we are all sinners and we all fall from grace.

That being said, it is true that a lot of reform is needed, not just in the active apostolate of sisters, and not just in America, but everywhere. I have been in convents in three different countries and I have seen problems/abuses/concerns in each one, some to a greater or lesser degree. In cloistered environments, if they are working well, they can continue to do so for many years, but once a problem starts, it is a little like a hot house, and the problems can escalate very severely over time. Your situation was inhuman and inhumane, and probably caused by a variety of different problems within the community. This happens in the workforce as well, when companies fail to address major concerns of their employees. The difference here, of course, is that when a person enters a convent, they are surrendering their lives not to a boss, but to God, in the person of the superior. So when things go wrong, it is so much worse for the individual, who feels betrayed not only by the superior or the community, but also by the Church and sometimes even by God. A visit once a year by the Visitator just doesn't see to the heart of the problems and it isn't easy to detect unless one is actually living there. No sisster wants to complain about her community or her superior to an 'outsider'.

One thing that does show the health of a community is how many professions there are who stay. As you pointed out, lots of communities attract the postulants of even Novices, since most people what to give it a good try, but when was the last time that the community had a final profession. For example, in one community I went to, they had many postulants come and go (usually asked to leave because they didn't seem to measure up somehow) and the last professed sister had entered nearly 20 years ago. There is a problem if they can't keep (or won't keep) anyone in the past 20 years!

We see some newer communities thriving and doing well, and perhaps that is the way of the future, as the old ones die out or merge into others while the newer ones, which seem to be more aware of a lot of the issues and have addressed them, thrive. That is not to say that the established communities can't do well, merely that to do so, they need to take care of business as well. There was an example of the thriving Poor Clare community (in Spain was it?), the one that Father Cantalamessa went to visit. One can see the Holy Spirit working in that type of situation.

It is a sad thing that so many women have been 'abused' by religious communities when in all sincerity they tried to offer their lives to God. We need to pray that superiors and communities learn to handle these things with a little more charity because, after all, we aren't all saints who thrive on abuse and being despised (like St John of the Cross), at least not yet

All we can do is pray pray pray :pray: Edited by nunsense

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Graciela
Dear Kavala-

My heart aches for you in how cruelly you were treated. But thank you for your generous courage in sharing the experience. Your awful experience points out a very real problem in some (not all) cloistered communities. The insularity of the life can lead to almost megalomaniacal leadership styles, secrets, emotional abuse/manipulation, cliques and outright dishonesty. I remember a dear Jesuit priest telling me, when I related my own story of deciding to leave a Discalced Carmelite monastery after 9 months postulancy because of the distorted interpersonal dynamics and observance, "it is very very difficult to have a healthy and psychosocially mature cloistered community." The dynamics, he felt, could easily veer toward the cult-like when things are not handled directly and openly, and when the superior is viewed as beyond all question.

OTOH, when I left I was able to tell the entire community of my decision at a chapter meeting and they all bid me goodbye a few days later with promises of prayer. I am not however in contact with them.

Later I spent time in a progressive active teaching community and chose to leave after my first year of novitiate. I am still in contact with those sisters and love them dearly- I still feel very close to their charism. When I left we mainatained relationships of deep friendship and sisterhood. They were able to give me a stipend to get re-established when I left. I was surprised, but grateful for the help- I had worked full-time during the year of my candidacy and given my entire salary to the order during that year.

I think tradmom has posted elsewhere about some things to look for in cloistered communities that are indicators of more mature and healthy community dynamics and I commend her posts to any PMers who are looking into cloistered life.

Grace & peace to all for the upcoming Holy week and may the love of Christ reign in all hearts!
Graciela

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stlmom
To all posters, thank you for relating your experiences. Annie/nunsense, your words above mine speak volumes. From my own remote experience decades ago during V2, I was witness to and scandalized by how sisters who left were treated. How sad to read that some of those mindsets still persist. One might have hoped in these times that the consecrated women could have been possessed not so much of saintliness but of basic human decency. I hope that experience does not permanently turn anyone with a real vocation away from trying again. God bless you all!

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Totus Tuus
[quote name='kavalamyself' date='26 March 2010 - 06:15 PM' timestamp='1269641727' post='2080929']
This is my story. I tried to shorten it, but I thought the truth is better. What's the quote from St. Catherine of Siena? Speak the truth, silence kills the world? So...here it is:

I entered a Monastery a while ago that I absolutely adored. I felt it was the perfect environment for me, the nuns were warm, welcoming, encouraging - all the nuns that I had (I see now) childishly wanted in religious life. I was given a name, a beautiful entrance ceremony and began to live the life.

Slowly, so slowly I can't even name it - things began to change. The Mother Abbess became angry, strident and controlling (I know that the Mother Abbess of any community has responsibilities, but this was different - she began to point out my faults to in a public manner (even during times we weren't supposed to talk - like after Grand Silence), which to me, was crushing - my Spiritual Director now believes she might have been attempting to make me stronger, but to me, it had the opposite effect - it was mortifying.

The Novice Mistress followed her lead and mirrored her actions; some of the postulants, clearly wiser and smarter than I, left quickly, without even saying goodbye, and I was sort of stranded - alone. I stayed, not fully comprehending that the Monastery hadn't really been able to retain vocations. Now I know that many Abbeys and Monasteries attract people anxious to live the life, but actually retaining the postulants is a different story.

The original warmth that I experienced was replaced by coolness and the core group of nuns made it clear to me they were there first, it was their Monastery and I was to have no part of it. Obviously, if I had been in a healthy/ok Monastery, they would have separated the novices and postulants so this kind of thing wouldn't happen. But by the time things "got bad" - I was the only novice left. Their attitude was done quietly, almost secretly. In short, their doors had been opened, but not their hearts.

Most painful, most crushing, most upsetting was that the Council had a secret vote about me (after I had settled in!). Never ever was anything about me discussed with me in private by the Novice Mistress or by the
Mother Vicaress or even by the Mother Abbess! I am still not over this pain.

What was the most cruel of all was that I had been assigned to arrange a shrine leading into the Chapter
room. Sister Sacristan (with the approval of Mother Abbess) had wanted the shrine to reflect the changing
liturgical season and I had been instructed to take everything down, clean it and replace it with the different colors (and new flowers).

It was at that time the Council had their meeting (in the Chapter room). Why didn't they close the door? I can't imagine - I can't tell you! I stood outside the Chapter Room door and I heard every last word of their conversation, their complaints about me, their voting me out of the Monastery - everything! One of the nuns there is very hard of hearing, so they spoke loudly - to me, it felt as if every last word was directed right at me - a pain and wound so deep in my heart, I could barely breathe. The things they complained about were awful - I was too fat (I am heavy, but to hear a nun say that!), etc. One of the nuns I knew was a hoarder (hard to believe a nun in a Monastery could be, but she was! and she complained loudly that I "invaded her privacy!) The complaints were so childish and hurtful. (And, I think you know that the Abbess later left - after me - to MARRY a Jewish man! Not even of our faith!) Knowing that Monastery fell apart to an even worse degree after I left made me hurt all the more. Truly.

I felt faint - honestly. They hated to have me at recreation, I talked too much, I asked too many questions, I ate all of the candy, I was too light hearted, I changed too many of the statues, I wasn't learning the Divine Office fast enough, perhaps I was crazy, I had been warned, time and time again, said the Novice Mistress - which was a terrible shock, since I had never been corrected about any of that, and I had never even CONSIDERED the possibility of being "kicked out!"

One of them was confused (so many voices, I couldn't really tell who was who at times - they were talking over one another) and thought I had already left, [i][b]and rejoiced at my being gone[/b][/i] !!!! Right while I was
outside the door!

I hadn't been talked to! I stood out there mostly in shock because of the lies! I heard the Mother Abbess and The Novice Mistress lie to the others and say they had worked at correcting me! At first I thought perhaps it was a light hearted joke, and as their voices became louder and more shrill, I realized they were
serious. I began to shake and cry. I couldn't finish the shrine - I ran to my cell and I collected all of my things. Quickly.

All I could think of was I was a failure, a failure - a miserable person with no reason for living. Why hadn't I left with the other postulants? Why hadn't the Mother Mistress taken the time to speak to me? Why hadn't the other sisters done so? Even one!? All it would have taken would have been a simple note slipped under the crack in my cell..."don't ask so many questions, lose weight, can I help you with the Divine Office..." or whatever!

Anything! How could they have let me go on with my happiness at being a Bride of Christ when they were hating me? And how could NUNS hate anybody in any event? Couldn't they have some sense of compassion at my newness; my happiness and my stumbling? How could NUNS in a Monastery sit around and gossip and be so cruel to let me hear their very thoughts?

Why hadn't they closed that door?! How could they not have remembered that I had been assigned a task right
outside the very room they were having their secret meeting!? I realized this cruelty was intended to be bone crushing.

It was worse than bone crushing, it was soul crushing. I can honestly say - without dramatics - that at that moment, I wanted to end my life. I felt iif I couldn't exist in the Monastery that I had grown to love, it wasn't worth living. I felt that if I could be so stupid to misread all of those Sisters' intentions.. .if they hated me that much!...and I didn't know it.....and I lived with them!...how could I go on? I was under the horrible impression that they were my Sisters. They hated me!

I wrote a goodbye note. I couldn't face any of them. I told them that I heard their conversation and their vote
to kick me out. I told them a vote wasn't necessary, I would not stay where I was not wanted and I apologized for any problems I so obviously caused them. I told them that I had wished I had been instructed as to my behavior, as I did not realize my very presence was so upsetting and horrible for the community.
I left without saying goodbye. I had nowhere to go. The only thing I took was my spiritual journal, which has been of invaluable help as I have attempted to put this entire situation into perspective.

I called the priest who had been my spiritual director before entering. He had received all my letters outlining my happiness, the details of my entrance, my new name - just stupid little notes I wish I could have take back and burn! How horrible! I could barely talk, I was so upset - crying and sputtering. I was
still wearing the shabby postulant's dress I had been given as mortification for admiring one of the professed nuns' Feast Day habits. He took me to the retreat center his order owns, and I lived there until I could "get my act together."

I can tell you all that I know my story isn't the norm. I have been in a lot of therapy, and even met with the Vicar of Religious of that diocese. I know the Monastery is in bad shape (obviously) and that the core group of nuns were obviously too isolated. It is one thing to be accepted into an order or a monastery - it is another to be "accepted spiritually" and in the hearts of the community. After the Abbess left, they got appointed some kind of "outside" adminstrator. I'm not sure what that is called.

I am doing well now. It has taken time, and even writing about this makes the whole thing seem so fresh, and painful. All in all, I can tell you that I was too young, I didn't ask enough questions BEFORE entering, I was entranced by the habits, and I did make a lot of mistakes. If I done a little more homework, I would have known that a lot enter but a lot leave and sad to say, unlike some other communities, those who leave are NOT on good terms with the community.

I still want to enter religious life, but to be honest, I am a little afraid of cloistered life after my experience. Both my spiritual director and therapist have talked a lot to me about accountability and responsibility. It's not that hard for a really tightly knit community to become unhealthy though please nobody here think I am saying that cloistered orders are all like the one I stupidly entered. This concern is mine and mine alone, and I do believe that there are lots of really cool healthy orders that are out there. The one question I am sure to ask now, though, is if they have an extern sister and how much interaction do they have with outsiders. Since I know I am drawn to contemplative life, I think I will probably end up as a Bennie, since they don't have Papal enclosure and I would probably feel more comfortable with that - given my story.

Kavala
[/quote]

Passionists, as well, don't take a vow of Papal Enclosure. It's actually a very ideal thing if you're like me and like contemplative life, but also feel a little claustrophobic when you know you can't go beyond the walls!
Kavala, a lot of your pain resonated with me. I sent you a PM because I don't want to share the details of my experience publicly.

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HisChild
Kavala,

My heart aches for you. I'm so sorry you had to go through that horrid time. :sadder: I know that sometimes sisters who've been in communities for a long time humiliate the newer sisters under the guise of teaching mortification. As I've often shared with Indwelling Trinity, religious life is full of enough sacrifices and penances to have to go through misery because of deliberate nastiness from your sisters.

I am sad to say, some of what you wrote actually resonated with my own (three) experiences. You are certainly not alone.

I pray you're able to heal and should you wish for religious life again, you're able to find a community that's loving and accepting. I will pray about it, and perhaps share my store more fully in PM as Totus Tuus did.

Yours in Christ,
HC

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nunsense
After reading all of this and also recalling some of the emails that I have received personally about this same topic, I am thinking that I should write a book about it - not to cause problems or to scandalise anyone because I would never want to do that to the Church or to any community, but perhaps to help communities see what is happening (some of them may have no idea of what their 'traditional' behavior is doing to women today), or perhaps even to help some women heal from bad experiences. If anyone is interested in telling their story (stories) anonymously (or not), I would be happy to collect the information and to write it up. I have just finished a fiction book that Ignatius Press is reviewing, and if they do publish it, then perhaps they might be open to a non-fiction book as well (since that is their main focus after all).

The traditions that worked in the past (such as the secrecy and sliding women out the door without any proper goodbyes) don't really work today, especially since the world is totally connected and communicates via the Internet now, so there is no secrecy about these things (although there can still be privacy to protect all concerned). Women who are treated badly write about it online these days or go away and write books to try to come to grips with what happened. Perhaps there needs to be a book that addresses this issue across many communities and not just individual ones.

I know that in one community I was in, I underwent total verbal abuse from my so-called 'angel', who was assigned to help me fit into religious life. After two months of this treatment (and frequently denied requests to the Prioress to help me or to assign me another angel), I left in a flood of tears and in a highly charged emotional state after a particularly vicious verbal attack. The Prioress was very sorry and very helpful when I was leaving, but offered me no protection from this abuse during my time there. I am sure that the Prioress (and perhaps the sister herself) thought that this abuse was just a way to 'test' my detachment or holiness or whatever, but what might have worked in the days of St John of the Cross (who was imprisoned by his community and not only verbally abused but also whipped daily by all the other monks in the community), or even St Therese (whose community sounds particularly dysfunctional) simply cannot be tolerated today as any kind of effective tool for sanctity or holiness. Abuse is abuse. And yes, wouldn't it be great if we were all so detached that we could just see it all as God's will for us in the convent, but wouldn't it be even nicer if the community radiated the love and kindness of Our Savior too? I have been a nurse and a teacher, and sometimes I wonder why religious communities can't use even a few of the techniques that are applied to other 'people focused' organizations. I am sure that many of us who have been in religious communities have felt that things could have been done so much better if even simple rules of common courtesy and decency were put into practice. It is no surprise that so many nuns and sisters fled their convents after Vatican 2, standing in a leaky bus shelter is worse than standing out in the rain!

If anyone would like to tell their story (and possibly have it published - anonymously), please feel free to email me. I think I will get together a questionnaire to help direct the focus, but I would also like to hear the full stories of those who care to tell them. It can be a kind of therapy to write it down. The feelings are usually conflicted between self-criticism and self-doubt, to anger or hostility at the community, the Church or even at God Himself. I think these are all very valid states of mind at different times. God is big, He can take it.

I am not out to condemn any particular community and see no reason not to give each community a pseudonymous name (although it might be good to mention specific orders, such as Dominican, Carmelite, but I'm not sure yet). But I would like to see an end to the bad treatment of women (especially, although men may experience similar things) who often have given up everything to try to love and serve God. This is worse than a marriage breakup in many ways because one has to deal with feelings of rejection or failure about a relationship with God.

And despite being told by Prioresses over the past three years that 'It isn't about feelings.' the fact of the matter is that we are human beings and we do have feelings that can't be ignored. We need to learn how to deal with those feelings, and how to purify them, but it is no good pretending that they don't exist. The will is often informed and supported by our feelings (or affinities). But that is a whole 'nother debate.

For now, anyone who wants to share more privately, please email me at my writer's email address [email="mshannahgrace@gmail.com"]mshannahgrace@gmail.com [/email]. I will treat all correspondence in confidence and not share anything. I will also keep all contributors informed as to the progress of the book. I think it might be a good source of support for those who have had to face these issues, and a valuable insight for communities who may not realize what impact their actions have had on departing women. I hope to offer some valuable insights and perhaps even recommendations as to the treatment of postulants, novices and departing women (for whatever reason).

I would also welcome suggestions or advice from anyone, whether they have been in religious life or not. Some of you have family members in religious life and you might have seen things that work particularly well. And those who post here who are religious in healthy communities, perhaps your suggestions as to why your community is doing it well (and what they are doing) would be very helpful too. Finally, I will probably try to visit and interview some communities who are thought to be doing it well, but the best test of that will be from women who have left (or been asked to leave) because their opinions are not going to be colored by a sense of loyalty and a fear of saying anything bad about their community. I belong to a couple of other forums with religious on them so that might help as well.

I think that it is fascinating that this thread was started by a non-Catholic, because it has brought up issues that we as Catholics need to address, for the good of our beloved Church and for individuals within her embrace. The mystical body of Christ has been sick for awhile in many and various ways, and we all need to help her get well again through our prayers, and in any way that we can contribute positively. Thanks IgnatiusofLoyola for starting this thread!

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kavalamyself
I wanted to thank everybody for all of the support in sharing my personal story. Your comments and support really help!

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vee
With Divine Mercy Sunday coming up I would encourage everyone to say the chaplet of Divine Mercy and/or do the novena for yourselves, for the communities you have known, and for all priests and religious.
http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/mercy/index.htm

For those, like me, who have never entered consider doing what I do and pray the chaplet for your future community. We are in a battle good vs evil and so of course the evil side doesnt want priests and religious, they take souls away from him, so pray hard!

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cmaD2006
[quote name='kavalamyself' date='26 March 2010 - 11:59 PM' timestamp='1269658775' post='2081069']
I wanted to thank everybody for all of the support in sharing my personal story. Your comments and support really help!
[/quote]
Kavala -- you may not realize what it meant for some of us here. I'm not at a point where I can write it down but to hear someone else say that they were mistreated/misjudged/misunderstood/mis-etc. really makes me feel that I am not alone.

And the most difficult part is when you *love* the community. As Nunsense said, after such an experience there are times you do blame God for what happened, especially if you're supposed to see God in the figure of your superiors.

I can't fathom the idea of entering another community ... I don't know if I am willing to risk being hurt again in such fashion. That's the difficult part -- trying to move past the events to a place of healing where you can return to a discernment not clouded by the experiences of the past.

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nunsense
[quote name='cmariadiaz' date='27 March 2010 - 02:13 PM' timestamp='1269659605' post='2081086']
Kavala -- you may not realize what it meant for some of us here. I'm not at a point where I can write it down but to hear someone else say that they were mistreated/misjudged/misunderstood/mis-etc. really makes me feel that I am not alone.

And the most difficult part is when you *love* the community. As Nunsense said, after such an experience there are times you do blame God for what happened, especially if you're supposed to see God in the figure of your superiors.

I can't fathom the idea of entering another community ... I don't know if I am willing to risk being hurt again in such fashion. That's the difficult part -- trying to move past the events to a place of healing where you can return to a discernment not clouded by the experiences of the past.
[/quote]


Or you find, after working up the courage finally, that no one wants you anymore. My SD made me wait six months after being sent away from Carmel, because he wanted me to wait and deal with the loss. I was all ready then to either start a new community or enter another one, but he wouldn't let me. So I spent six months supposedly recovering but when I finally decided to get the courage to start applying again, I met with rejection after rejection because I am now three years older than when I first started discerning and no one wants to give me a chance, or they tell me that obviously there is something wrong with me that I have been in so many communities already and failed (been rejected, doesn't seem to matter). They also seem to know what is best for me, with some telling me to choose an American community because that would suit me culturally or others telling me to choose an active one, you know, anywhere but here please. The rejection has been horrific, and I spend all my time telling myself that it isn't God who is rejecting me, that it is these communities. Men can become priests up until 65 at least (my current Confessor started at 60) but women are 'old' at 35 or 40 it seems. Today I got yet another rejection so I had a talk with God and decided that it must be because He loves me so much that He wants to keep me all for Himself! It doesn't really help, but at least I am not wallowing in negativity about it either. I even humbled myself to beg at former communities to ask if I could come back, but no, I an unwanted now it seems, even with those who liked me because I am too old at 57.

I asked my first spiritual director which community he whould choose if he were me (this was over three years ago and I had a few more options then), and he told me 'Whichever one would have me.' Well, that is almost how I feel now, and yet I am trying so hard to see this as God's will. If I had two broken legs, I couldn't very well be a ballerina now could I? But then I remember that the disabled do find challenges that motivate and inspire them, if not the ones they want. I am sure that God has a plan for each one of us, even if we don't seem to be fulfilling our lives the way 'we' think we should.

One thing that I am really trying to do is to let my faith and trust in God increase through it all. Sometimes I say that horribly disempowering word "why" about things, but then I tell myself that 'why' isn't going to help because I may never know why God allowed certain things to happen at different communities or why certain people had to treat me a certain way, etc. So I pull out other words like 'how' and 'what' -- How can I use this to help me grow closer to God? or What can I do now to love God more where I am?

Whenever we try to come closer to God, things are gonig to get tough, and I don't think we can ever truly hope to understand it all. All we can do is to allow the potter to shape the clay and to allow Him to help us grow not only in faith of His goodness, but also in trust for His care and loving attention. Nothing else makes any sense except that God loves us.

So, deep sigh, and whatever we do or wherever we end up, the important thing is to keep the focus on Him, isn't it? Especially at this sweet time of His sacrifice for us. Dear, sweet Jeremiah said it best, "You seduced me, Lord, and I let you seduce me. You were more powerful than I was...."

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