We Need to Pray for a Reform in Convents Before We Can Pray for More Vocations
The Unspoken Truth of the State of Religious Life
There has been much hype these days around the “crisis” in religious vocations. I agree that there are definitely fewer numbers of younger women entering religious communities, but the “crisis” is not in how many women are entering the convent, but in how many young women, who left everything behind to follow Christ, are being chewed up and spit out by some religious communities. This article is not to bash women religious who are truly living their lives as witnesses of Christ in the world, but to create an awareness of what is taking place within the convent walls of many communities.
Young women are definitely entering the convent, especially Millennials, so the issue is not women choosing to enter the convent, but rather some religious communities not permitting women who desire to give their whole selves to God and to the Church become a religious sister. There are too many young women who are led on in religious communities, and then without any warning are asked to leave or are forced to leave by their own choice. Formation is supposed to be a time of learning, correcting faults, and becoming closer to God, but instead in some communities formation is a time of emotional, psychological, verbal, spiritual, and even sexual abuse for the young woman who enters into religious life, and instead of being led to grow in her religious life by the love and support of superiors she is instead persecuted and attacked for trying to live an authentic religious life for God.
There is no allowance for mistakes, everything must be perfect, and crying is not permitted in front of others, so the question is have some nuns lost their humanity?
I recall my novice mistress telling me I could not live religious life as a human being, but as a supernatural being, and I needed to be perfect. I sat there perplexed with thoughts of the Gnostic heresy running through my mind. Young women who enter convents should not be expected to act like robots without any feelings. Young women deserve to be treated with human dignity, especially at the hands of women who claim to be living their lives for God.
Why are some religious communities who appear from the outside to be God-fearing women treating young women with such utter disrespect and cruelty? I have been in religious life twice and both communities, although one much more liberal than the other, accepted me to live in their Community, led me on to believe I would continue in formation, and then kicked me out without any warning. Where is the justice? They may never have to answer to anyone in this world, but I know how these Sisters treated me and I’m sure have treated others, will have to answer to the Lord one day.
I am not perfect and never claimed to be perfect, but I felt called to God, and still feel called to live the religious life as a Bride of Christ. But after two experiences of being beaten down, and having my heart handed back to me in pieces I no longer have the strength or tolerance to deal any further with more abuse by nuns. In one community I was attacked by various Sisters for my Catholic faith, and for wanting to live an authentic religious life, which included following the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and in the other Community I was attacked by my novice director for being too “pious,” “righteous,” for fasting, and for my love of the priesthood.
I have to admit there were warning signs throughout my formation in the first Community, such as psychological, emotional, and verbal abuses towards me by my postulant director for refusing to go against Church teachings, liturgical abuses during Mass, the bashing of the priesthood, lack of love for the Mass and the Eucharist. Christ was definitely not the center of their lives. Their love of Christ was instead replaced with love of “idols,” in their daily nights of watching secular television, and five star hotel meals cooked by their hired chefs, but I could not bring myself to give up my vocation and to not try my best to endure every kind of suffering to save their souls. I very much wanted to leave, but did not know how to get out, but in the second Community I truly loved the charism of the Community, and their prayer and Community life, and I loved them.
The issue was my novice mistress who was emotionally, psychologically, verbally, and spiritually abusive towards me, which resulted in me having constant anxiety. I would spend countless hours in the sacristy polishing candles, taking my time cleaning up after Mass and preparing for Eucharistic Adoration, and going on multiple walks per day to try with every fiber of my being to stay away from her. Everyday and all day long she would go after me endlessly with chastisement, belittling, and mockery. The manipulation and gaslighting became worse and worse to the point I seriously started questioning and doubting myself. about everything that was taking place before my very eyes. I thought I was losing my mind.
I became deeply depressed and convinced I was worthless, and would pray to God at night that He would not let me wake up to have to face another day of abuse. I wanted to die, so that I could just be with Him.
I somehow pushed forward on survival mode until I thought that one day I would finally be free of her when I would receive a new director for my next step in formation. I offered my suffering up each day for how I was treated, and clung tightly to the Cross knowing that I was enduring it all for Him, so that I could be His Bride. With each tired and labored breath I continued on my vocational journey.
After being asked to leave my novice mistress spent time with me begging for my forgiveness and owning up to what she had denied to me for two years; that she did not treat me right, and that she did not know why she spoke the way she did to me, and go after me. Was her apology sincere? I do not know, and it is not for me to judge her, but I do know it was too little too late to save my vocation there.
The Mother Superior knew what was going on in the Novitiate, which I found out after I left. I had spoken up about the abuses when my novice mistress was being changed back to my former postulant director for the novitiate, but I was still given her as my novice director. The other young woman who was in formation with me informed the Mother Superior of how she witnessed me being harshly and cruelly treated and how she herself was being negatively treated in formation. The solution to the abuse was that we were both kicked out.
One day without any warning my novice mistress sat down with me and told me the Mother Superior would be deciding if I would be staying in the Community within the next week. My mouth went dry, and I felt as if I would be sick. It came out of nowhere after months of things actually seeming to have improved; the behavior of my novice director had stopped being abusive. I completely believed it was by the grace of God that He was converting her heart. After she informed me of such she thanked me and walked away from the table without allowing me to say a word. For the next week I could barely eat, and felt numb as I awaited to stand on trial with the Mother Superior. It was truly the Agony in the Garden. I never expected to be treated in such a way by Sisters who I truly loved and wanted to spend the rest of my life with serving the Lord.
The day finally came and after two years of formation within fifteen minutes I was told that I needed to leave because of A, B, and C reasons. And I was informed that she as the Superior had been wanting to speak with me for months, which led to my interior question of, “Then why didn’t you?” I knew at that time there was no point to even bother to utter a word because she was not open to listening to me. She had been only listening to my novice mistress for the past two years without ever trying to hear my side of the story. I could not believe after two years this is how I was being treated, and as she kicked me out she told me that the Community loved me and cared for me, and that is why they needed me to leave, for my own sake. The last words from my former novice mistress were "We are helping you to become a saint." I would love to hear how they treat their enemies if this is how they treat people they love. So during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic they sent me back out into the world with a chopped up haircut and a measly $200, that I was told would help to get me started again.
I was lied to and led on to believe that all was fine. Two weeks before I was asked to leave, I was told for two months I would be going on my mission experience, was even given a summer habit for next summer, and that when I returned from my apostolic experience I would be applying for first vows. I went from being overjoyed, and already thinking about that special day to packing my bags to leave forever.
How is that not sick and twisted to destroy the lives of young women who wanted to give all for God? Why do religious Sisters play mind games? How has hurting young women who wanted to give their lives to God as Brides of Christ become a sport for these women? Why has religious life become about power, control, and dominance? That behavior is not from God, it is from the evil one.
One woman, who loved power, and took much satisfaction in even letting me know how she was arrogant, prideful, and always right, took away my vocation to religious life from me. It did not matter how much I endured, how much I apologized, and how much I gave my all because in the end my novice mistress got what she wanted, me gone. My bags were put out on the lawn for my parents to easily pack into the car, and I was not permitted to say good-bye to anyone except the selected Sisters they chose. And before leaving I was encouraged to keep in touch with them as they are concerned about my well-being, and that they could recommend a therapist for me. Really, my well-being? I have been left broken, battered, and bruised with scars that will probably take a lifetime to heal. I trusted them with my whole heart and they broke that trust completely. It is a sad truth that I no longer look at religious sisters in the same light, and shutter at the sight of a habit.
Again, sharing my experience is not meant to discourage anyone from entering religious life because I have to believe that there are Communities out there that are authentic, loving Communities who would never treat young women in such a way, but I do want young women to know that some Communities are “sick” interiorly although they appear healthy from the outside. I want women to know the warning signs, and to know that it is never okay to endure any kind of abuse at the hands of nuns. So much time and effort is spent attacking and exposing the priesthood, but now it’s time for the truth about what is taking place in many convents to be exposed too.
Abuse in convents is real, and it happens, and many convents are in great need of reform. I am tired of hearing the same stories over and over from young women, and hearing from priests that my story is not new to them. We need to pray for reform in the convents before we can pray for more vocations.