Monday, March 19, 2018

Memories In The Habit

It is fascinating to me how events, memories from our past don't simply go away, no matter how much we wish they would.

It was dark when I got up this morning.  As I left the bedroom and headed down the steps, I remembered:  "It's a rule.  schuckardt said you cannot go down the steps without turning on the light."  I turned on the light.  I didn't turn it on because HE said I had to, but I turned it on so I could SEE!  And, then I got to thinking about all his rules.  SO.  MANY.  RULES.  Why?  If you look into cults and how its members are manipulated, BINGO!  It is only common sense to turn the light on when you go down steps in the dark.  But, by making it a rule, he controlled one more little aspect of our lives.  Sometimes, I am quite rebellious, even now, and I just hold onto the hand rail and go down without turning on a light!  I'll show him!

I didn't have a regular task that was assigned to me while in the convent in 1975 - 1976.  Occasionally, I would be asked to help out in the kitchen.  On one occasion, I was in the process of rinsing the lettuce for salad at lunchtime.  The big cheese, Reverend Mother, happened to come through the kitchen and noticed that I was running the lettuce under a small stream of water from the faucet.  She raised her voice and told me that I was wasting water.  Of course, when scolded, you were to get on your knees before them and take it and then apologize.
On another occasion, I was making garlic toast to go with dinner.  Since it was quite the task of getting dinner ready for so many nuns, I forgot about the garlic toast that was under the broiler.  It was only the matter of a minute or so, but it burned.  Again, the Reverend Mother came through just at that time and told me how wasteful I was being, and that I would eat nothing but that burnt toast till it was all gone.  That took me a few days.  On top of being punished like this, there was always the humiliation that went along with it.  Everyone could see that all I had to eat was burnt toast.  You didn't talk about it.  You just did it.  You deserved it.  I don't really remember feeling sorry for myself, because on any given day, it would be some other poor nun who "transgressed" and felt the wrath of the Reverend Mother.
There were others who were, shall I say, less compliant than I.  I won't mention any names.  I know they read my blog, and I absolutely love them.  I wonder why I was so full of fear, and they weren't. It wasn't until years down the road that I learned how some of them would sneak off into the garage, where all the goodies were stored, and have themselves a party.  I applaud them now.  What balls they had!  I was so terrified of doing one wrong thing and thus suffering for eternity in Hell.  You guys know who you are, and I just love your spirit.  If you are so inclined, share a few of your stories.  I would love it.
Someone asked me yesterday if I was still finding it helpful to write this blog.  I said yes.  Some of the memories stir up feelings of intense anger at the way we were treated.  Others make me smile at the friendships that were formed back then that have never been broken after all these years.  I am saddened to think of the cruelty some of my friends and fellow nuns endured by being subjected to humiliation and ridicule by their superiors.  And, when I am done, I am proud of how far I have come, and the woman that I am today.
It seems surreal that in a short while, Bernie and I will fly back east, join my sister and her husband, and board a cruise ship for a 12 day cruise out of Baltimore.  Back in the day, I would never live to see this phase of my life.  I was sure of it.  Not a doubt about it.  And, so, yeah, I get a little emotional at what a wonderful life I have had in spite of the experiences of life in a very crazy cult.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sister Frances

January 23, 1975
Jackie, Renee, and Francie enter the convent.  Renee had wanted to be a religious forever, and couldn't get in the door fast enough.  I was only 16.  Renee might have been 14 or 15.  She was really smart, but so young.  Jackie - I am not sure what was Jackie's reason for becoming a nun.  She was from a very large family, but had lost her Dad to drowning only a couple years earlier.  She was (is) really funny, and I am so glad she went with me.  Me?  Why?  I have asked myself that question a million times over the years.  Why on earth did I become a nun?  I had NEVER wanted that vocation.  I wanted to be a mom and have kids.  But, in 1975, the options for girls in the cult of francis schuckardt were very limited.  College was seriously forbidden, because it was co-ed, among other things.  If you had a particularly good reason for NEEDING to attend college, you could submit a request to his royal narcissist, and see if he would grant your request.  I suppose he'd grant the occasional request for someone to go to nursing school.  But, if a girl wanted to become something like an engineer, uh, no.  And, so, with that being the case, what was I going to do?  The previous August of 1974 about 10 of my good friends had entered the convent.  I missed them.  And, there, I think is where I find the answer to my question WHY?  I wanted to be with my friends.

IF ONLY SOMEONE HAD SLAPPED ME SILLY AND TOLD ME NOT TO DO IT!!!  But, you know how that would have turned out.  And, so - off I went.  It was not the best part of Francie's Excellent Adventure.

So, what is the first thing that happened when I joined the nuns?  The very first thing that you have to do is get EVERYTHING that you brought with you APPROVED for YOUR use by your superior.  I remember that the first thing I took for approval was my pillow.  It seemed kind of funny to kneel in front of Sr. Agnes and say something to this effect:  "In the spirit of humility and holy poverty, I have need of this pillow, and for the love of God, I beg the use of it."   A pillow.  A toothbrush.  A bra.  Underwear.  Shoes.  Comb.  Pens.  The list goes on and on.  We entered in the evening, and I sure as heck wanted to have MY pillow to sleep with that night.  How bad could this life be?

I was a Junior in the "high school" at the time I entered the convent.  So, every morning, we would get up, get dressed in absolute silence of the tongue and the eyes.  No looking around whatsoever.  To make eye contact was communicating.  We had a bit of time to dress and then the bell would ring, and we would all shuffle to the chapel for morning prayers and meditation.  I am guessing that between our prayers and meditation, it would average about 30 minutes.  Breakfast was next.  No one spoke during breakfast.  Instead, someone was chosen to read to all of us while we ate.  The only thing that I remember for that first breakfast was canned cherries.  I love cherries, and so I took a healthy serving.  Whoops.  These cherries still had the pits in them.  What is a brand new nun to do?  I couldn't ask.  We couldn't talk.  I bowed my head, and looked as best I could out of the corner of my eye to see what others were doing.  I didn't see anyone removing the pits.  So, I swallowed them.

Since I Jackie, Renee, and I were still students, we didn't get assigned jobs around the convent during the week.  We did all help with the dishes after dinner.  Then, study time, maybe some recreation where we were actually allowed to talk, then night prayers and off to bed in GRAND silence.  (That kind of meant that unless you were dying, there was no excuse for talking.)  Part of the rule in this convent was that we get EIGHT hours of sleep every night.  You can imagine how many times over the years, when I was up with a fussy baby, I thought about those nuns and their damned EIGHT hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Sr. Lucia was in charge of a lot of what went on in the kitchen.  During the week, she would pack lunch for all the nun-students.  There aren't many things I remember about those lunches.  But, I learned quickly that I better enjoy the hamburgers and cheeseburgers that were given to the nuns by McDonald's, instead of being discarded.  They really were a treat.  This poor nun had very little to work with as far as groceries, so she had to get creative for us.  Her worst creation that I remember was when she ground up sunfower seeds, mixed them with pickles and something else and created a sandwich for each of us.  In spite of the fact that I had swallowed cherry pits at my first convent-breakfast, I really, really gagged getting these sandwiches down.

Jackie was occasionally the cook on special occasions or weekends, I can't remember which.  But, to this day, I remember vividly the delicious jello salad she made with jello, coconut, dates, and walnuts.  I have wanted to replicate it over the years, but have not done so.  Might have something to do with seeing worms in the dates every now and then..... sorry, Jackie.  You know I love you.

The school year of 1975 progressed and came to an end.  Most of my friends who had entered the convent the previous August graduated.  I was now a Senior.  Various groups of nuns went to different places that summer for a week of 'vacation'.  I was in the group that went to Portland and Cannon Beach.  We really did have a lot of fun and good times.  In Portland, we stayed at the home of one of our Sister's parents, the Earps.  Mrs. Earp made sandwiches for all of us to take to the ocean.  This was the very first time that I had seen the ocean.  I was terrified.  It was so powerful and endless and strong.  But, all in all, it was a lot of fun.  I was with friends, and we did a lot of stupid stuff that made us laugh.  We were so innocent.  When we got back to Coeur d'Alene, our 2 superiors got in trouble because of the fun we had.  Apparently, because Mr. Earp had seen some of us not in our habits, it was a horrible scandal.  (head shaking)

That August, schuckardt once again conducted a rigid retreat for those of us in the religious life.  It was a week of much prayer and self-reflection.  It was also a week of endless lectures by schuckardt himself about what awful sinners we all were.  Barely any of us would make it to heaven.   When it was over, those of us who had entered in the past year became Novices.  We did not take vows, but we promised to live the life of the religious and prepare ourselves for that step of vowing to give our lives to God through vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  As Novices, we were now wearing a whole new garb - THE HABIT.  We also gave up our birth-names.  We had chosen three names, and schuckardt would tell us which one he had chosen for us during our ceremony of induction into our habit.  I was given the name Sr. Maria Perpetua of the Motherly Heart of Mary.  When I heard that last part, I thought inside myself - see?  see?  I am not supposed to be a nun.  I am supposed to be a mother.  And yet, I stayed.

After a few months in the convent, I began to experience incredible, debilitating headaches.  I saw numerous Doctors.  No one could put a finger on why I was experiencing such pain.  I saw neurologists and naturopaths.  I tried various diets.  Nothing helped.  I missed a lot of school.  Days and days would go by where I could not get out of bed and put that habit on, wrapping my head up in that veil.  The pain was real.  In March of 1976, schuckardt and my nun superiors decided that I should leave.  To say that I was sad to go would be a lie.  My headaches had been my ticket out.  I was a little grateful for those headaches.  I was greeted by my Dad at the bus station in Montana.  I felt his love and empathy, without him saying a word.  His embrace said it all.  I stayed for a while, then returned to Coeur d'Alene to finish my Senior year of high school.  June 4, 1976, I graduated from our faux high school.

That summer, I returned to Montana to help my sister, PeeWee, with her family.  She and Jerry were living in the same house, though not permitted by schuckardt to live as husband and wife.  It was such an awkward situation, to say the least.  Both my sister and Jerry had jobs, so I got to spend the summer babysitting my nieces and nephew.  I enjoyed it so much.  They were so special to me.  They still are.

After graduation, I stayed in Coeur d'Alene for awhile.  Then, I was instructed by schuckardt to go to Colorado Springs to assist there wherever I was needed.  I flew down and went to live with the Toussaints.  Phyllis was a young mom with a plethora of little ones.  We got along very well.  She introduced me first to Taco Bell, and then to authentic Mexican food.  The love affair continues to this day!

It has been difficult to write about this phase of my life in the cult.  It brings back the feelings and memories of how absolutely lost I felt at such a young age.  I was only 17 years old when I went back to Montana.  Friends and the powers that be put such fear in me that there was no way I could save my soul if I were to leave the convent.  I so didn't want to be there.

I returned to the Coeur d'Alene area in the summer, and schuckardt asked me if I would go back to Colorado Springs in the Fall to run their 'school'.  What was I to say?  I did as he asked.

The adventure continued......