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Tuesday
Oct112011

The Salve Of Secrets- A Women Peers Into A Secret Life

“Mother Teresa would have called my secrets blasphemy,” Mary Johnson writes in the introduction to her spiritual memoir An Unquenchable Thirst, “but I call them freedom. I even call them love.”

I met Johnson at AROHO’s Summer 2011 Retreat, which brought together 90 women writers. On the closing
 night, she read from her book and gave each of us a copy, one month prior to its publication. We were in on her secrets.

Johnson, formerly Missionary of Charity Sister Donata, examines every aspect of her twenty years of yearning towards good in the proximity of Mother Teresa, replete with the challenges one would expect of the archetypal Heroine’s Journey: adulation of an idol, despair at the disparity between ideal and reality, growth through adverse conditions, and a final confrontation between one’s idol and oneself. Add to that a number of unexpected rogue and essential sensual blossomings, and you may find yourself up till 3 a.m. reading, as I did. -- From Tania Pryputniewicz

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Tuesday
Sep202011

Former Catholic Moved By Memoir

What I think I like most about Mary Johnson's memoir AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST: FOLLOWING MOTHER TERESA IN SEARCH OF LOVE, SERVICE, AND AN AUTHENTIC LIFE is that it satisfies curiosity. It answers questions that I've nursed a very long time. I went to Catholic school as a youngster in Washington, D.C. Catholic schools were a good, educational alternative to the District's school system in the sixties. My father was raised as a Catholic though my mother was not. My sisters and I were baptized, confirmed, attended the schools, prayed in the parish church and had rosary beads.
A former nun’s memoir? Wow!  AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST satisfies curiosity about vocations, the day to day schedule in the convent and and the personalities of nuns. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I thought nuns were truly fascinating. I felt a bit of that admiration and understanding return with the reading. 

Of course it is the sex that fascinates. How could they swear to go without?  This is bull session fodder for Catholic school girls everywhere I suspect. It's what my suite-mate and I discussed in our college freshman year at a formerly Catholic girls' school that went secular. We had our "firsts" that first year and we shook our heads and asked how the nuns could have given up a thing like that without knowing about it -- without experiencing it. How much we pitied the poor girls that had.We figured the girls who'd gone to the convents had really been duped -- giving up the wonderful world of sex. 
--From Breena Clarke

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Tuesday
Sep132011

A Story of Inspiration 

Your book has been calling to me from the shelf where it sat because I had other "deadline" reading to do.  Then, a few days ago, I got word that an international journal will publish my paper, Writing an Ethnic Identity Between Worlds:  Reclaiming and Maintaining a Franco-American Self after I revise it and tone down my criticism of the mixed role the RC policy of la survivance played in the heritage of Franco-Americans.  True, it preserved their faith, language and religion.  It is also true, that after a point, it became an abusive, controlling policy of the elite that traumatized rather than protected, held back rather than bolstered the ordinary Franco-American.   As I struggled with how to temper but not dilute this point, I thought of your book.  It is now off my shelf and open before me.   From Caroline LeBlanc

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Thursday
Aug252011

A Psychologist's Perspective 

I read your book cover to cover feeling like I could not put it down, and when I had to, longing to get back to it. The "articulateness" of your struggle, the enormity of the mission, the scope of the book, the journey, and the sheer humaneness and humility of it...just shines!!! And you have done it in a way that is accessible and completely inclusive...I am Hindu, not even religious...every struggle spoke to the deepest recesses of my humanity and my humility.

Mary, I am absolutely sure this book will change many, many lives...give hope and succor to those who have searched for it in vain...and do so far, far into the future. I dare to hope that this book will last and last and last...but as one of its first wave of readers, it has given me courage beyond description. And unbelievable validation for living a life with love as my only touchstone. I am a psychologist whose mission is that the work of a mother all over the world be respected. Your courage to share your journey to validate your deepest truths has motivated me to speak more openly than I have done so far. 
--From Kumkum Pareek Malik

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Tuesday
Aug092011

Reads Like A Novel

An altruistic, unworldly teenager, who never quite "fit in," the author joined Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity shortly after high school. As an aspirant, she was assigned to a convent in the South Bronx, about as different a place from the small Texas town where she grew up as a place could be.

     The author knew she would be embarking upon an austere life, that she'd be living among the poor as the poor lived. What she could not have known was that the life of a Missionary of Charity was deliberately designed to be as full of deprivation as a life could be, not just materially but emotionally. As Sister Donata, Mary would find the fact that breakfast might consist only of Crisco on stale bread easy to get used to compared with the fact that friendships, even normal conversation among the nuns, were not merely discouraged but punished. To serve humanity, the nuns were expected to deny their own human needs. Suffering for suffering's sake was encouraged. The world of the convent was a world of rules, many of them so irrational as to border on the comical. Indeed, the nuns were encouraged to "spy" on one another and report any infractions to the sister in charge. A sad consequence of all this was that over time, many of these sisters grew to become bitter, angry and so emotionally stunted that they were probably unable to recognize the cruelty with which they treated one and another for what it was.

 

--From Rhonda Cutler

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Tuesday
Aug022011

Former Member Of A Religious Community Weighs In

I am an Amazon Top Reviewer but also a person who spent 7 years in religious life. Your book was honest and raw ... it definitely touched something in me and sparked some of those old feelings. I am a married lesbian now (I didn't know then what I know now after so many engagements to men). This book was a great, refreshing read to help understand the humanity behind religious life.

We are all humans.

...From Diana de Avila https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2OBDNQ5ZYU1L8 Diana de Avila is a former Soldier who served in the Army (Military Police) and spent several years in religious life in two separate communities before discovering she was called to be a lay person.  She studied School Psychology and has worked in Information Technology.  She is married to her spouse Cecilia and lives in Upstate, NY.

Monday
Jun132011

A Surprising Read

I confess to groaning just a bit when first hefting this book, which arrived from the Amazon pre-release Vine review program. A 540-page autobiography of a nun isn't exactly my idea of light reading! But this turned out to be a real page-turner that kept me up past my bedtime: every chapter poses a new challenge for the author to face, and she is breathtakingly honest about how she successfully met, or embarrassingly failed each of them. It really does read like a well-crafted novel, and the knowledge that it's a true story makes it even more fascinating.

Mary Johnson (or Sister Donata, to give her the name she chose as a religious) started out as a very intelligent but also quite naive teenager. She tells in the book how she developed into a mature adult over the next twenty years as a nun in Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity order. This order, in particular, calls for a life of absolutely unquestioning obedience and physical hardship and isolation: even newspapers, telephone calls, and mail are highly restricted. I'd last about twenty minutes, but she made it for twenty years. --From Phelps Gates-

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Monday
May232011

Fascinated by Nuns as a Jewish Girl

As a secular Jewish girl growing up in 1960s Brooklyn, I was fascinated by the nuns who swooped into our public school class on Wednesday afternoons to gather Catholic students for two hours of weekly religious instruction. The Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Rosary of Sparkill, New York ran St. Edmunds, a gothic church and girls prep school plunked down in a middle-class Jewish and Italian neighborhood. The austere majesty of the nun’s black habits and wimples convinced me they were teaching my classmates esoteric things and I felt envious.

With her powerful and compulsively readable new book about her 20 years with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, Mary Johnson has satisfied my own unquenchable thirst to lift the veil and see how nuns really live. Although I was always frankly a bit suspicious of Mother Teresa and annoyed at her position on abortion, I was shocked at the life she created for her nuns. The order’s near-medieval austerities included self-flagellation, severe prohibitions against any human touch, rigidly controlled daily schedules, eating what the poor ate, and physically hard labor.

--From Debra L. Schultz

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Monday
May092011

What would I have done if I'd been Mary?

I should start by saying I am the publisher of 'An Unquenchable Thirst' in Australia, so I am biased. However, I am its publisher because it struck a chord with me. Mary Johnson writes as if she is talking to close friends and you quickly come to feel as if you know her. Then she opens up her heart and takes you into the world as it was for her when she was a nun. She delves into the good and the bad in equal measure; there are no rose coloured glasses, nor is there ever a feeling of resentment or animosity. Mary went on an astonishing journey during her years as a Missionary of Charity, and she invites us, as readers, to go with her, walking up and down a most unusual and unpredictable path. All the way along I would ask myself, what would I have done if I’d been her? Mary shows us her driving passion for life and her need to make the most of every situation, even when she is wondering: is she doing the right thing, is this really the life for her? A strong story about an unusual life that will make readers question aspects of their own – this is what resonated for me.

From Bernadette Foley in Sydney, Australia

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