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"A heartfelt, personal story of the gradual awakening of a woman who comes to see that preferring the 'human to the perfect' does not alienate her from authentic spirituality but allows her to live more fully."

Kathleen Norris,
author of The Cloister Walk


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An intimate story shared beautifully and honestly


I'm a big fan of memoirs and have read many of them. Mary Johnson's An Unquenchable Thirst is one of my favorites. I liked it even more than I'd expected to. In fact, I could hardly put it down. As a non-Catholic, I've always been fascinated by nuns and completely unable to understand why anyone would want to be one. After reading this book, I still don't understand why any woman would choose to be a nun.

It shocked me to learn that a girl as young as 19—Mary's age when she entered the convent as a novice—would be accepted into an order. She'd never had a boyfriend, a date, a first kiss. She hadn't received a college education even though she was clearly very intelligent. She'd never had a full-time job or lived independently. How could such a girl really know what she wanted?

from Diane Lockward

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An heroic journey from sacrifice to a life of fullness and authentic love!

Thank you, magnificent Mary, for this splendid book!! I was also a member of the MCs for a short time and your depiction brought back so many wonderful and sad memories. I was also in the South Bronx under Sr. Priscilla and then a first year novice in Rome at Tor Fiscale when I left after a total of 1 year 9 months. I am still Catholic and it was an old friend who is a priest in his 80s (ex- Jesuit) who recommended your book to me. What a surprise and blessing!

I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. My family was not religious but my father's uncle had been a prominent Congregational minister and was the reason my father left his home in St. Paul, Minnesota for Honolulu. (That and the Hawaiian weather of course.) I was always searching for the meaning of life and studied several religions in my search. At age 30, I became Catholic and joined the MCs in the South Bronx and then went to Rome for the novitiate.

Susan Erdman, then Sister Dana Malia, is the sister who is standing. This photo was taken in Rome in 1979, when Susan Erdman was a novice with the Missionaries of Charity.

from Susan Erdman

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Mary takes you to the “backstage” area where the nuns live and interact.

Mary Johnson’s book, An Unquenchable Thirst proved to be a work of great importance for me. The author showed great passion in reporting the events in her life while a nun with the Missionaries of Charity. Especially since this was Mother Teresa’s order, Mary Johnson exhibited amazing courage in this undertaking.

I, not being of the faith, was given an insight into the life of nuns that I don’t think I could have attained elsewhere. I grew up in an Italian, Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., and nuns were always a mystique to me. As a child I’d see them in the subway stations or near the churches. I envisioned their lives to be entirely devoted to God and to good works. It’s a very noble calling.

from Roz Mansouri

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Your book is important on so many levels

I've been waiting for the paperback version of your book to come out and I must say, it was worth the wait. I could not put it down.

My parents shifted us from public to private Catholic school in second grade, and I was always curious about what went on in the convent house, which sat behind a high red wooden fence, adjacent to our classrooms. I remember wondering how the nuns thought we weren't supposed to be curious, and I was often scolded for pressing my nose to the fence boards during recess, trying to catch a glimpse.

Your book gives an inside account and a very human one at that of the life of nuns. To be honest, it was somewhat as I expected, but multiplied a few times over. I would describe your experience as a mash-up of never-ending bootcamp, international-level political wrangling, intense bureaucracy and the isolation of a lock-up facility.

from Bernice L. Foster

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I was deeply moved . . .

I sometimes refer to myself as a “recovering evangelist.”

As a young woman, I spent a lot of time attempting to “save” many people, friends and family as well as strangers.

My epiphany came when, as an undergraduate, I began studying other religions, as well as meeting people who practiced them. I suppose, if I were to classify myself, I would say I most resemble a Zen Buddhist. But I won’t pretend that I practice any religion now. I have what I refer to as my “personal relationship” with some higher power; The Guy Upstairs, Mother Earth, or The Universe. (My mother does not much appreciate my lack of directed faith.) So be it.

It is with this sideways view of religion that I approached Mary Johnson’s incredible book, An Unquenchable Thirst.

from Lisa Lutwyche

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You describe the good anywhere you find it and you don't lose your sense of humor

Man through mythology created God in his image. The deity that resulted is every bit as imperfect as man, as imperfect as the church you encountered in your book. At times wonderfully human and loving, at others as political and mean-spirited as any other human organization.

Your wonderfully detailed writing reveals that you held onto the key part of your humility, being grounded, as you did your best to love God. You describe speaking up when it was painful and inconvenient. Putting others first as you were directed, losing yourself in the process. You encouraged others while you tried to whip yourself into shape, a counterintuitive process on any road to a full and happy life.

Throughout your tale, you describe the good anywhere you find it and you don't lose your sense of humor.

from Herb Hartnett

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A raw, frank and revealing masterpiece.

I haven't read a biography that was so open and so honest in a long time.

In fact, as I read your wonderful book I was reminded of something that someone said to the great Joni Mitchell when she recorded her iconic album "Blue" - they said, "Oh my God, Joni, it is so honest and so raw, I hope you left behind something for yourself."

I grew up Catholic, worked for the Church for many years - seeing the flaws and the joys. Even though have always loved Mother Theresa (I was there too in Philadelphia at the World Congress and mesmerized by her speech) your book did not make me love her any less - it made her more human and flawed like the rest of us!

from Gary Mallon

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An extremely honest book bravely written

Nuns have always been a mystery to me, having grown up in a Lutheran home. I saw them only on television in the show, "The Flying Nun," and in the movie, "Lilies of the Field," and have been curious about their lifestyle ever since.

An Unquenchable Thirst is an extremely honest book bravely written about life in the Missionaries of Charity convent during the leadership of Mother Teresa. The glory and the unendurable come to life in clear, clean writing that keeps you reading to find out what could possibly happen next in Mary's life.

from Jan La Roche

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Opened me up to getting in touch with my own inner light

This book was hard to put down. I was so interested in the way life was lived within the Catholic religious sect that I found myself transferred there by way of imagination. I come from a Catholic background, being baptized and spending time in a periochial school growing up then even contemplating around age 15 moving away to be a nun as well!

I am drawn to books on varying degrees of spiritual topics and I very much enjoyed this one. It showed so much growth from the start to finish and how the windy turns anyone's life can take can lead them to a very special place. It definitely struck some chords with me as I have taken a path that is very much open to possiblity.

from Elizabeth Jarvis

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It is about being who you really feel that you are at that deepest place

I came across An Unquenchable Thirst by accident, actually. I have been a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's Community) for many years and had the opportunity to know many Sisters and Fathers. I had also been a seminarian with the Roman Catholic Church for 4 years. So when I saw this book come up when I was searching something about the Misssionaries, I was very intrigued.
The next day I went and bought the book, and could hardly put it down, it certainly felt like life came in the way, when all I wanted to see was what going to happen next.

I had always hoped to become a Missionary of Charity, they seemed so perfect and when I was with them, life seemed to make sense. I think for most of us, Religion is that place that we can go to, sometimes immerse ourselves in, and everything will come together.

from Matt Simpson

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I loved the way you wrote so directly

I just finished An Unquenchable Thirst. It kept me company night after night this past January. It is a true page turner! I loved the way you wrote so directly, no fluff, no explanations, just straight from you heart and gut.

Not having been brought up Catholic, and by a family who had disdain for the religion, complete with an Episcopalian holier than thou attitude, I was glad to realize that I had transcended my prejudicial upbringing and could read your book with an open mind.

I found your descriptions for physical and emotional intimacy both poignant and palpable, as well as your struggles either abiding by the RULES or breaking them, and ultimately aligning yourself with your truth.

Congratulations on such a fine book and a great accomplishment.

Louise Taylor is the author of five books. In 2009, she self-published a collection of her poems Stones on All Four Corners. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and lives in the northern New Hampshire where she works as a copywriter for an equine and rider supply company.


Your book helps people reach God and their purpose in more ways than one.

 I am not sure if you get letters far from India but here I am from New Delhi, India, writing to you after being moved by reading your book.

I got to know about An Unquenchable Thirst from Youtube while searching for some videos on Mother Teresa. Most of the people who come to India from foreign lands expect Indians to know about Mother Teresa more than they know or have read. We also take pride in talking about her and taking them to see the MC house. I am a big fan of Mother Teresa. I talk to many people about Mother and her work which of course is inseparable from her person. Your book has helped me know her better in ways more than one.


Akash Mahajan

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This book poses the questions that all searching for their authentic self ask.

I am not a religious person, not a catholic nor any kind of Christian. But I am a woman and to me, this book was a woman’s journey to find her truth. Though religious life is a world foreign to me, glimpsing it through Mary’s eyes was fascinating. I was completely transfixed by Mary’s story and her beautiful telling of it. Her writing is completely compelling, readable and a pleasure. It is personal and powerful. A beautiful work.

I read the book alternating with listening to the audio version. I work as a nurse practitioner making house calls to elderly and ill people who can’t leave their homes. I listened as I drove from patient to patient and often had to stall going into the next house because I wanted to hear more.

-from Carol Franzblau

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Her goal is to encourage us to live our own, authentic lives.

As a wife, mother, and scientist who has strived to live a moral and ethical life as a Catholic woman with loved ones of all faiths and beliefs, I was drawn immediately to Mary Johnson’s memoir, An Unquenchable Thirst. Many years ago, I, too, seriously considered entering the religious life, but the desire for marriage and children directed me to my own, unique path. What I have found in this memoir is the author’s profound love and respect for what I perceive to be God’s purpose for us on this earth ~ the recognition and appreciation of our own existence, what each of us makes of our own life here, and the proper acknowledgement of the existences, and choices, of all others.

from Holly Haggerty Sokolowski

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Your honesty and integrity captured my attention

As a woman who once considered a vocation in a religious order, who formerly served as a chaplain and now serves as Executive Director of an organization that offers respite to non-believing religious leaders, I want to first say thank you.

Mary’s story unfolds on the pages of An Unquenchable Thirst with such honesty and integrity that it captured my attention from the very first page. At times I found myself laughing out loud and at others I was moved to tears. This book challenged me to look back on my life before I left the church and recognize the elements where I can still see value. I also found myself mourning for the suffering of nuns who diminish themselves for a church that hates and admonishes them.

from Catherine Dunphy

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Provocative without being divisive, honest without being judgmental

So many stories are told of women facing mid-life crises, but so few are brave enough to confront the true underpinnings of such upheaval. Mary's story parallels a tale of divorce. The big difference between Mary's story and so many others is that her spouse was God, as opposed to some man who simply fancies himself a god.

Amazingly, I relate to Mary's story, and identify with the suffocation of wanting to change vocations. I have never traveled to Italy, and have never considered a life of poverty or celibacy. Yet the emotions Mary endures are so familiar, her experience does not seem foreign. While some of the facts of the story are unfortunate, the beauty of Mary's intent remains. She illustrates the portrait of MC life so well that even though some aspects of it are disturbing, her perseverance is understandable. Her depiction of Mother Teresa is provocative without being divisive, honest without being judgmental.

- Tess Anderson

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An Unquenchable Thirst is at its core a story about seeking love and meaning . . .it is everybody's story.

I came across Mary's book when looking for authors to interview for the New Books in Secularism podcast. At first I thought it might be odd to interview an ex-nun for a secularism podcast, but then I figured 'what on earth is a book in secularism' anyway? So many of those in the secularist movement were once religious anyway - rare are those who have not been influenced by religion in some way.

Before I started reading the book, I was intrigued that someone who had actually known Mother Teresa as a living being had written about her. Everything I had ever heard about Mother always accompanied some caption or headline, usually something with the word "saint" or "holy" in it. And sure, she looked awfully cute in her blue and white sari. From Annie Sapucaia

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Your story is far bigger than one of religion


Words cannot express how much I enjoyed your book. I listened to you - loved hearing your words in your voice - and there were many times where I did not want to shut off the car. I was enthralled by your story and not surprised that religious work in not altruistic. Your struggle between your own values, which I believe were pure to the mission, and those of the sisterhood, were stark and not too different from what happens in big bureaucracies - mission takes a backseat to personal agends. You have a wonderful story and it is far bigger than one of religion - everyone would benefit from reading your book. Thank you for putting your experience down in words and for being who you are!

Pam Diamantis lives in New Hampshire where she is a principal at Curbstone Financial and serves on the boards of the Currier Museum of Art, the Greater Manchester YMCA, the Heritage United Way and the Women's Fund of NH.


Really Cool

Cool! That’s what I used to think of Sally Field in her many misadventures as sister Bertrille in the sitcom, “The Flying Nun.” And “cool” is what came to mind when I met Mary Johnson, a few years ago while on a retreat for teachers who write. We had been summoned by the dinner bell to gather and eat. Staying at a Quaker Resort, one of the residents was giving us the low-down on what was on the menu, and Mary whispered that someone having to explain dinner could not be a good sign of the chow to come. I laughed because I was thinking the same thing! Dinner wasn’t bad.

Having been raised sort-of Christian, and having gone to public schools, I had no experience with nuns outside of my childhood fascination with the “The Flying Nun.” So, when Mary shared in one of the sessions that she had been a nun in her previous life, I thought how cool it was to be in the company of a real (used-to-be) nun!

from Stephanie Gates

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Thank you for telling your story.

I could have been the same teenager making the decision that Mary made. I didn't do it though and for most of my adult life, the question of just how far I should take my faith lingered. I often thought, "If there are people in the world brave enough to do the things like what Mother Teresa did, shouldn't my life and my faith look like that?"

Mary's book eased this question more than any other experience I have had.

from Catherine Wiecher Brunell

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