Buy The Book

Toadstool Bookshop Indie Bound Amazon Barnes & Nobles Powell Books Random House



"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


Submit your response here.


Thank you for sharing this story with the world

I love this book! I could hardly put it down. Having spent some time in a religious community myself, I could relate to many of the incidents between the sisters - and especially between sisters and their superiors. The Missionaries of Charity are so well known throughout the world. It was fascinating to see what really goes on behind the scenes.

I used to think Mother Teresa's "dark night of the soul" was genuine, but now I'm not so sure. It seems more like something she brought on herself by not being open to the working of the Holy Spirit. Of course, she thought she was open - but in many ways, she allowed herself to be controlled by the Pope, by Church teachings/traditions and by the wishes of certain senior sisters. While we think of her as so holy, she had her weaknesses like anyone else.

from Lisa M. Drago

Click to read more ...


Your courage, humor and skill moved me 

I just finished reading "An Unquenchable Thirst." It moved and spoke to me as few other books have. Please permit me to share a bit about myself. I was born in 1954 and graduated from a Jesuit high school in 1973 and married my high school girlfriend. After 40 years together I walked away from a 25 year marriage vow. She has a much better elevator conversation, as did the MC's, when you left.

The nuanced literary memoir which you have crafted captured what many Catholics of our generation experienced: a legitimate and fervent attempt to live a moral life in a flawed and ultimately destructive paradigm. The failure to adhere to this paradigm has left us with a huge amount of psychological and spiritual dissonance. This is offset by the joy of living an authentic life which more closely mirrors true Christian ideals. Your courage, humor and pure literary skill have moved me greatly.

from Michael Barrack

Click to read more ...


It sure is all about love

> I just finished listening to your book. I have a reading problem and ironically I misread what this book was when I borrowed the CDs from the Library. What I thought the book contained was the writings of Mother Teresa and perhaps some of the letters she had written where she doubted her faith. Well, what a happy fault that was, as I devoured Mary's story. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I have a lot in common with you. I am from Detroit Michigan, play guitar (make my living now repairing string instruments), and I was in a religious order years ago. --from Elaine Filion

Click to read more ...


Leaves the reader with a deep insight into the human condition


Mary Johnson's "An Unquenchable Thirst" is a compelling story that is at once highly personal, and at the same time, timeless. It is the story of the author's journey through her 20+ years with the Missionaries of Charity, but it is also the story of a young woman struggling to find a direct connection to God, and ultimately to love. It is the story of anyone who has ever questioned a life choice, and it is also the story of anyone who has ever committed with all of their soul to that very same choice. The book is emboldened by an unflinching honesty and self-reflection that Mary displays on every page. Were it not for Mary's unrelenting ability to expose her deepest truths, the story would not have had such an effect upon its reader. - From Kate Jackett

Click to read more ...


Every part of your book provoked a memory

I was very excited about your book. I would like to thank you for your work and to tell you something about my journey through life.

My name is Zdenek and I am 83 years old. I came to the USA (from what is now the Czech Republic) with my whole family at Christmas 1981. You said your first word in Italy was CIAO, my English contained only - I LOVE YOU, THANK YOU.  Speaking or writing English is very difficult for me. But I don’t have a problem reading English and instead of watching TV, I like to read.

So, when I read somewhere that a nun from Mother Teresa’s order wrote a book An Unquenchable Thirst – ah cha – I have to read it. -From Zdenek Ondracka

Click to read more ...


I recognized myself in her story

“I’ll dive right into the book,” I promised Mary Johnson when, unexpectedly, she handed me a copy of An Unquenchable Thirst. Hearing Mary read from the manuscript two years earlier at an A Room of Her Own Foundation retreat had aroused so much curiosity about her life as a nun with Mother Theresa that An Unquenchable Thirst suddenly became the focus of my upcoming short vacation in a place I can never get enough of: Santa Fe. For four days, I couldn’t wait to get back to my bland Motel 6 room in order to pick up where I had left off that morning. Of course the book did reveal much about Mary’s experience. What surprised me was the extent to which I recognized myself in her story. Although I have operated in the lay world and Mary within a religious order; we both have experienced inadequate self-esteem, displacement, isolation, loneliness, subjugation to the rules of a different community. -From Thordis Niela Simonsen

Click to read more ...


Reminds me of why I have always needed to read books

"An Unquenchable Thirst" reminds me of why I have always needed to read books. Without them, and without your book, the loneliness of being human is insupportable. Thank you for writing. I hope you continue to do so.

from Jane Summer

Click to read more ...


Book opens new channels of honesty, awareness and courage

In my meditation this morning from Thich Nhat Hanh's book, "Living Buddha, Living Christ" I thought of you and your groundbreaking book once again. It seems almost every where I go to these days, I find you, your courage and your wisdom. . . .
Your book seems to be opening up new channels of honesty, awareness and courage for me and my path of recovery from dogmas I grew up on.

Thank you for this key.

Kathleen O'Brien Lawrence

Click to read more ...


Not Just for Women

The book reflects Mary's continuing journey of healing and discovering herself, as though the book needed to be written not just for the reader, but by the author for herself. I sensed an experiential invitation into the depths of myself, through looking into Mary's thoughts and feelings, to explore the tensions in myself between an early sense of vocation to professional ministry - at aged 15 - and the conflicting thoughts and feelings I lived with in that vocation, until I left at age 49. I, like Mary, could not escape the questions that the institution judged one faithless to ask – questions not only about theology, including the God-image, but archaic, prejudicial views on gender and sexuality maintained by a male hierarchy. The book was instrumental in my continuing to discover who I am apart from identity as a religious cleric, as well as what I believe in regard to the religion I was given early in life, but could not encompass my heart-felt passion to serve and love all peoples equally. Mary's kindly forthright handling of her subject matter offers persons an invitation to forgive. . . .from Arem Nahariim-Samadhi

Click to read more ...


Free to think and question and love

What a book! Mary's story is so compelling, and I was always rooting for her to keep questioning, wondering, and, most of all, loving. The book also prompted me to revisit memories of my own experiences within the Catholic Church. 

I grew up vaguely Catholic. My parents didn’t take me to church, but I had very influential grandmother whose Catholicism was central to her self-identity. She insisted I go to "CCD" and instilled in me a twin reverence/fear regarding all the rules – and all the mystery too – of the Catholic Church. - from Ellen Olson-Brown, M.Ed., 

Click to read more ...


Former Mormon Identifies 

I just finished listening to your memoir. I really enjoyed listening to your story. Your words are inspiring and give me a lot to think about. I could relate to your feeling of suffocation in your final days as an MC. I had similar feelings 10 years ago when I had to make a difficult decision to leave a group. I was born when my parents were Mormon (I'm the 8th child out of 9), but they left the church when I was a young child. I have been a Unitarian Universalist since 2006 and my wife is Catholic and we are raising our two sons Catholic. Since I was a child I've gone back and forth about what I believe - oscillating between atheist, agnostic to believing. At this point I do believe there is something beyond ourselves - some greater force in the universe - but I don't think organized religion or going through Jesus or anything is necessary for salvation, so to speak. I think the biggest reason I believe in something is because of the story of Edgar Cayce. ...From Roy Ruhling, 

Click to read more ...


A Brave Tale of Angst and Existentialism

Only two books have I ever read in less than 24 hours forsaking sleep for: The da Vinci Code and Mary Johnson's, An Unquenchable Thirst. That they both deal with subjects Catholic must mean something. I was raised in Central Kansas a first generation American by a Roman Catholic mother and a Maronite Catholic father. Catholicism was not only religion but culture. As a young adult I never doubted the existence of God but I did question if the Holy See was the best path. I found Ms. Johnson's account of her two decades with the Missionaries of Charity, trying to answer God's call on her life, a brave tale of angst and existentialism. Most people would have given up early in the process and yet she persisted in living the life she felt called to. What sets her apart is that when her life no longer made sense to her or fulfilled her desire to make a profound difference in the world, she was brave enough to make a change and -From MJ Drush

Click to read more ...


Gender Studies Professor Observes MCs

What a gripping book.  I typically have trouble reading nonfiction, but I coudn't put this down.  Ms. Johnson, the honesty and courage of your story and its telling are inspiring.  While I was raised in a secular family, I found a lot to relate to in "An Unquenchable Thirst", as will other intelligent, dutiful girls and women who worry their looks make them unlovable.  A particularly bright student of mine in an American literature survey course once observed that the dynamic the Puritans imagined between themselves and God resembles an abusive relationship, and I couldn't help but think of this as I read about the rigid hierarchy, orthodoxy, and seeming masochism of the Missionaries of Charity.  

...From Melissa Strong.  Melissa Strong is an English professor specializing in American literature and gender studies.




Vivid Portrait of an Idealistic Young Woman

I have to admit that memoir is not my thing. Most of the time I find them to be a bit self-serving and uninspiring. Not so with this book. I felt compelled to write this little review after reading others online. A few people complained that the book was "too graphic." Nonsense. If you want to see Mother Teresa and her nuns walking on water and singing Kumbyaa, then go ahead and hold onto your fantasies of rainbows and unicorns. If you want to see a vivid portrait of an idealistic young woman who matures into a real flesh-and-blood woman with doubts, hopes, and expectations, and does so while serving with one of the world's great mythical holy women, then read this book. 

This is an engaging read. I wanted to say that I couldn't put it down, but the fact is that I could, for good reason. I read, I reflected, I picked it up again, and read some more. There's no whitewashing here, but there is no overt bashing. To the naysayers, I say if you don't think this was a spiritual account of a woman's bright light and dark night of the soul, and if you can't see some of your own doubts and struggles, you are looking at a book to tell you what YOU want to hear, rather than what is the truth. Great read! Courageous. I’m anxious to hear about the next chapter of Mary Johnson's life.
From Marguerite Maria Rivas

Click to read more ...


Reaching for Truth Beyond Religion

I read an excerpt of your book in a magazine and it so resonated with me I purchased and read the book. I was a young convert to a very fundamental Christian church and spent 20+ years trying to live the life of faith it required, including marrying and raising my family within the belief system. At age 35, when I could no longer reconcile my intellect with my faith, I began the slow process of reaching for truth beyond my religion, or even a supreme being. It is daunting to leave a faith when banishment to eternal hell is your likely punishment. It took me years to extract myself, including ending my marriage. --From Connie Bradford

Click to read more ...


Thoroughly Engrossing

Mary Johnson’s book An Unquenchable Thirst is a thoroughly engrossing account of the inner workings of the Missionaries of Charity under Mother Teresa’s leadership. Rarely does one get such an objective account written by a person immersed in an organization for twenty years. Mary gives a firsthand narrative of events that reveal both the great sacrifices made by these women who give up all to join as well as the unpleasant warping of doctrine and political maneuvering inherent in any large organization. -- From Richard Price

Click to read more ...


What Mary's Memoir Taught Me

I just finished reading Mary Johnson’s book, An Unquenchable Thirst. I want to speak of it and of what knowing Mary has meant to me over the past several years as I've come to know her through A Room of Her Own Foundation events. 

For 20 years, Mary was an aspirant, and then a nun, in an organization in which individual expression was not a community value. Everything external worked to prevent her from becoming an artist. When I know that Mary has tiptoed downstairs at 5:00 on the morning of a retreat without waking me up, and when she devotes so much of her writing year to planning the next AROHO event, I remember that she has lifelong habits cultivated inside a kind of mind I will never experience. I am reminded of Sylvia Plath’s beehives in her five bee poems: a humming goes on inside “the mind of the hive,” while its singular work is sealed unseen, accomplished by many.  

Mary has taken the best of the convent mind and deployed it to serve in an alternate universe. Ours. She is a most extraordinary illustration of how stamina lifts talent. Her habits of preserving something of internal value while running a decade-long marathon allowed her to complete a draft of her first book; a proposal to an agent, a revised proposal for publishers; and the many revisions of her book—and to unearth and articulate the complex feelings of growing up in an cloistered, religious society—I would call it a “cult” if I didn’t think I would offend my Catholic sister-in-laws and friends. 

-- From Jayne Benjulian

Click to read more ...


The Rulebook Doesn't Lead to Holiness 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who respects the truth, and who likes a really good read. Mary Johnson grew from a naïve young woman to a very strong woman with a deep sense of self, despite the repressive system under which she lived. In order to remain true to herself and to her Creator, she eventually takes the very courageous step of leaving the Missionaries of Charity.

It is a fascinating journey and she shares it with great honesty and openness. Lest you think the author is exaggerating, I spent some time in religious life, and Mary’s words rang true to me. My Order was much more liberal and progressive, but there is always someone who thinks they can teach you humility by belittling you. Abasement doesn’t teach humility; it just promotes a poor self-image, which is a totally different thing. 
--From Patricia Jackel

Click to read more ...


A Psychiatric Nurse Applauds Book's Courage

I am a psychiatric nurse who has said for years that I am simply picking up the pieces of people battered by the church, and the deep Judeo-Christian roots of self-loathing, then teaching them to love every broken piece as we help them reconstruct themselves. Your book has validated not simply the abuse of power, but the depth of
mental illness in the Roman Catholic Church. It breaks my heart, and it angers me. I applaud your courage to tell the truth; to make it all three dimensional indeed. At the same time, this feels balanced in its approach. Your love of people and of God is evident. I think God had a very special purpose in calling you to the MC's. The world needs to move on to acceptance of the enormous blessing of our own incarnation. I have washed and tended the bodies and souls of hundreds of patients as a nurse of thirty-five years. That work, those bodies as well as the sacred fluids within them, are my piety. You have given much to the profession of nursing in this , Mary, and I thank you for that, too. This was very validating to me in my own decision to leave seminary three years ago, and return to nursing, yet again.
-- From Pamela Mitchell

Click to read more ...


Sister of Priest Relates to Author's Journey

A narrator, especially in a memoir, needs to be honest so that we, as readers, want to follow the journey. Honesty and integrity were infused throughout the narrative in your book. I appreciated reading about Mother Teresa, as well as yourself, as human beings trying the best you could to live a helpful life. Your real affection for her and she for you were apparent. I thought you depicted the kind of things I know of religious life, having a priest-brother and hearing his tales, and having priests stay at our house when I was a child, again as real people with concerns beyond their jobs. My brother was, to me, first my brother, then the man who stood on an altar offering mass. These people you write about are not cookie-cutter characters, they are individuals. Your bravery in going beyond and telling the most intimate details of lives denied human companionship on many levels, was important, I think, and you did it in a way that was both personal and private, matter of fact, not sensational, normal. 

Your book was infused with how you grappled with the distinction between duty to obey and the question of unwavering obedience, which translated to me as a larger question of individual freedom and blind faith. I related to your journey in my own transitions in belief systems from child-like faith to questioning, reflecting, pondering. "I wanted the opportunity to speak truth to power," you said. Power, if 'good' authority, understands truth, I think. 

-- From Teri Crane

Click to read more ...