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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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I only hope that I can be as honest and ready to grow as Mary 

Somewhere in the back of my mind there was a memory that a sister close to Mother Teresa had left the community and written a book about her experiences as she came to this decision. I didn’t know that person was Mary Johnson or that she was associated with A Room of Her Own foundation. 

On October 14, Mary was the moderator of a reading at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica. I went because I knew Genevieve Kaplan, one of the To the Lighthouse poet winners. Mary introduced their books in an intelligent and insightful way, holding up each book as she described how the writing and the covers suited each other and calling out how she had felt as she read each book. The sun began to set as it only does at the beach in Santa Monica. I didn’t know who Mary was, only that her approach as moderator was refreshing and heartfelt. Maybe there was a little something else I recognized.

When I got to the table to purchase some of the books, I saw An Unquenchable Thirst. Mary had said nothing about her book. I read some of the blurbs on the back and then everything clicked. This was the woman who had been a Missionary of Charity, a nun in Mother Teresa’s order. 

Until 1970 and for six years I had been a member of the Medical Mission Sisters. For two of those six years I studied Graphic Design in an art school and lived in a downtown Philadelphia apartment along with students in pharmacy, nursing, medicine and design. After all these years, I still felt somehow connected to Mary’s good will, openness and joy. I purchased her book and read it in under a week. I have time now. I am in the midst of a four-month long break from normal intimacy, while my husband is traveling and living in Europe. 

Then I am about to retire from an administrative position in a Los Angeles school of art and design. Like Mary, I needed a project after a dedicated life, even if mine was to students in an art school. And while I love writing poetry—I have 2 books and 2 chapbooks published—I want to turn a manuscript of an episodic memoir into a graphic novel. I have bitten off lots with this project but I don’t mind finding a way to make words and images work for each other, support the moments and stories I want to tell and let their secrets sing. I only hope that I can be as honest and ready to grow as Mary has been.

Barbara Maloutas’ published books and chapbooks are: the whole Marie, In a Combination of Practices, Coffee Hazilly, Practices, Her Not Blessed and most recently, of which anything consists. Her work has appeared in journals, writers on writing collections and poetry anthologies. She developed and supports the book arts program at Otis College of Art and Design.


Mary's honesty is inspirational

I came across Mary's An Unquenchable Thirst when I googled Amazon Books: Women, Religion, Memoir. Never for a moment did I expect to find a story about a nun, an ex-nun, and Mother Teresa. I was especially curious to read Mary's story as I had just finished writing my own memoir (working title: 'Veiled in Silence') about my experiences as a nun in the Roman Catholic Church and the Palmarian Catholic Church.

I bought Mary's book immediately, as an ebook, and spent the best part of the following two days reading from cover to cover. Her journey of faith and love as a woman and, more especially, as a nun is fascinating. And her honesty is inspirational.

Although I live on the other side of the world, Downunder, in New Zealand, it is wonderful for me to know that there are women like Mary - strong, unafraid and articulate.

I admire Mary's courage, revealed in her memoir. She tells her story with openness and honesty. Her example of sacrifice and love for the poorest of the poor is inspirational - the price of her belief in God, Church and Mother Teresa. She risks her all - vows, vocation, dreams and Faith, compelled by a maturing sense of her inner self, a self that demands something else, something more.

While a billion Catholics stay comfortably united to the Pope in Rome, Mary has stepped out of her sari and walked away from everything she loved.

Because I am an ex-nun too, I thank Mary for sharing her story, knowing perhaps a little more acutely than many, something of the pain and loss associated with her journey. I hope to meet Mary one day and talk face to face.

Maria Hall lives in New Zealand. She recently finished her own memoir. Maria writes:

Please visit my website for updates on progress and help me connect with the world. New Zealand is not so very far away - electronically at least!


Thank you for having written about your life so sincerely

"An Unquenchable Thirst" had attracted me so much even before I got it in hands because of my personal memories about thinking of joining the Missionaries of Charity myself back in 1998. After receiving the book it took me 5 days to read it - in spite of all the work at my job and with my family and kids at home. I just couldn't put it away until finding out what was the life I would have had if I had joined the sisters. I simply had to know.

I was just shocked to read how many personal trauma the vocation brings to the sisters. Being a student of English and German, I spent some time with them in Ljubljana, teaching them Slovene once a week for a year and spending a week in Zagreb to be a "come and see". The sisters I had met in Ježica (Ljubljana sisters house) seemed so fragile and tender like angels, always smiling, praying and being so nice. One Croatian, one Swedish and two Indian sisters, four sweet angels helping the poor in my country. 

In Zagreb I noticed that sisters or candidates must have a special calling for prayer, always praying on their knees, obeying everything without a thought, working hard (in my case I worked in the kitchen) and forgetting about yourself - there were some alcoholics who were cursing and saying bad things to one sister and she just did not react, she served the man with evangelical love. There were also about 10-12 postulants from Italy and Germany, teenaged girls who seemed to be friends, like singing, praying and being happy together as Christ's future brides. 

Myself, I was too logical and maybe stubborn, I did not like being commanded around, so I quickly found out that I would prefer to have a family and children and not become a sister. So I went home again after five days.

Mary has had a lot of courage to have spent 20 years in the congregation and found the courage to leave then. That must have been the hardest thing to do. Receiving the mail from Mother about disappointing Jesus, that was a huge psychological pressure. The reality of falling in love with a priest did not surprise me, what surprised me was that he practically almost promised to marry her but later did not. I guess he was too much of a coward to leave priesthood. Mary's honesty shocked me revealing her love for a fellow sister. This is a proof that every human being needs love and appreciation, not just psychological but also physical - that is sexual love. Churches seem to ignore this fact of Mother Nature.

The contrast of rich and poor is another issue in the book that touched me. The scene with the disabled man in the Vatican on those fancy seats that were usually meant just for the priests, cardinals etc... all the glamour and theatre about the church services... A lot of money spent on luxury, meanwhile the poor are not well looked after in MC homes because the money went somewhere else (the sisters work hard but do not have the means).

 To say of the poor that they should suffer even more for Jesus, that that would make Jesus happy... That is what one would not expect from him.

Furthermore, uneducated sisters are more obedient. They more blindly believe what their superiors say is "the will of God". They accept the penance more willingly. That tradition belongs to the Middle Ages. When one believes in Jesus' redemption, one should have known that Jesus himself did it all and it is not necessary to inflict themselves any more additional pain. Good God would not like it if he really loves his creatures as Christianity teaches.

Mary, thank you for having written about your life as an MC so sincerely. The "pain" of the truth will set us free; it helped yourself face your reality and it is helping others to face the true face of "quenching His thirst". You helped me a lot. My respect once again. I hope more books like this will follow by others ex-sisters and priests.

I'm also very happy that you've found your luck and love in a man who loves you. All the best in life! 

Irena Kokalj was born in 1968 in central Slovenia, in ex-Yugoslavia. she writes:

At the age of 18 I started searching for answers and thought becoming a nun could be a way to do something beautiful for God. Later, I changed my mind and became a teacher of English and German.

I got married. My husband is very skillful so we built a big house because we wanted to have a big family. We've got 6 live children; in between there were some miscarriages and a still birth baby boy. They are my little angels. If there is a place like heaven, I hope I'll meet them there as soon as I get there.

As a family we try to live a simple life, with own house and garden, finding our happiness in each other, in friends, music and sharing our love and pain with people we meet.


A Journey of Profound Spirituality

 I've tried several times to write of my own childhood "Grace" so to speak, and loss, of my conflicting and now dormant beliefs, but the musings of a disgruntled former choir boy doesn't quite have the gravitas of a young woman's sacrifice of self to God and Mother Teresa. What is similar is that I'm sure we both remember quite well when we believed, the emotion and joy of that feeling...and where, then, does all that go? Is it ever reconcilable? In my case I wonder if it falls in the realm of wearing coonskin caps ( I never did any such thing ) or believing fervently in Superman?

An Unquenchable Thirst is a journey of profound spirituality, of awakening consciousness, and is much more than a glimpse into the fascinating persona of Mother Teresa. It's brutally honest, in ways quite critical, but infused also with love, and ends in love. It's not at all simply about rejection. That the other principals of this story may not see it that way is rather telling. Mary is the one with the wide open eyes.

The timeline of her book ends of course before its publication, with a rather cold reception of Mary from her former Sisters, and obvious attitude that she no longer belonged. I'd be very curious to read a follow up, a post publication reaction to her account. I wonder just how tall and wide, the depth, of the wall that would be erected against such honesty.

- Marc Woods is an auto body technician in southern New Hampshire and happily lapsed Catholic.


Uncompromising honesty

I knew that I would like Mary's book. I have met Mary, and liked her when we me (though we don't really know each other). And the subject of the book was to me insurance that I would find the story interesting. She would be telling a tale so few people can tell, especially women of my generation, who were not turning to the sisterhood in high numbers. I planned to read it when I had some time, as for the last year almost all of my reading has been research for my own book project, and I've been avoiding books that stray significantly from my subject. Mary's memoir surely does!

When An Unquenchable Thirst won an award for best work of non-fiction in New Hampshire, I picked up a copy and took a little vacation from my research. It was a short vacation. I devoured Mary's book. In it she seems to be braiding together several stories, all of which make up a twenty year period of her life. Of course it is a coming-of-age tale, she joined the sisterhood when she was still a kid and of course, the two decades that follow, include a great deal of personal growth as she determines who she was and was not. It is also a coming-of-faith tale, as she naturally explores her faith as she matures.

from Tammi Truax

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I felt validated but also humbled by Mary's courage.

I picked up An Unquenchable Thirst during an especially tumultuous time for me as a writer. I'd been slowly querying a memoir I'd spent the last seven years working on, and I'd found myself unwilling to send out anymore requests. I questioned my motives for writing the book. I agonized over who I might hurt. I imagined the unkind comments people would post about me online, the awkwardness of future family events, the discomfort of living in a world where people knew way too much about me. Had I given away the answers to every possible online security question in my book?

In the midst of all this agonizing, I told myself that if I wasn't using my writing time to work at the very least I should be reading. When I opened An Unquenchable Thirst, I was hoping to forget my own book. I didn't expect to be motivated and inspired. I didn't expect come away changed.

from Huda Al-Marashi

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I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in what it means to be human.

You will never think of Mother Teresa in the same way again after reading this book. Mary Johnson's brilliant and shocking memoir gives us an intimate portrait of the cloistered world of the Missionaries of Charity, the organization Mother Teresa founded in 1950. Mary writes with immense bravery and honesty, sparing herself nothing in telling her story. Eager to devote her life to helping the poor and downtrodden, she joined the MCs at the tender age of 17 and spent twenty years as a sister in the organization.

The life of a nun is not at all what I naively expected it to be. I’ve always had this romanticized notion that nuns could spend all day in quiet meditation, set their own schedules, devote themselves to good works, and bond meaningfully with their sisters. Yet Mary writes of a daily schedule that left little time for sleep, let alone private time or friendship. In fact, privacy was nonexistent.

One of the things I found most shocking was the prohibition against friendship.

from Jennifer Steil

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Speaking Our Truths Always Leads To Healing

I'm proud to count author, Mary Johnson among my peers, in particular for overcoming years of misguided religious rules and observances which failed to inspire deeper spirituality, unconditional love and respect for the gifts each one of us is created with.

From the age of five to sixteen, I was sexually abused by an uncle, physically tormented by an alcoholic father and raised in Catholicism. After graduating high school, I trained for the priesthood, but at the age of 21 a sexual predator priest from my religious community sexually assaulted me. After exposing this predator priest, the Catholic church’s denials, and ultimate betrayals, steered me far away from pursuing my life as a priest. My story is detailed in UnHoly Communion-Lessons Learned from Life among Pedophiles, Predators and Priests.

from Hank Estrada

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You speak to a deeper vein that runs through all who care to live their life choosing love

As a magazine editor, I read a lot. And I write as well. Because my eyes are often tired from work-related endeavors, it saddens me that the time I spend reading “for pleasure” has diminished through the years. But when I do find a good book, I devour it! That was the case with Mary’s An Unquenchable Thirst.


Cam Mirasola is an editor in New Hampshire.

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I felt a kindred spirit

It was a sunny, warm late summer day in 1979. I was attending the 4 pm Mass alone and as I knelt near the statue of Mary, my thoughts were calm and free. I was at a similar age and time in my life when Mary Johnson received her calling. Suddenly, a voice that had no sound called to me. “I want you to be a nun.” I looked around and realized this voice was heard only by myself and quickly construed it was not a human source. Immediately I felt repulsed. “Eeew, no!” I responded quickly in an equally soundless fashion. “I want to be married, have children….” I felt bad. The soundless voice left me alone. I realized that God had called me and I said no. I was shaken, relieved and saddened.


from Doreen Notaro

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An exceptional journey in a world of secret and silence

If I had not seen and read Mary’s book I would probably never have dared to talk about my own experience with the Co-workers of Mother Teresa. You were brave to hang on for 20 years but you have also been very brave to talk about your story.

I never considered becoming a nun. I became aware of Mother Teresa shortly before she received the Nobel Prize. I was in my last high school years, and I came in contact with the association of French co-workers. My sister, Isabelle, was disabled, and someone suggested I join a group of suffering co-workers.

from Christine Verrier

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I found myself cheering for her

An Unquenchable Thirst both riveted and unnerved me. Mary Johnson tells a story that some may find sacrilegious because of the esteem Mother was (is) held in, but Mary finds a way to make certain that the woman from Calcutta's dignity, grace and holiness is maintained. 

The Sisters of Mercy of the United States raised me for all intents and purposes. When my father died in 1968 and my alcoholic mother remarried an abusive and angry man some four years later, the nuns that loved my father (and he, them) took me aside and made certain that I was brought up in a loving and nurturing environment.  Georgian Court University campus became my backyard and playground. It was during this time that I saw the human side of sisterhood we didn't get to see in our grade school:  tears, laughter, some arguments and always prayer, the Sisters lived in a community of real life, not void of the emotions and baggage that came with the solitude. I was able to see it and it made an impression.

from Bruce Novozinsky

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You are an inspiration of HOPE, Love and Faith

I randomly picked up your book from my library when I saw the title and Mother Teresa's name on the cover. I had no idea what I was in for. My new interest for biographies arose from somewhere but I can't say where. I mostly read Spiritual Psychology books and books that may inspire me to stay on my path of LOVE.

I am not a Catholic nor do I participate in any Religious groups, although I did in the past. I believe in God. Like you, God that IS the goodness in me. Your book has revealed so much and much of it I can relate to. I commend you for your courage to write with such honesty and dared to be bold. I admire that about you. You are an inspiration of HOPE, Love and Faith. Hope, Love and Faith in one self. With that being said, and for the lack of better words to describe your book and the impact of the message of HOPE, Love and Faith, I want to sincerely thank you. It was no accident that I picked up your book last week. It took me 8 days to complete listening to your voice, leaving me feeling, feelings I can't describe, except a reminder that "We are already powerful" and to feel empowered, we must use our powers. Thank you for sharing your story.

- Volene Persaud lives in Toronto, Ontario


Thank you for living an honest life and sharing it with us.

Thank you for being so open and honest in your book. I just finished it here on a Sunday morning and I skipped mass to finish it. I taught in both public and Catholic school and left to start my own teaching business for many reasons having to do with the top down approach in leadership. Your book gave me a better understanding of people in power and their weaknesses. It is too bad we can't seem to figure out how to give more roles in leadership to those who really know how to lead instead of giving the roles to those who know how to control.

Thank you for living an honest life and sharing it with us. I am sure Rosie O'Donnell will love your story as well as anyone who has been raised Catholic (anyone who is not Catholic will learn from it as well).

from Audrey Klein

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I was moved by your honesty

I cannot begin to tell you how moved I was while reading your book. You are amazingly brave to have shared the inner most details of your experiences.  I was raised a Catholic, although I do not belong to the Church any longer I still have grappled with my feelings. I have always been intrigued by Mother Teresa and wondered what it would have been like to have worked with her.

from Bernadette A. Sanders

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Thank you for sharing in such an honest way

I have read few books that have so moved me as yours. Thank you for sharing in such an honest way.  I can only imagine how hard and painful it was to write much of this book, but what a gift to the rest of us.

I recently told the story of my 14-year marriage to an alcoholic and addict to my Unitarian Universalist congregation as part of a sermon inviting the congregation to consider beginning an Recovery/Addictions Ministry.  While it doesn't compare to what you have done, I saw many parallels in your story to the one that I lived, such as the conflict that results when your inner truth doesn't match your day-to-day life, and the extremes to which our bodies will go to give voice to that truth.  Most affirming, however, was seeing in another's life the fullness of being that results from honest searching and then honoring the path that is right for you.

- Lynn Mumma


I see in your writing the emergence of your true self

Congratulations on your book, An Unquenchable Thirst. It was riveting and soul stirring!  I enjoyed reading every chapter and actually know many of the Sisters and priests in your story.  I have been involved with the M.C. since I first went to India in 1981 at age 24. I too had a deep need to know the work of Mother Teresa, and set out on my own to see and experience her work. From that experience, I returned home with a desire to know more and became involved with the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa. 

I first met Mother Teresa in 1986 at the USA National Co-Worker's Conference in St. Paul. MN.

I so appreciate your struggle in the community, your knowing that you couldn't stay, your difficult decision to leave something that you truly loved in order to live fully

fromVictoria Schmidt

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A beautiful book that holds boundless wisdom, vulnerability, and humility

The most powerful memoirs, in my mind, are those that make you hunger for the unfolding story, crave the language, and are executed in a way that makes you feel as if the narrator is an observer, balanced, almost omnipresent, even as the most intimate of details are shared.

Mary Johnson’s memoir, An Unquenchable Thirst was this kind of book for me. As a writer myself, even if I had had no vested interest in the subject matter of Mary’s book, I would have appreciated it for its sheer craft. I found myself crawling into my bed each night, unable to stop reading. However, I had a vested interest. Like so many others, I have traveled my own complicated journey with religion, and so I appreciated Mary’s profound story, which is, by all accounts, unique, given the depth of her commitment to religious life (becoming a nun) and her relationship with the iconic Mother Teresa. And while unique, I think the story is mostly compelling because it is, at its root, a story about learning to first listen to, and then honor, one’s own, sacred, internal voice.

When I was a kid I yearned for the Catholic Church with its fractured light, incense-scented air, holy water, and elaborate altar dressing. I was raised Lutheran, on the prairie, and my home church was, by comparison, plain.

from Melanie Hoffert

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We are all just humans in search of something greater

I listened to An Unquenchable Thirst as an audio book in my car. Living way up north in New Hampshire gave me ample time to listen while driving all over the state. In fact, I found myself looking for excuses to just get in my car and drive to the oddest places so that I could continue the story. Long after finishing Mary's book, I thought about it. I felt a desire to talk about it to other friends and found her story fascinating on many levels.

First, Mary's story is honest, perhaps even when it may have been uncomfortable to do so. Second, we all search for love, meaning, and whether we believe in God in life.

from Heather McLean

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Many forget that the church is an institution . . . a theocracy is just another power play

Convent politics are an old genre. I remember reading them in high school when they tended to be intermixed with the issues of WWII, all the passion and debris of human aspiration and suffering. They made great movies, esp. all those crippled and emotionally shattered men and the angels in white who moved among them. And then, later, who can ever forget the evil nun of Louise Erdrich’s tales of the rez and their dueling sorcerers?

An Unquenchable Thirst about Mary Johnson’s struggle to survive in the religious order founded by Mother Teresa is interesting because it IS about Mother Teresa -- such a puzzle, that woman -- and because it’s against the backdrop of the modern crisis of the global Catholic church as it tries to hold its configuration in a molten world. So many forget that the church is an institution: the furnace and not the fire; the stove and not the heat; a means for managing something quite inhuman that humans seem able only to touch glancingly.

from Mary Scriver

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