A nun’s story
Sixty-eight-year-old Sister Mary, who left her Catholic
congregation in Kerala 13 years ago in disgust after 40 years of nunhood, is
ready with her exposé. In a biographical sketch titled Nanma Niranjavare
Swasthi, to be released next week, she heaps more ignominy on the Church.
Sister Mary talks in vivid detail about the extreme pain she
had to endure during her tenure with the congregation: physical and
psychological oppression, the sexual permissiveness and abuse prevalent among
some of the nuns and priests, and the harassment she faced for sticking
to her values and commitment to service.
She also talks about the miserable sense of abandonment,
rather than sacrifice or service, that some of the nuns feel.
For the Catholic church in Kerala which is already under
attack with a wide range of allegations ranging from oppression of its nuns,
abuse, suicides and inappropriate sexual behaviour, the new book will certainly
be further bad publicity.
Two biographical accounts; one by Jesme Raphael who gave up
the nun’s robes after 26 years of service (2009) and another by a male priest, KP
Shibu Kalaparambil who left after 24 years in white (2010); had in the recent
past, dented the reputation and order of the Catholic Church. Both of them had
explosive revelations including sexual exploitation of women and men.
In her memoirs Sister Mary, born in the Palai area of
eastern Kerala, describes how she wanted to be a nun at the age of 13 and ran
away from home to a Catholic congregation. Although she “found her path of
service at the altar of the god”, what awaited her was four decades of
hardship, betrayal and absolute disappointment.
Unable to take it anymore, she abandoned her robes in 1999
but continued her service to humanity by establishing a modest orphanage at
Wayanad in north Kerala. According to Jose Pazhukaran, the writer who helped
Mary put together the memoir, she literally begs door-to-door to raise
the resources for her orphanage. “She is now doing what she couldn’t accomplish
as a nun – to serve humanity and be a mother to abandoned children,” says
“There was a lot of unbearable pain and humiliation. Some
ran away, some committed suicide. I endured all the pain because of the
priest’s words at my first communion as a nun – you should be ready to follow
the path of Jesus Christ. These words are still throbbing in my heart and that
is why I am a mother of orphans,” says Sister Mary.
Firstpost has gained exclusive access to the excerpts of the
book to be published next week by Kairali Books, Kannur.
Translations of two chapters of the book are given below:
Those who read sex magazines
Some of the nuns used to read books with filthy pictures. I
used to wonder how they laid their hands on them. Once I noticed that one of
the nuns mostly stayed in her room with the doors bolted.
She was very good looking and otherwise active, but I didn’t clearly understand the “clandestine things” she was up to.
One day, I found out that she was reading a filthy magazine. A magazine that had pictures of naked men and women. I was very upset.
Once you pledge yourself to be a nun, such temptations can
compel you to give in. Privately, I admonished her and warned her that she
should not repeat it, lest I should tell the the matron of the provinciate. I
also promised her that I wouldn’t tell anybody. I used to wonder who got them
I also resented the male priests coming to the convent
without any reason. I really didn’t like how some nuns spent so much time with
them and flirted with them. I thought that it could lead them to wrongdoings
that could bring disrepute to the congregation. I complained to the mother, but
she kept evading it.
Most of the time, what you saw if you accidentally walked
into a room of the nuns was shameful. I haven’t seen even a handful of them who
were chaste. I just told myself that what comes from flesh has to be flesh.
There was this church hospital at one of the convents when I
spent my time there. The hospital was adjacent to the church. I came to know
that a doctor at the hospital and a nun had an affair. Once when a patient was
brought to the hospital in a critical condition, the doctor was found missing.
We, the nuns, frantically searched for him; but he was nowhere to be seen.
Knowing their closeness to each other, I somehow felt that
he would be closeted with the nun somewhere. Finally, my search led to a room
from which I heard hushed voices. I brought them out of the room and angrily
told them that such behaviour wouldn’t work.
I didn’t know what they were doing in the room, but I am
sure it wasn’t something good. I told him that a doctor is worthless if he
cannot attend to a patient in an emergency.
Many others also advised the nun that she could get out of the robe and marry so that the congregation’s name is not sullied. The mother, an Italian named Luccia, was informed too. I told her in Italian that those two had been carrying on for a while and they should be thrown out.
The issue simmered for some time and both the doctor and the
nun went back to their old ways. Subsequently, the doctor even threatened to
kill me. But, almost everyone seemed to side with them and I felt isolated. I
just had to ignore what was happening.
They got married later and the nun left the congregation.
I was really disgusted with the way the convent worked and
was really reluctant to continue there. It even affected my taking the
communion and my confessions. I felt disgusted the way some uncommitted priests
conducted the church rituals. They were plain perfunctory.
There was a practice of assigning daily duty for everyone in
the convent. To avoid work that they didn’t like, such as farming, some nuns
stayed in their rooms. They mostly seemed to feel that they had lost something
40 years of my life as a nun went through such contradictions.
Right from my childhood, I handled the difficulties I faced
without letting my family and others know. Therefore, this sense of aloofness
was growing in me. In fact, I realise only now that on such situations Mother
Mary was giving me the mental strength.
Those who didn’t oblige the priests were always in trouble.
They get pained in some way or the other. Some think that the oath of
discipline that you take while accepting the nun’s robe is to be subservient to
Such an incident happened to me as well. As somebody who had
thought of Jesus Christ as the only savior since the age of six, this
experience pained me immensely.
This incident, in which a priest tried to molest me and I
hit him with a wooden stool in self defence, became a big issue at the
congregation. Although I was the one outraged, in their eyes, I was the
culprit. The unwritten rule was: whatever the priests did, nobody could
I was only twenty then.
The incident happened at the Chevayaoor convent. There was
this practice of serving breakfast to the priests after the morning communion.
Sometimes, it was sent to the church. The nuns needed to take turns to cook for
them and serve them.
I used to get nervous whenever my turn came because I wasn’t
good with cooking and would certainly be criticised for that. Nobody used to
help me or advise me. Instead, they seemed to get some vicarious pleasure by
pointing out the mistakes. I used to find it very painful.
Okay, let’s get into the incident. Once, I was assigned to
cook and serve a priest who finished the communion (I don’t want to name him
though). I went to the dining hall with egg curry and ‘appam’. He came in,
washed his hands and bolted the door before taking his seat.
He asked me to serve; but sensing some mischief, I stayed away. When he persisted, I started shivering with fear. At that moment, I deeply hated the rule that one should obey whatever the priests orders.
The priest got up, came to me and grabbed my hands.
Don’t you know all this, Sister Mary?, he asked.
When I cried, he tried to pull me close to his chest. I
relieved myself and ran, but he chased me around the table. I really got wild
as I used to do when I was a child on such situations. I got hold of a wooden
stool in front of me and hit him hard.
It fell on his head and he started bleeding profusely. I got
both sad and scared although I did it in self-defence – he was a priest. I
screamed in fear and rushed out of the room and told everyone what happened.
But most of them appeared indifferent and started scolding me.
“What did you do, are you out to shame the congregation?”
When they went into the room , the priest was on his chair,
speechless and drenched in blood. He was taken to the Kozhikode
medical college hospital where it was reported that he fell in the bathroom.
I was the target of tremendous ire after that incident. When
everybody walked away from me as if I was a proclaimed offender I prayed hard.
But when I realised that it was the way things worked, I really got scared that
I was trapped in serious danger. Since then, I was marked; a thorn in the flesh
for the congregation.
Opposing wrongdoings was my character and that was the
reason for all the conflicts that I faced in life as a nun. I wasn’t ready to
blindly accept the priests and the church without looking at their deeds.
Sensing the situation I was in, Father Peter called for me
one day. I told him every thing. I cried a lot in front of him. He consoled me
and advised me to handle the Church and people with restraint.
But, the other nuns by then had branded me as a rogue.
Nobody pointed out what was the ground for my disobedience. Since then, I was a
nuisance for them. Sister Betty was the only consolation.
Since I was termed disobedient right from my stay at the
novitiate, my nunhood had to wait for six months. The priests believe that they
had the complete control of the nuns. They believe that they are the ultimate
owners of the Church, its properties and the believers.
When people get sexually exploited, their belief gets
affected; that is what is happening now. Some people commit suicide when they
are unable to cope with this reality.
The priest who was hit by me is a good friend now and calls me often to enquire about my well being. He also tells me that my response has reformed him.
Nanma Niranjavare Swasthi
(From Fisrt Post)