Touting a scurrilous podcast, Michelle Goldberg in her column in the New York Times last Friday (May 21) mused whether Mother Teresa of Calcutta was actually more of a cult leader than a saint. In so doing, Goldberg displayed her ignorance of the woman, the Christian meaning of human suffering, and, most of all, the inspiration for her work. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity to bring the love of God to the poorest of the poor throughout the world. For over 70 years, the MCs, as they are affectionately known, have provided compassionate care to the dying and those suffering from malnutrition, leprosy, AIDS, and, now, COVID.
Danger is nothing new to Mother Teresa’s nuns. They freely assume such risks—even life-threatening ones. Their missions in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Haiti, and other countries torn by violence place these women in harm’s way every day. Several have been killed in the line of duty. Those who enter the MC convent do so knowing that they will receive no salary or health insurance but instead depend entirely upon divine providence for all their material needs. Despite the heroic sacrifices asked of them, the MCs are known for their joy and cheerfulness, and a surprisingly small number of them have quit the convent.
But one who did apparently has a score to settle. Mary Johnson, who left the MCs in the 1990s, wrote about her experiences in an obscure book that now is the basis for a new, ten-part podcast, The Turning: The Sisters Who Left. Johnson, an atheist, was not your standard nun during the years she professed faith in God. She once described her state of mind in the convent as follows: “I wanted intimacy, I wanted sex...I was tired of looking at these desires as temptations. They seemed so full of God, not the devil.” Johnson was free to pursue those desires out in the world and leave the MCs any time she wanted. But she didn’t. Instead, she chose to remain an MC and break her vows. She claims she had a sexual tryst with a priest. She lied to Mother Teresa when confronted by a report that she had been discovered in bed with a woman under her supervision. All of this is in Johnson’s book, including other ways she betrayed Mother Teresa’s trust, not to mention eavesdropped on her. Through it all, Mother Teresa treated Johnson as kindly as Jesus treated Judas.
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