One of my joys in reading is that I can vicariously experience lifestyles different from my own. This memoir by a former nun in the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, made me feel as if I were sharing her lifestyle.
As a high school student, Mary Johnson read a Time magazine article about Mother Teresa and felt called to join her order of nuns. After her first year of college, she began her training, later taking her vows as Sister Donata. She served in the United States and in Rome (I had expected that she would go to India; I didn’t realize that Mother Teresa’s order of nuns had convents in so many countries.)
Her memory is remarkable; she vividly portrays the people whom she encountered and writes detailed, amazingly frank descriptions of her life as a nun, sharing both the positive and negative aspects of convent life. Donata dedicated herself to the ideals of the Missionaries of Charity and found much satisfaction in her life. She loved studying theology, teaching other nuns, and helping to rewrite the rules of the order. She found it rewarding to help the poor, and she had successes in training novices. She also treasured the opportunities to spend time with Mother Teresa. However, as an independent woman, Donata struggled with the rule of obedience. Often she had to follow rules which seemed senseless to her or which contradicted one another, and she found it hard to obey superiors whom she could not respect, despite Mother Teresa’s command, “Do not question.” At first, the Missionaries of Charity’s strict interpretations of the rules of poverty, which allowed her to own nothing, and chastity, which forbade any physical contact with anyone or any special friendships, were easy for her. In time, however, chastity became difficult, especially after she fell in love with a priest. Although a nun’s commitment is supposed to last a lifetime, Donata finally left the convent, feeling that she could not live a full, abundant life while being a nun.
(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)