This is one of a thirty part exposé on the Children of the Legion. This group of women, then girls, in the Regnum Christi, share their stories of abuse, neglect and the aftermath of being children in the Regnum Christi. For a complete list of stories to date, view Children of the Legion.
When I was in Kindergarten, my favorite teacher was Sister Vincent, the Music and Motion instructor. She gave the best hugs – which I really needed in Kindergarten because I had no idea what was going on most of the time, and that can be scary when you’re six. Sister Vincent and I became pals, and soon I declared my intention to be a nun. This got a lot more attention than I had expected, so I kept saying it, and saying it, and saying it, and eventually it became true. I visited lots of convents as a pre-teen.
My parents were thrilled. By the time I was 12, I was pretty bored by my sheltered life as a home school kid with no extra-curricular activities. I was ready to go out and slay the world.
And that’s when I met the Consecrated. Pairs of them came to visit us every few months. They gave me lots of attention and told me wonderful stories about the life of a Precandidate – a girl who renounced the world and joined a band of sisters to discern a vocation and be trained in the ways of God, a girl who gave her heart to Jesus so he could mold her into his instrument. The picture they painted was irresistible. I had to go. I attended a couple camps and retreats, and I was always treated like a VIP, and given special jobs and special time with the consecrated. By the time I was old enough for the Summer Program, wild horses couldn’t have kept me out of the PC. I was 14 when I arrived in RI – 3,000 miles away from my home and my family.
I knew from the start that I was staying for the year, for all the years of highschool and then I was going to get consecrated. Why else leave my family? And my family seemed a lot less boring now that I was so far away. I cried myself to sleep every night for months and months. I especially missed my little sister, who had always been at my side. I was constantly turning around to make a joke or criticize someone’s clothes and finding an empty spot where she should have been.
Despite my homesickness, the first few months were easy. I knew I was doing the right thing, and the Consecrated were so nice to all of us, and the other girls were so much fun. The rules were hard, but it wasn’t the end of the world if you didn’t follow them perfectly. Then things began to change. The Consecrated weren’t so tolerant of chatting in the hallways. They started insisting that I walk and sit and talk “like a lady.” My human formator started hassling me about waxing my facial hair and losing the five pounds I’d gained that summer. First it was once a week, then it was once a day, then I started hiding in closets when I’d see her, because every time she’d lay eyes on me she’d want “a little talk.” Eventually I broke down and did what she wanted.
I started to feel really lonely. We had less and less free time, until finally, free time was the time you spent brushing your teeth, using the toilet and walking to and from meals and activities. The time we did get to spend working and playing together with our friends was precious. We had sports every day, which I hated. I’m a complete clutz and I’m 5’2” on a tall day. 30 minutes of basketball every day was 30 minutes of Chinese torture. But it was basketball or nothing, so I’d pick an unobtrusive part of the court and try to stay out of everyone’s way. I had no exercise outside of walking to activities. When we had an outing on Saturday it was like Christmas. We could sing whenever we wanted, we could run, we could talk to each other. It was always so depressing to come home and put on nylons again and go to the chapel.
Oh, how I hated the chapel! We were always supposed to begin with a “balance,” an examination of conscience. We all had little books we were supposed to use to write down our sins, and we all had a program (I think that’s what we called it), that spelled out our biggest failing and all the little failings that fell under it. Every year when I made mine, my spiritual director helped me see that I was overflowing with pride. I knew I was proud and independent and a little cynical, but it was hard for me to see my natural personality as a character flaw. So every day, several times a day, I would kneel in the chapel and look at my outline of sins and try to figure out how to do better when better seemed if not worse, at least unnatural. It was unbelievably depressing. Not only was I lonely, I wasn’t good enough, by nature.
But my relationship with Mary and with Jesus in the Eucharist was supposed to make up for my loneliness and my depression. So I put all my energy into trying to get the love and friendship I needed from voices in my head.
I’m relating all of this as if I came up with it on my own, but I didn’t. We had “directed meditation,” in which consecrated would think out loud for us while we knelt in the chapel, we listened to countless formal talks, Gospel something or other where we would read from the letters of the Founder and listen to the consecrateds’ thoughts about the passage, spiritual reading, where we’d read an assigned religious volume, spiritual direction every week, and “little chats” with a consecrated who was in charge of my studies, one who was in charge of making me look like a proper little consecrated, and one other who I think was supposed to help me be better at recruiting other girls to the PC… it’s been so many years, it’s hard to remember every detail. My point is, these ideas did not spring from my own fertile imagination. They were carefully placed there.
The pressure built and built and built. The more years I was there, the more panicked I became that I wouldn’t make the cut for consecrated. I needed to get with the program and conform if I wanted to fulfill God’s will for me. So I tried harder and harder. I gave up my thoughts and desires, I knuckled under and shut up and quit asking uncomfortable questions. I was silent during silence, and I never said inappropriate things when we were allowed to talk (that’s the one that really killed me). I spent more time in the chapel. I was the last to leave the chapel for breakfast, I rushed faster and faster through my morning and evening prep so I could have a few extra minutes there. I stood in front of the statue or picture of Mary as long as I was allowed, trying so hard to feel what I knew I should feel.
And I got migraines. It started with just a few, then they multiplied and got more and more severe. I didn’t know what they were, and they scared the crap out of me. I thought I had a brain tumor. I was sure I was dying. They literally paralyzed me, gave me intense panic attacks, I saw lights and heard voices, I would get facial ticks, and the pain was so bad at times that I couldn’t help but yell and cry, even during almighty Absolute Silence. My spiritual director advised me not to tell my parents since we were both sure they’d fly me home immediately. The migraines went on for 6 months before I finally asked my mom for help. In all that time, no one rushed me to the ER when I would daily collapse in the hallway or slump over at my desk or in my pew. No one called my parents, no one offered to schedule a doctor appointment for me. No one called my parents. I was 16.
My parents arranged for me to see a doctor in RI, and at one point I remember going to the ER. The doctors didn’t seem to know what was wrong, and of course I didn’t really tell them my symptoms because I didn’t want to be a whiner. I figured the tests would show I had cancer and we’d go from there. Since I hadn’t told my parents the pain I had been in for so many months, I was reluctant to tell them how bad it was. I said I was having these episodes occasionally, and I wasn’t sure what they were. My mom was fairly certain they were migraines, and gave me some tips for alleviating and avoiding them. I waited a couple more months, still suffering daily, debilitating migraines, but at least feeling somewhat comforted that I probably didn’t have a malignant tumor. They continued to increase in intensity and frequency, until my right foot was difficult to lift when I walked to the showers in the morning. It was decided that I should go home for a cat scan since the insurance would cover it in CA, and so I left the PC, promising I would be back in a few weeks. The day I came home, I stayed in bed to recover from the trip and the raging migraine. The next day I had a headache, but no other symptoms. The severe and constant migraines of the Precandidacy were apparently only a PC phenomenon, because while I had headaches at home, I only had the massive attacks while under great stress – for instance, immediately after fighting with my parents, who wanted me to stay home from the Precandidacy for good. At home, I had a few tests and a few doctor visits, and it was determined that I had serial migraines, though no one suggested they could be stress-related.
I eventually persuaded my reluctant parents (with full support of the consecrated, who were calling me at least once a week, and making sure I got a constant stream of letters from my favorite PC’s), and back I went. The migraines started again the first day at the Precandidacy. They got worse and worse until I couldn’t participate in any activities at all. I finally broke the news to my parents after several more months of misery, and came home again six months before graduation. That broke my heart. I figured that I would grow out of the migraines at some point and be able to return and get consecrated, but Fr. Bannon wrote me a letter a few months after I left and told me it was unlikely I had a vocation. That was news to me. I figured he was too busy to bother with me, and I still intended to get well and go back.
The rest is a story for another day.
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.