Sheila’s Story, Part III
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.
In the fall of 2000, I began my ninth grade year as a “precandidate” (“PC”). I understood perfectly that I was there to discern my vocation: it was like Junior Nuns or something. A lot of the other girls didn’t see it that way at all: it was just a place you go when you’re serious about your faith, and some people get consecrated at the end.
Right at the beginning of the year, we had an orientation for several days where we learned all the rules we hadn’t been told in the summer program. They included things like these:
*No talking at all after night prayers, in the halls, in the dorms, or, obviously, in the chapel. This was called “absolute silence” and was strict enough that we would write notes if we needed anything. The rest of the day was in “relative silence” except for half of lunch, half of dinner, and a “conversation” or recess in the morning. Theoretically, we could talk during sports, except we were too busy playing sports.
*Permission had to be granted for pretty much everything. I still have notes detailing whom I had to ask for each thing. To read a book during evening reading time, I had to have it approved by my academic advisor (and write a book report when I was done); but if I wanted to read during free time, I had to choose a spiritual book which my spiritual director would approve. (Excuse me — spiritual guide. We originally had spiritual directors, but then mysteriously we had to call them spiritual guides all of a sudden. I later discovered it is against canon law to give spiritual direction to a minor. So we changed the name.) If I wanted to take an aspirin, I had to ask the vice director of my “section” (section 1, or underclassmen) to get permission, and then go to my assistant (advisor for my class, all the 9th graders) to have her dispense it for me. Needless to say I suffered through a lot of headaches rather than brave the long lines to go see someone to get permission for an aspirin! And if you were tired during the day, and wanted to use your 10 minutes of free time to take a power nap, you had to go all the way up to the director — who seriously intimidated me. I think I asked this permission once, and I was running a fever.
*We couldn’t talk to upperclassmen, nor they to us, except a couple of times a year.
*We weren’t supposed to have “particular friends,” but instead be equally friends with everyone. Since that’s a lot to ask of teenage girls, we had a rule to enforce this: you could never hang out with one other person during a conversation time. It always had to be three or more. The one exception was on the bus on our Saturday outings, because obviously the seats are in pairs. That was my favorite time all week, because I get a little intimidated by large groups. I can talk to one person forever, but in a big group I don’t always know what to say.
*All our letters home, and their letters to us, would be read by our spiritual directors. (I mean guides.) This was so our spiritual guides would know what was going on with us and be able to address any issues we had. It was also, occasionally, so that certain letters would not be delivered, or that we would be told not to answer them. I got a letter from a guy friend once, and felt heartbroken that I would not be allowed to reply because he was a boy. There was nothing between us, and I really felt it was unfair.
*We had to wear skirts all the time, no pants. (This is why I’m always getting involved in discussions about skirts!) During most of the day, we had to wear very dressy clothes, complete with nylon stockings and dress shoes. I liked the skirts fine, but was quite upset when I was told the skirts I had brought wouldn’t do. My assistant cleaned out my closet and came up with a big pile for Goodwill, and then took me shopping and made me buy all new things. I was happy to get new clothes, but I had liked the old ones fine, and I felt like I was being told my style wasn’t good enough. My assistant, whom I otherwise loved, laughed at some of my clothes and said I looked like Laura from Little House on the Prairie … she was going to make me look like a “real PC.” And I did. But I felt much less like myself.
*We had a special method for everything. Class work was done according to a specific methodology, and during our study time we had to follow certain steps. During our daily housework, which I otherwise enjoyed, we had to make programs detailing what we would do each day, and I was constantly urged to do it faster and better. Me, I just wanted to be left alone to do it my way. That is called pride and was very much discouraged.
There were so many rules, and so many of us, that there would have been no possible way to enforce them. So we were told, “No one will be watching to see if you obey the rules. It’s up to your conscience to make you do it. We are not forcing you to do anything; it’s your love for Jesus that makes you want to fulfill all the rules perfectly.”
I interpreted them this way: “No one is making you do the rules, so do what you can and don’t sweat the rest.” So that’s what I did. After a bit of adjustment, I started to really enjoy myself. I broke a lot of the rules. I didn’t study very much in my study halls; I just read my literature textbook and wrote poetry. Yes, even when it was time to study history — the horror! I didn’t know how to use my limited free time to get done all the stuff I needed to, so I mostly used it to wander around outside or write in my journal. I very properly wore my bathrobe over my pajamas when in the dorms, and never took my slippers off … except one night when I snuck out of bed and danced barefoot in the moonlight in the gym. We weren’t allowed to dance, so I was breaking a lot of rules there. But my conscience didn’t bother me in the least — I felt that the school’s rules were one thing, and God’s will was another thing. He wanted me to be there, but I didn’t think He cared particularly if I was wearing my slippers. After all, I wasn’t there to do any of that “Regnum Christi stuff,” I was there to take advantage of the prayer life and the opportunities I had to continue discerning my vocation.
So I did have some particular friends, whom I worked with each week organizing books, and I did what we absolutely weren’t supposed to do — confided in them. I told them about how my spiritual life and what I thought my vocation was. I got in a little trouble for that, though, because one of the girls had mentioned to one of the consecrated that our little group was “practically having spiritual direction together,” and we were split up. I thought at the time it was just chance, and didn’t think much more of it … though I did regret losing that fun time we’d had.
Because of my opposition to joining Regnum Christi, I just daydreamed during the part of the day when we read Fr. Maciel’s letters. I found them uninspiring. And when our morning prayers said, “Thank you for calling me to serve you as a member of Regnum Christi,” I always surreptitiously cleared my throat instead of saying “as a member of Regnum Christi.” I wasn’t one, I wasn’t called to be one, so why did the prayer assume we all fit into that box?
During our classes on “methodology” and the apostolate, I secretly critiqued everything. The principle “vertex to base,” which means you try to “win over” people with leadership potential so that they will bring in others, seemed very wrong to me. I wanted to win over everyone, equally, not just leaders, and not treating some people differently from others. My mom had told me a long time before that she didn’t want to join Regnum Christi because she wasn’t their “type”: they were all classy, alpha females, and that just wasn’t her. I thought she was just making assumptions based on a few people she’d met, but it turned out that wasn’t so: we were deliberately singling out people like that, and ignoring others. No wonder my mom wasn’t getting invited to their parties.
So I took good notes, aced the test, but kept my own mental reservations. I never said anything about it, never wrote anything down even in my journal, but I thought about it an awful a lot. I mainly just enjoyed myself, learned a lot in school, had friends (albeit not “particular” ones), went to the beach, sang in the choir. My life was busy, but it was full in a way it hadn’t really been before. I liked it.
But after awhile, the cognitive dissonance did begin to get to me.
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.