Sheila’s Story, Part VI
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.
I left you all on a cliffhanger at the end of Part V for quite a long time … sorry about that.
Changes were pretty frequent during those years. The school was still relatively new — I think less than ten years old — and we were still working out what the rules would be. So we would be called into the conference room and told, “Spiritual direction is now spiritual guidance,” or “Section I and Section II are now called ECYD Section and Regnum Christi Section,” or “Your ‘face-to-face’ is now your ‘PC Prospect.'” Those ones weren’t that big of a deal. We would just have to start using the new word right away, and never use the old word anymore. We also weren’t supposed to talk about the change, because that would open things up to complaints. And we must never complain about changes, because that’s just part of being co-founders.
Other changes included an announcement that we were no longer going to read classic novels at lunchtime; that was due to a mistranslation of our statutes and we were really supposed to be reading lives of the saints. A disappointment to me (because we were in the middle of Captains Courageous), but not really a big deal.
The hardest changes to cope with were the yellow letters, or new destinations for the consecrated. We would get the announcement that a person was leaving, and be told who her replacement would be. If the replacement was there already (and she usually was, so that the announcement was expected), the change was effective immediately. Again, there could be no comparing of the old person with the new person. We would all miss the old person, of course, but comparing the two implies criticism of the old person, so we weren’t allowed to do it.
On this particular day, we were called into the conference room by our director, Maria Brackett. (This is her real name: the school only ever had two directors, so there would be no point in trying to disguise her identity.) I was pretty scared of Maria. She was very tall and had a rather frightening smile. At 33, she was one of the older consecrated women there. She was never harsh with me in any way, but I was still intimidated by her. However, when I had gotten a new haircut (finally cutting my hair short to be like the consecrated women, as most of us did), she took me up to her room with several of the other consecrated, where they styled my hair. It was a very big deal for me, being fussed over like that, and I had liked her well enough after that — though I was still a bit shy of her.
Anyway, her announcement was a huge shock to the entire school. She was leaving. She had gotten a new destination to go to Spain, and she would be leaving in a few days. Then she introduced to us our new director, Caroline Wilders.
Caroline was a little older than Maria, I thought she was very pretty. She also had a delicious British accent and could also speak French. She had been a doctor. While girls around me sobbed at the loss of their beloved Maria, I could only think, “Surely things will be much better now.” She just seemed so nice.
Unfortunately, I kept embarrassing myself around her the first week she was there. I loved her accent, but every time I was trying to imitate it (in admiration, not to make fun), she always seemed to appear right behind me. I even accidentally made fun of her one day, right to her face. At the time, I thought she would think I was immature and silly. It didn’t occur to me then, though it does now, that she might have thought I was angry Maria had left and was talking trash about her to the other girls. In any event it was a poor start.
Then we had our first outing with Caroline. I really tried to do my best, because I was sure she’d already been informed about me and my issues. I wanted to prove to her that I wasn’t so bad as all that, that I was trying my very hardest. But about halfway through the basketball game we were playing, I started wearing out. I slowed down and started jogging instead of running down the court … and then walking. I kept trying to spur myself to go harder, but it just wasn’t in me.
So Caroline noticed immediately and pulled me aside. I assumed she would say something kind and motivating, but she laid into me right away. “Don’t you love God at all? Why aren’t you doing your best?” I started to cry in shock and hurt. “No alligator tears,” she said. “That may have worked before, but it won’t work with me.”
Those words went right to the heart … I have never forgotten them.
That wasn’t the end of my problems with Caroline … but first I’ve got to tell you about something else that happened. I believe it was that spring, the spring of 2002. It was when we got a visit from our founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. We didn’t call him that, though — we called him Nuestro Padre, that is, “our father.”
We knew all about him, having heard stories of his saintliness and wisdom on almost a daily basis. We read his letters every day, and there were several pictures of him around the school. We heard about his amazing piety as a child, his love of sacrifice as an adult, and his heroism in founding this amazing gift to the Church, the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. Some of the stories bordered on the unbelievable — how he had foretold things before they happened, how he could read your soul (even through a letter, by analyzing your handwriting!) and how he didn’t speak any English because he’d forgotten it when he’d had a brain tumor removed. People went on pilgrimages to his old hometown, Cotija de la Paz, in Mexico. He was our hero.
I had always felt kind of iffy about such superlative praise for a human being, and one who wasn’t even dead yet. But I was told that “all movements feel this way about their founders” and that God had sent him to us to found the movement we were in, so we could only learn about God’s will from him. The frequent changes we had to deal with were all because of him fine-tuning the movement he had created in line with God’s revelation to him. And when I had decided to hand over all of my doubts about Regnum Christi and accept everything I was told whole-heartedly (because if it was God’s will for me to be there, everything that happened to me there was God’s will too), I made it a point to accept those parts, too. I didn’t understand everything, but I didn’t have to. I just had to make the choice to believe it all.
So when we heard he would be visiting us, we were all incredibly excited. Classes were canceled while we cleaned the school from top to bottom. The choir practiced and practiced (and my spiritual director, the choir director, berated us constantly until I cried). Everything had to be perfect.
Finally he arrived and we all gathered in the conference room to hear him speak. I was disappointed. Many of our pictures of him were out of date, and showed him either as a handsome young man, or at least a respectable old man. But the version we got was ancient and jowly. He had a bowl of hard candy in front of him, which he popped continuously, and he sat with his legs crossed (which Legionaries never do). It was such a let-down after all the handsome, professional priests who had come to speak to us before. His talk was the same. Someone was translating, but I could understand the original too. It was just a meandering flow of words … none of that fire and passion of his letters, or of the other Legionaries. I didn’t feel at all inspired. But I treasured up every word, in the hopes of finding something that meant something to me. Surely I could walk away with a sentence to tell the others when we rehashed everything later — some special word that God had meant just for me. I got some notes down, but nothing that seemed particularly special.
And then, the moment everyone was waiting for. We were all going to go up and kiss his hand. He was going to give each of us a rosary. I was excited as everyone else. Surely I would be able to detect the glow of holiness when I was at close range. Maybe he would look at me and I would know his faded blue eyes were reading my soul. It was a little scary! But nothing particular happened. I got my rosary, I kissed his hand, but didn’t feel anything special. Some other girls did manage to exchange a few words with him, but I had been too shy. Still, I got the rosary, and I clutched it to my heart, thinking, “I will have a relic of him when he becomes a saint!”
Those of you who know the things that came out later are probably feeling a little sick right now. I know I am. After he died, it was discovered that he was a fraud. He definitely had mistresses, and he probably abused little boys under his care as well. There was no halo to be seen because there was no holiness there. I have no doubt that he was once as charismatic as people say. But when old age robbed him of his charisma, there wasn’t a whole lot left to admire.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. At the time, though I had heard that “evil people” had said “terrible things” about our founder, I knew that this was because they were jealous and hated the work God was doing through him. It seemed obvious to me that these were false, because why would so many good people believe him and trust him unless he were really a good man? No, I assumed my lack of a spiritual experience when I saw him was simply my own unworthiness.
I think I’d better leave the story of how I came to leave for the next post!
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.