Abused as a young girl by a Catholic priest, debut memoirist Dispenza sets out to reassemble her life’s “invisible pieces of spirituality and sexuality.”
Beneath scenes of a mostly happy childhood—lessons from her aunt in buying fine china, choosing the best seats on the school bus her mother drove—Dispenza harbored a terrible secret: from the age of 7, she was repeatedly raped by her priest, Father George Neville Rucker. After her first harrowing encounter, Dispenza studied her reflection in the school bathroom only to find that the “little girl at the sink and the little girl in the mirror were no longer connected.” Over the next 40 years, Dispenza wrestled with the repercussions of this split from “Little Mary.” As an adolescent, anything involving sex or the body—menstruation, masturbation, making out—filled her with unbearable shame. In September 1958, after ignoring her parents’ pleas to marry or attend college, 18-year-old Dispenza became a nun. Prayer, manual work, and silence dominated her next 15 years until she once more felt “split and broken in pieces.” From the convent, she went on to serve as principal at several Catholic schools in Washington state, all while struggling to be sexually intimate with the men and women she dated. Her life might have proceeded in this painful, repressed fashion had she not attended a 1989 workshop for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle called “Sexual Misconduct on the Part of the Clergy.” Here and at a subsequent meeting of women molested by the clergy, Dispenza’s memories came flooding back. Soon thereafter, with the help of therapy, she embraced two crucial facts of her life—“Father Rucker had raped me, and I loved women”—that set her on a path of confrontation, retribution, and the reconciliation of her committed Catholicism with her true self. Like the life it depicts, Dispenza’s memoir consists of one courageous act after another. After coming out, Dispenza recounts scrambling the letters of “depression” to spell “I pressed on.” Her stirring narrative embodies just that: overcoming trauma to bravely take a stand against injustice.
A raw, cathartic read that unflinchingly tackles issues of rape, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.