Kirkus Reviews QR Code
AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST by Mary Johnson Kirkus Star


Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life

by Mary Johnson

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-52747-7
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Beautifully crafted memoir of one woman’s experience in Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity.

Early on, Johnson compares prayer to immersion in water: “I could close my eyes and float on the river of God’s Love almost at will.” Readers, too, will find themselves transported into another world by this powerful, revealing memoir. An aspirant to the Missionaries of Charity at age 19, the author spent 20 years living a life both extraordinarily simple and heart-wrenchingly complex. Johnson skillfully demonstrates this juxtaposition through her writing—mundane events, such as gathering eggs or learning to play the piano, often have tragic or miraculous implications. As she progressed in the order and became Sister Donata, the issues she faced became darker: a sexually predatory subordinate, theological disputes, an increasingly rigid system of rules and regulations and a love affair with a priest. Throughout the book, the author describes her interactions with Mother Teresa, but she does not try to pass off their relationship as especially close, but instead describes their time together with honesty and telling detail. She writes about a nun who got tired and hungry, became frustrated and disappointed, and liked candy—Mother Teresa actually emerges as a fairly normal person rather than a saintly archetype. As it became increasingly clear to Johnson that the Missionaries of Charity’s vision and management were diverging from her own beliefs and values, she struggled with her place in the order and eventually made the decision to leave after two decades of service.

Johnson’s portrayal of her time as a nun is likely to be controversial; her memoir is exceptional.