A group of renegade Catholics takes over a young girl’s life in this debut memoir.
In the early 1960s, Vatican II abandoned the traditional Latin Mass and tried to foster a spirit of ecumenism and liberation. This repelled some traditional Catholics, some of whom turned toward leaders who would preserve what they saw as the old ways; one such leader, Bishop Francis Schuckardt, founded an extremely conservative sect that appealed to the author’s parents. They sent their young daughter to the sect’s boarding school, where, for several years, she says, she witnessed and experienced physical and psychological cruelty. She writes, for example, that she saw her own brother being made to walk on his knees through rocks and gravel as a punishment for giggling; other kids, she says, were taken to “the spanking room”; and at another point, she was told that the hamburgers that she and other girls were eating had been gathered from the trash. Schettler also writes that she heard accounts of drug use and sexual abuse in the community. Meanwhile, the sect’s authorities often hid things from the students, she says, which fostered a sense of social isolation: “We were told only what the superiors wanted us to know,” she writes. This is a grim, emotionally challenging story that shows, in intimate detail, how life in the sect cut the author off from the natural joys of youth. Having grown up in circumstances where she had to constantly “mortify” her eyes, the author repeatedly depicts how the sect twisted her ardent spirituality. The author later became a nun, and she details how she spent much of early adulthood in thrall to feckless and ineffectual superiors. This book will particularly appeal to survivors of cult experiences, as it effectively describes the path the author took through a world of suffocating, distorted religious ardor.
A well-written but unrelenting memoir that portrays the strictures and darkness of a conservative sect.