Pamela York Klainer
Katie lasted little more than three months in religious life after the sudden, unexpected miscarriage. In many ways her life did go back to normal. She resumed teaching. She went to early morning Mass with the Sisters, and returned to have breakfast with them at the Convent. She had a visit from her family, her mother frantic with concern after being informed of Katie’s late night ambulance trip to the hospital. Katie saw the doctor for follow up, and was pronounced healthy. She saw Father Leon weekly, for confession and spiritual direction. She went to Loretta’s office every day after school, and the two sat marking papers in the soft light, talking now and again, but with long periods of more or less comfortable silence.
When Katie came to tell Loretta she was leaving her explanation was terse.
“Nothing about religious life is what I thought. I just can’t do it any more. Father Leon said I didn’t do anything wrong about the baby. And he’s right; I didn’t. But I would have. I wanted to. And I fell in love with Stephen, and had sex with him, after I made a vow to give up that part of my life. That was wrong, even if I went to confession and Father Leon said that God forgave me. Maybe God didn’t forgive me. Maybe no one would, if they knew. The truth is that I still want Stephen to care about me. If he came back from Rome and asked me to be with him I would. I’d forgive him about that other girl. Why doesn’t he care, that I still love him? He hasn’t even sent me a card.”
Loretta was unsure how to respond, where to start, her fury at Father Stephen still strong. Religious life wasn’t what she thought it was going to be either. She’d already lost Sister Joan. Now she was losing her best friend from the very first day, when they shared that secret smoke late at night by the open window.
“Katie, I don’t think you have to go. I think you could get some help to figure this out. I think it’s too soon for you to decide.”
Katie shook her head. “It’s not too soon. I’ve known from that night when I was bleeding and I passed out, that I wasn’t like the rest of you and couldn’t stay. You asked me how I’d feel about being a nun and having this secret. Well, I feel terrible. I don’t want to be here any more, doing what the rest of you do and feeling like a fake, like a liar.”
To Loretta’ surprise she didn’t try hard to get Katie to change her mind. Loretta fought for Sister Joan, prayed for a miracle, sat by her bed as if a loving presence could chase the demon cancer away. But Loretta wasn’t fighting to change Katie’s mind. Loretta did try one more thing.
“Katie, did you talk this over with Father Leon? What does he say?”
Katie nodded. “He said it’s my decision, just as what to do about the baby was my decision. He said that life is difficult, not easy, and that discerning God’s will means finding a path through things that are hard.”
Tears began to form in Katie’s eyes. “He didn’t ask me to stay, or to give it more time. I don’t think he really forgives me either. He was willing to help, but I think he sees me as a bad person and not somebody who belongs here.”
Loretta thought the words sounded just like Father Leon. He was saying just what he believed: that life is hard. But Katie heard what she wanted to hear, the judgment that she needed to go.
Katie’s leave taking, as was the custom with Sisters no longer committed to religious life, was secretive. One day there was a substitute in her classroom at school. While all of the Sisters were out of the Convent she packed her things, and a car came to take her to a Convent where she was unknown. She was to stay there in prayer and solitude until the paperwork was processed, perhaps two weeks. And then her family would come for her, and she would go out the door in the lay attire they had sent, leaving her religious habit behind.
Loretta asked Katie to stay in touch, to write her a note and say how she was doing, without any real expectation that Katie would.
Mother Superior, concerned about the two tightly juxtaposed losses in Loretta’s life, called Loretta in to talk.
“Sister Loretta, I know that the last year has been very hard for you. I know that Sister Joan’s death shook you very deeply. And now Sister Kathleen is no longer with us.”
“I want you to know that you are very important to everyone in the Congregation. We believe that God has sent you to us for a reason, which will unfold over time. We expect to send you for further study, and to see you begin to serve on committees in our governance. We think you have unusual intelligence and strength of character, and that your devotion to religious life is something God is calling us to recognize. Perhaps, in time, you will become one of our great leaders.”
“If you have any need to talk about Sister Kathleen’s departure or Sister Joan’s death, I am here at any time.”
Loretta thanked Mother Superior, but made no gestures in the direction of wanting to talk. Loretta wasn’t even sure she wanted to sit down with Father Leon, confused as she was by his role. She thought Katie was a fool still to be in love with Father Stephen, of that she was sure. But she was less sure about anything else.
Loretta thought killing a baby, even early on, was wrong. But then, Katie hadn’t killed the baby. The baby’s life just ended. She thought Father Leon and his doctor friend were wrong to lie about what was the matter with Katie, and even to write things on her medical chart that weren’t true. But then the doctor hadn’t done that; he was only willing to. Father Leon didn’t say Katie was right in wanting the abortion, he said she had to discern God’s will. But he was willing to lie to help her if she chose to go ahead. But he didn’t have to lie, because the baby died.
Loretta went round and round. She was glad Mother Superior never asked her if Katie had been pregnant, because she wasn’t sure what she would have said.
Like Katie, Loretta wanted the turmoil to be behind her.
Loretta’s confusion hadn’t lifted much when a fourteen year old student, a freshman, showed up in her office after school. The child had barely closed the door when she broke into sobs. The senior basketball captain, the boy everyone wanted to be with, enticed her into sex at the drive-in. She’d missed two periods, and every time she tried to talk with the boy in the hall between classes he simply laughed and went on his way.
“Sister Loretta, I might be pregnant, and I don’t know what to do.”