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I liked it. It was a lot of money for a short book, but I was glad to learn that someone reads the books so many ex-nuns write.
I've read several of the books Brian Titley refers to, and I think his characterization of the vocation surge in the postwar years is fair. His title, Into Silence and Servitude, sums up perfectly what happened to the idealistic girls who filled the novitiates in those days.
They were used as servants. During the years they should have been in college, they were dusting, vacuuming, waxing, scrubbing, scouring. They were abused spiritually, emotionally, financially, physically, sometimes sexually. They were made to keep silent, to avoid "particular friendships," and to distance themselves from their families. Their mail was read, and their occasional visits were monitored.
They were trained by brutal novice mistresses who had been chosen deliberately for their aloofness and their harshness. The aspirants, the postulants, and the novices had to be broken. The examples Titley provides are chilling. The BVMs of Dubuque, for instance, were not allowed to laugh.
Why were so many vocation pamphlets so dishonest? The priests who led the movement to lure candidates into convents made it clear to the nuns who carried out the recruitment efforts that they must conceal the truth about religious life. The students at the all-girl high schools who would be most likely to enter convents were not told what it would really mean to give up college, jobs, friendships, freedom. The nuns who were assigned to draw high school and grade school girls into religious orders were told how to attract their targets and how to bring around parents who were reluctant to allow their daughters to give up what they knew nothing about.
The brochures told prospective candidates that leaving the convent was no disgrace, but after entering they learned it was indeed a disgrace. They signed away any claims to money for the years of work they did, and they left with no money, no enrollment in Social Security, no letters of recommendation, and by the back door.
Why was it necessary to draw so many girls and women into religious orders? The parochial schools had to be staffed at little cost to the parishes.
There are many books by former sisters that illustrate the exploitation they were subjected to. Many may be found here at Amazon. Search for "nuns," "ex-nuns," etc. Here's a link to a novel about a young woman whose experience of religious life was typical:
The Aspirancy I attended closed down in 1968 so Titley's book was especially relatable to me. It broadened my understanding of what was happening at the time. I would have liked more but he said the information wasn't that easy to come by.
Excellent literature review! Appealing to Academics, Religious, and the General Public. The cloistered lives of Nuns and Sisters was veiled in mystery for a great many years. Aspirants, Postulants, and Novices were ordered to refrain from sharing information about the practices, rules, and methods of formation they experienced with secularism, including family and friends. Mail outgoing and incoming was censored. Expressions of doubt, depression, and criticisms were flagged. Such letters were returned and the writer was instructed to edit and rewrite an upbeat correspondence. Visits by family and friends were few and far between. Candidates were instructed to portray a joyful countenance and treat the visits as opportunities to encourage piety and increased commitment to the faith and the parish to which they belonged. Those who entered the novitiate as well as the fully professed were told the could never go home again. Only the death of a parent was an acceptable excuse. In such a case, only two choices were permitted. Religious could choose to be with the parent when their parent died or attend the funeral. The couldn't do both. Particular friendships were strongly discouraged. I recommend highly the autobiography Nun, by Mary Gilligan Wong. Currently out of print, copies may still be purchased second hand on EBay. It is unfortunate for Catholic families that the opportunity to give their children a Catholic school education taught by Nuns is becoming increasingly out of reach for the reasons cited by the author.