Sister Thomas, aka Marilyn

Posted by on Jan 28, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

Marilyn aka Sister Thomas… (From Marilyn & Me)

Marilyn went into the convent in the beginnings of the 50’s, stepping away from the world’s apocalyptic culture shift until released from her vows by the Vatican in 1967. When she left fifteen years later the church gave her a few dollars to start a new life with and an ankle length gingham dress. Sister Thomas, now Marilyn Toner once again, would continue spiritual work on her own and go on to earn a Masters Degree, then reinvent herself as a professor of nursing in San Diego, working on her PhD.

It was Vatican II days, there was hope the Catholic Church could he hauled into the twentieth century with a married clergy and a new life philosophy emanating from the people and their needs, a holy See sea washing freely upon a shore of love instead of dribbled from a goblet for the purposes of washing away sin.

The Vatican proclaimed victory with Absolution of Itself just as It was, and pulled out of the conclave it had gathered from around the Catholic world to bring some heart to its monolith-ism. It walked out the two-ton brass door with its aged aegis intact. Some of what had changed in three years of debate was that the beautiful Latin of the service was changed to the local languages of the people, who may have preferred the classic tradition of praying in a beautifully cadenced tongue they didn’t understand that brought into their hearts the mystique of the soul.

There was a priest Marilyn met while in the nunnery she exchanged letters with, continuing conversations begun the year before. He had two sisters in a nunnery in San Francisco, and one day they called Marilyn at her parent’s house from St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis. They’d come to visit family and while in town were anxious to meet. Their brother had written so much about her.

After that meeting Marilyn said she knew what the arrowed Saint Sebastian felt like. Father Jeremy was the only priest in the family and he was in love with her. His sisters ordered Marilyn to stop his love instantly and leave him alone. Marilyn said she was here and he was there, she had no control over him or his heart. They commanded she stop responding to his letters and luring him on. He was talking of leaving the priesthood and coming out to marry her. They stamped their feet and held their breath till they turned blue. Do you hear? We forbid this! They may as well have performed the marriage service right then.

She was dating a man from the Peace Corps and considering joining him in the work. Also, she had met an old farmer whose wife died in the hospital where Marilyn worked and who felt that since she was with his wife when she breathed her last she ought to take her place. Old country thinking. He kept calling her with this fabulous proposal of having her milk the cows, keep his home humming, raise some fresh children and scythe his crops by hand with his workers in the autumn. The priest was there during one of these calls but when Marilyn told the farmer she was in love with another and handed the phone to Father Jeremy, Jerry began to counsel the farmer instead. Marilyn wanted less detachment, I think.

Another time he was there when the Peace Corps worker friend dropped by with a sheaf of papers to say he had arranged for her interview with the local director and there was the possibility he was shipping out to South America by Spring and hoped she’d be with him.

Not many of Jerry’s family were at their wedding, certainly not the two nuns on the West Coast. Together Marilyn and Jerry took on the Vietnam War, the arthritic church and all the social ills they could handle. They were in the mainstream now and had never been happier. They knew how to help and for the first time in their lives were free of all institutional restraints to their pure ambition to help everyone, anyone, anytime. Marilyn got her Masters in teaching, Jeremy a PhD in Psychology. Michael was born, and then they adopted Julianne and Jonnie.

They caught up on everything they’d missed inside, it was no longer prairie thunder, it was Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, movies, TV, dancing, politics and organized protests while continuing the traditions they learned in the church. They were a pure balance of the secular and the religious, whole human beings so long selfless now learning about the rest of who they were, and of their power and glory.

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One Comment

  1. A Fascinating Must Read , how perfectly chosen.99