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    Mary Joyce

    Mary Joyce

    I was a “craddle” Catholic.  My mother was divorced and not allowed to go to Mass, but she sent all seven of her children to Mass on Sunday and to Catholic schools.  I never understood that but I think going to Mass was the trade off for being allowed to attend Catholic schools which my mother thought were superior to the public schools. Sometime around 3rd grade I was apparently telling relatives that I was going to be a nun.This is what I did the summer I graduated from my Catholic, all-girls high school.

    I wish I could sit down with my 18-year-old self.  There would be so many things that I would bring to her attention.  We were poor, living on government commodities in a housing project and with absolutely no one to help me realize a college education. Going to college had to be in the back of my mind when I entered a Franciscan teaching order.  I had tried the Daughters of Charity, Notre Dame Sisters, and others, but I was told that none of them would take the child of a divorced woman.  This was surely another red flag. (My younger sister tells me that one day when she was in 5th grade she noticed in her teacher’s grade book that next to her name the nun had written, “Mother – Adulteress”.)  In spite of this, I thought God was calling me to this way of life.

    I was there for 11 years.  I can tell you that I met a lot of wonderful, talented women and I got a degree in biology. Those were the highlights of my years in the convent.  I left to take custody of a younger brother after my mother died of cancer.  At the end of a school year in May, I wrote the Motherhouse and told the Mother General that I was leaving and why.  I asked permission to stay in the house until August so that I could get some things together to help me make the transition. At this time, in 1975, the community was bleeding sisters.  I got a letter on June 2 telling me that as of June 1, I was no longer allowed to stay in the convent.  I was to leave immediately.  I had no mother or father, my brothers and sisters were living in three states, the closest one was over 500 miles away, no secular clothes, no credit, no transportation, and only $200 that the community “generously” gave me. I lived with 3 other sisters, two of which were charismatic and spoke in tongues.  If you think these two cut me any slack, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.  I called a Protestant teacher who taught with me and asked her to take me in. 

    In spite of this, I remained a Catholic and a believer.  The power of the believing brain!  In time I got married to a non-Catholic and had two children. I began practicing the Church’s method of birth control (rhythm) and got pregnant immediately.  I tried again and got pregnant just as quickly.  I was told that I couldn’t pick and choose which rules of the Church I wanted to follow.  I decided that no god would ever expect a woman to leave herself open to having a baby every time she had sex. The Catholic Church and I eventually parted ways. Since my husband wasn’t Catholic he didn’t mind. 

    We tried a few other churches, but nothing satisfied me.  We live in the Bible Belt and I have a degree in biology, which I taught in the neighborhood high school.  I refused to go to a church that thought Genesis was factual.  I knew the Old Testament was a myth but hung on to the truthfulness of the New Testament.  In time, when I looked at the entire bible with logic and common sense I realized there was nothing inspired or holy about any of it!  Next I thought no “fall,” no need for redemption, no Jesus, no death or resurrection. 

    At this point I was Agnostic at best.  I began reading everything I could on gods and religion.  (Love my Kindle!) The sticking point for me was “First Cause.”  How could the universe simply come into being without being created?  I have a minor in physics education and started reading and viewing programs on YouTube and eventually told myself that the evidence for the non-existence of a god is overwhelming.  I may not understand how matter and the universe came into existence (it may have always existed), but I am sure that someday scientists will prove that it exists without the help of a supreme being.  I put my faith in science.  I am certain there is no god and that every question about the physical universe will have a logical answer in line with the natural laws of matter.

    Happily for me, my husband and I are now both atheists.  I wish I had let go of faith in a god years ago and that I had never taken my children to any church.  At least we stopped going when they were still young.  As far as the convent goes, 21 of us entered in a group in 1964 and today only four remain.  I keep in touch with seven of the “exes”.  One tells me she’s not sure if there is a god, but she is hedging her bet and going to church anyway.  They all still support the Catholic Church in spite of its history of intolerance, misogyny, pedophilia, and mismanagement of huge sums of money.  Like I tell them, they would never support any other organization with this history.  Once again, the power of indoctrination is mind boggling. Every once in awhile, I reread The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer to help me understand why people hang on to faith in a god when all the real evidence shouts, “No.”  But I used to be one of them, so I can hardly criticize.