A Nun’s Story

After 34 years,26 of them as a nun,Sister Jesme walked out of the CMC Congregation in 2007.

Published:February 22, 2009 9:57 pm

After 34 years,26 of them as a nun,Sister Jesme walked out of the CMC Congregation in 2007. The resignation of the senior nun,who taught English in two of Kerala’s most respected colleges,sent shockwaves across the Catholic Church. Two years later,Sister Jesme,53,has come out with a book that details the humiliation,sexual abuse and mental torture at the seminary. Excerpts from Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun

The beginning

By the time I was in Class XII,we were in deep financial trouble. My mother was struggling to find money for my monthly fees and my father did not bother about it anyway. My scholarship amount would inevitably be spent on household expenses. Thrissur Bishop Joseph Kundukulam,who had been close to our family from the days when he was the priest of our parish,was perturbed about our financial situation. He told my mother we could approach him whenever we needed money for my studies. “No one would understand the financial problems of the middle-class,” he said.

I had to go to the Bishop House twice for fees and the experience was traumatic. I had to walk along the wall of St Thomas College suffering all the comments and paper arrows from the boys. And ignoring the stares of the priests,I would go up the stairs at the Bishop House. The moment the Bishop saw me,he would extend an envelope with

Rs 15.50 and I would walk back without even saying thanks.

After my Class XII exams were over,I thought it was time to reveal what I planned to do with my life. I told my mother: “I kept it a secret so far because you told me to. But every day I am renewing my pledge to Jesus. I can’t live without him.”

Everyone in the family came to know that I was leaving home forever. My father started to cry,my little brother began fighting,my sister asked several questions but my mother sighed and said: “The Lord is asking for the best among my children. God needs to be given the centre piece of the fish. I can’t deny anything that Jesus asks for.”

Days at the Novitiate

On the day of the confession,I could hear whispers and hush-hush conversations all around me. Somehow,I came to know about things only later. One of the sisters told me: “We are all upset about some things.”

“What happened?”

“Didn’t you know? The priest kissed almost everyone who went for one-on-one meetings.”

I remembered how he sought permission to kiss me and how I refused. Why couldn’t these girls also respond like that,I asked myself.

However,these incidents spoiled the atmosphere at the Novitiate. Nuns refused to go to the confessional when this priest was there.

I went there when someone insisted. After confessing,I told him: “Father,I have to talk to you about some important things. All the girls are upset because of something you did. You need to resolve this.”

“Daughter,I had sought permission from everyone. I have not done anything without consent. I don’t do anything that does not suit Jesus or the Bible,” he said…

Later,he told the Novitiate Mistress that he wanted to see me. He took me to his room,opened the Bible and showed me quotations.

“All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Corinthians 16:20)

“Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 26)

“Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” (1 Peter 5:14)

He was trying to justify his act as “holy kisses”. It was my turn. “Father,what are you trying to justify? Isn’t the difference in culture a problem? Physical expression of affection is a part of the culture in the West but is it the case with us?”

He said calmly: “If you were a priest who was authorised to pardon sins,I would have confessed before you. I can only ask you to pray for me.”

The nun who fell in love with me

Sister Vimy was a colleague who taught Malayalam. Later,I found out she was a lesbian and was once,when she was the hostel warden,caught with a student.

She was a perpetual trouble-maker but since she would scream and shout,even Mother Provincial could not admonish or punish her.

She would write long love letters and put them in my prayer book. I would hand over the letters to the Mother Superior who would tear them apart and throw it into the dustbin.

Since I did not reciprocate,Sister Vimy turned against me. She would scream at students who came looking for me in the hostel…

Since I had no one to protect me,I yielded to her wishes for some time. There were no walls for the rooms and only curtains separated them. When everyone was asleep at night,she would slip into my bed. I could not have stopped her from doing all those obscene things she did to me. She told me about a friend who would visit priests. She said she settled for homosexuality to avoid pregnancy.

…I continued to live with a heavy heart and guilt. Once,a psychologist,also a priest,came to lecture at the college and I confessed to him. “Father,I pray for the reformation of that sister. I can’t take this any more,I don’t enjoy it,” I said.

He said: “You are praying for the impossible. Will you pray to make a girl into a boy?”

I went to the Mother Provincial and begged her to save me. “Please transfer either me or her from here. I can’t bear this life,” I said.

Mother said there was no slot for me in Amala College; there was one post for Vimy but she was scared of transferring her as she would insult the Mother in public.

I told the Mother that I would convince Vimy to accept the transfer and the Mother agreed.

…When the transfer order came,she screamed: “I won’t leave you or go anywhere…”

Jesus,am I mad?

I remember reading in the code of conduct that to relieve a nun of all her duties is a way of punishment. Now things were getting clear,it is the new way of punishing me.

All sisters,including my students,and attenders in the college were told to keep away from me. Once a young nun was reprimanded for fetching me a bottle of Vicks Vaporub from my room. That’s when I realised that I had been declared an outcaste by the authorities.

Once Mother Provincial Claudia came to the nunnery—she usually comes in with new ways of punishment.

She told me: “I expected that you would get physically unwell so that I could get you admitted to a hospital. However,you look healthier than ever before.”

I replied: “Jesus won’t let me be weak.”

She said: “If you are not physically unwell,I will take you to a psychiatrist for treatment.”

This was beyond what I could take. I approached the principal.

“Mother Provincial wants to take me for psychiatric treatment,” I cried.

She said: “Jesme,you should never go with her to the hospital.”

“Won’t it be insubordination?”

“You blame it on me,” she said.

…One day,Mother Superior called to say that Mother Provincial was waiting for me in the guest room. A watchman led me to the college across the road. As I reached there,an attender told me: “Sister,be careful. There is a man with a moustache inside. Pray before you enter.”

He started interrogating me about my state of mind. I refused to answer the questions. Mother Claudia asked me to listen to the doctor and cooperate with him. “Mother,be kind. Ask Jesus if I should be punished or not. I don’t think Jesus will approve of this act,” I cried.

“Jesme,the Congregation is being kind to you by being willing to shell out money for your treatment. You should be grateful to officials like me,” she said.

“Mother,I am absolutely normal. Please understand me. It’s getting late. Let me go.”

Not waiting for a reply,I ran out. When I reached my room,I lay on my bed and wept: “Jesus,tell me,am I mad? Is it that I don’t understand it?”

The exit

Mother General said: “Your mother and brothers have given us permission to show you to a doctor and begin treatment. They said we could do anything to get you out of the present situation. I am going to Mangalore and will be back on January 3. Call me when I return.”

I wondered at how fast things had moved. Mother Superior must have made several phone calls while I slept last night. I realised that it was all over.

When I cried and called my mother,she said: “Daughter,it’s a lie. I was at my brother’s funeral and Mother Superior called there. She told me your brothers have agreed to your treatment and now they just needed my permission. I told her that I did not think my sons would agree to it. When I asked them,they said they did not. In fact,your sister-in-law is furious about Mother General’s lie.”

I realised I had only a few hours to escape.

…I called a friend and gave her my brother’s phone number and asked her to call him. A little later,my brother came to meet me. He said I should be ready by 3 p.m. if I planned to come home.

Packing my original certificates,saying goodbye to the Holy Mother,holding Jesus’s hand,I stepped out of the college. I told Mother Superior through intercom that I was going home with my brother for an urgent work. Without waiting for her reply,I began my journey.

(Courtesy: DC Books,Kottayam)

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