Six weeks before my eighteenth birthday I entered a convent. I left when I was twenty-nine. I kept silent about my years as a nun. It was hard to explain. Why would I leave my family and friends – seclude myself from the world – cover myself in a religious habit – just as the turbulent 1960’s were unfolding?
We didn’t celebrate birthdays in the convent. When I left I wasn’t sure how old I was. I lacked the life experiences most normal thirty-year-olds enjoy: college life, sexual awareness, finding and holding a job, financial independence. I had to start from scratch.
For years I buried those years as a nun. I didn’t want to admit I’d missed the Sixties. No matter where I went or what I did, someone always found out. Cincinnati is a small town. People’s reactions fit a pattern: disbelief, then curiosity, then the inevitable questions: Why enter a convent – you seem so normal! What was it like? Why did you leave?
To answer those questions, I wrote. First, for myself, eventually sharing my stories with a few trusted listeners. I wrote about the light and darkness, the joy and pain. A good writer tells the truth. The more I wrote, the more I became conscious of voices other than my own, demanding to be heard. I rarely wrote fiction – mostly poetry and non-fiction – but I couldn’t silence the voices of other characters. Tell my story! they shouted.
Margaret Ann Walsh (Maggie) emerged in my imagination, along with her brother Jack. Maggie’s high-school sweetheart, Stan, appeared, then other members of her family.
Maggie’s is a coming-of-age story. Jack’s is about his passion for civil rights and his opposition to the Vietnam War – including anti-war demonstrations and violence that marked the 1960’s.
When an entire colony of characters took over, I welcomed them! While I’ve based this novel – PERFECTION – on some of my own experiences, it’s now the property of my characters.
There’s Mother Loretta, a harsh and exacting Novice Mistress, who is fighting her own secret demons. There’s her replacement, Mother Vivian, more in tune with the radical changes happening in the Church as a result of Vatican II.
During Maggie’s years as a novice, she stifles her love for Stan, believing, trusting that God alone will satisfy her. Then Will, a shy and handsome seminarian, appears out of nowhere, capturing her imagination – and her dreams.
I wrote to show readers what it takes for a young woman to be true to her vocation, no matter the cost. How does someone like Maggie deal with a heart divided between loyalty to her own self as a loving human being, and her public profession of devotion to God alone?
I wanted readers who hadn’t lived through the 1960’s – and even those who did – to relive the generational conflicts caused by Church reform, the civil rights movement, and opposition to the Vietnam War. To understand the despair that flooded the nation – including Maggie and her friends – following the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.
After you’ve read PERFECTION, you’ll understand more why the 1960’s in American history caused divisions within the family, the church, and the nation. If you did live through that decade, this book will resonate with you even more.
Maggie’s choices, trials, decisions, relationships – her strong and loving character – are not mine – I wish I were more like her. Once you’ve read PERFECTION, I trust you’ll be able to answer these troubling questions: Why did Maggie (and others like her) enter a convent in 1960? What was it like? Why would she leave?