Throwback Thursday: Yup, convents were cultish, but where’s Jesus in all of this?

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on October 26th, 2015 and has been revised.


Forgotten Women in Convents
By Helen Conroy
Christ’s Mission, 1960, 121 pp.

2 Stars

Protestant books examining abuses in Roman Catholic convents proliferated throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. “Forgotten Women in Convents” by ex-nun, Helen Conroy aka Sister Mary Ethel, was originally published in 1946 and was one of the last books of this once-popular genre. The 1960 edition that I purchased was published by Christ’s Mission, a Protestant evangelization outreach ministry to Roman Catholics, as part of a tidal wave of anti-Catholic literature that swept the nation leading up to the Kennedy-Nixon presidential election.

On the plus side, Conroy offers many valuable insights into how the Catholic church lured girls and young women into its nunneries and how it discouraged them from ever leaving. Evangelicals’ antennae go up if you mention the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, but is there anything more cultish than a Catholic convent? As Conroy points out, Catholicism adopted the notion of a cloistered community of virginal women, completely dedicated to (g)od/s, from pagan religions for its own purposes. These poor, deluded women were attempting to merit their salvation via the strict codes of their religious orders, through self-denial and even physically harmful self-mortification practices. Of course, extremely few Catholic women are joining convents these days and many of those who do will enjoy freedoms unimaginable to the nuns of Conroy’s era.

On the minus side – and this is a HUGE minus – Conroy never once alludes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Does she just assume her Protestant readers have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior? In her exodus from Rome, did Conroy ever accept Christ? There’s no testimony therein of that being the case in this book. Instead, there’s quite a bit of criticism of Catholicism’s treatment of its nuns as being antithetical to American freedoms, but there is no mention of how Catholic works-righteousness legalism and ritualism is opposed to the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. In its surprisingly Christ-less approach, “Forgotten Women in Convents” reminds me quite a bit of a very popular anti-Catholic bestseller from the same period, “American Freedom and Catholic Power” (1949) by atheist Paul Blanshard.

See my earlier post for a booklist of “convent escape narratives.”

16 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Yup, convents were cultish, but where’s Jesus in all of this?

    1. Nope, our son and his crew left around 9pm last night. The snow melted enough that I was able to clean the gutters out one last time for the winter. Do you have company staying with you?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sad this book doesn’t mention the Gospel! You are with this quote: “ is there anything more cultish than a Catholic convent?“. While I don’t believe in convents I never thought of it as more cultic than Mormonism, JW, etc

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    1. RE: I never thought of it as more cultic than Mormonism, JW, etc

      Convents were so widespread throughout the U.S. at one point that the public just accepted them as “normal” and became inured to the bizarreness of that institution. There were probably once 50 or 60 convents in the Rochester area alone. Mormonism and the Watchtower certainly have there heterodox teachings and practices, but 20-30-40 virginal women living together communally under the direct authority of their nun superior, denied possessions, and restricted from contact with family, dressed in confining 13th century garb (I’m describing the nuns of my childhood), initiated into the convent with a wedding ceremony replete with a wedding dress and wedding ring. The Mormons and JWs had nothing to match this outrageous bizarreness except possibly the Mormons’ plural marriage teaching from 100 years ago, but I still think nuns and convents are more cultish.

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      1. The ironic thing is my parents thought I had joined a dangerous cult when I was saved, while it was their religion had some of the cultiest things imaginable like the convents.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to know an ex nun who is now deceased. She was actually a far removed family cousin .She shared many tragic and frightening about her life in the convent . But she was divorced from any Biblical truth, far removed from the gospel that would have saved her soul .

    Liked by 2 people

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