Convent Cruelties

Convent Cruelties or My Life in the Convent
By Helen Baranowski Jackson
Self-published, Seventh edition, 1924, 114 pp. (first published in 1919)

4 Stars

American Protestant literature of the 19th and early-20th centuries included many “convent escape narratives,” first-hand testimonies by former-Catholic nuns describing the terrible abuses they witnessed and suffered within convents, and their eventual escape. Protestant readers were appalled that such cruelties and abrogations of citizens’ freedoms were taking place in Catholic convents across the United States, while Catholic spokespersons dismissed these testimonies as pure fiction. There was nothing more cultish than Roman Catholic convents, but Protestants gradually became inured to the institution.

In this book, Helen Baranowski Jackson describes how she desired to become a nun at the age of thirteen. She entered a convent run by the Felician Sisters (Polish) in Detroit, Michigan as a young postulant, but quickly became disenchanted with religious life due to the harsh restrictions and penalties imposed by the Mother Superior and the other nuns. All connections with family were severed. Because of alleged insubordination, Helen was transferred to another nunnery in Detroit, a convent run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (the Magdalenes) where the harsh restrictions and abuses continued. Helen was eventually able to escape the convent and subsequently became a speaker on the Protestant lecture circuit, describing her travails.

Above: A vintage photograph of the former Good Shepherd Convent and Asylum/Reformatory complex on Fort Street West in Detroit where Helen Baranowski was a postulant.

Helen describes being locked in a tiny room for days, being deprived of food, forced to take ice baths, and being whipped. The abuses described by Helen Jackson shocked Protestant readers in 1919 and were met with derision by Catholics. The full weight of Catholic political influence was brought to bear upon Ms. Jackson and her testimony. However, investigations of the infamous “Magdalene asylums,” beginning in the 1990s, confirmed the severe, torturous, and sometimes deadly discipline of the Catholic nuns.

Young Catholic women were attracted to convent life as an attempt to merit their salvation. After being confronted with the strict rigors/disciplines of religious life, many desired to leave the convent, but were “dissuaded,” sometimes forcibly. Very few Catholic women desire to be nuns these days, but all Catholics are still blinded by Rome’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit.

Above: The last standing portion of the sprawling Sisters of the Good Shepherd Convent and Asylum/Reformatory complex in Detroit before it was demolished in 2014. If the walls could speak they would testify of the rampant abuse and suffering within.

15 thoughts on “Convent Cruelties

  1. Very interesting… and none of it surprises me in the least. I had a neighbour when I first moved to this area who told me how nuns had tortured her when she was a child. Her mother became widowed and couldn’t afford to raise all the children she’d had, so the nuns took them into this institution. She described being locked into a large industrial washing machine as a small child and being whipped regularly. Unfortunately this lady (now in her late 60’s) has been permanently scarred for life… both psychologically and physically. I only pray for the Lord’s healing touch upon her and to meet her at the point of every need, including spiritually.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. Most people have heard of the notorious Magdalene Laundries/Asylums in Ireland, but it wasn’t until I read and researched this book that I learned there were also Magdalene asylums in the U.S. I’m grateful that there finally was an end to this institutionalized abuse. I can’t imagine the horrors your neighbor and thousands of others endured as children.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The legacy of harsh Catholic schools is almost cliché but this oppression and torture is less known. Convents, Catholic ministries and churches always held such heartwarming names, “Sisters of Charity”, “Sisters of The Good Shepherd”, “Corpus Christi”, “Sisters of Mercy”. What a sad facade.
    Thank you brother for bringing these things to light.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My day is going well mainly homeschooling stuff today and right now about to promote Veritas Domain links on social media and will shortly read this post. It seems you guys in North East are getting heavy cold fronts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this book review. I imagine many of these stories are much more believable now with all the news and expose of Catholic abuses…so crazy. Amazing historical pictures of the covenant by the way…it does make it more sad. More reviews please! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, investigations in the last three decades have more than vindicated the claims of serious abuse in convents in those old escape narratives. I was pleased to find those photos of the convent-reformatory because they definitely do add to the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Years ago, I read one of these accounts. It was horrific and I wondered how such things could possibly be going on. The nun in the story I read about would have probably died and no one would have ever discovered it this side of heaven except that another nun reported the abuses to authorities and, if I remember correctly, the nun and the priest ended up in prison.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Chris. The religious culture at convents and monasteries stressed unquestioned obedience and penitential suffering, either imposed or self-inflicted (self-mortification, self-harm). The opportunities for abuse were through the roof. Extremely cultish, absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s so few convents now compared to sixty years ago. I imagine there’s still self-mortification (self-harm) practices going on at traditionalistic monasteries. After his death, it was reported by confidantes that pope John Paul II whipped himself daily. Mother Teresa wore a cilice (garter with sharp spikes) and also whipped herself.

        Liked by 1 person

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