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.
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.”