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