From Convent to Pentecost

Chapter 7

Death in the Dark

We arose every morning at 4:30 A.M. and were given only five minutes to dress. Our habit, or clothes, consisted of high top black shoes that were worn until they were out. We would then go barefooted. We also wore black stockings, three skirts touching the floor, bodice attached to the veil that covered the face, arms and complete body to the hips. The starched, white gimp was fitted tightly around the head and neck, leaving the face uncovered (that is, when the veil was thrown back). Considering the clothes we had to wear, plus the rosary and scapular added, we really had to hurry to be dressed in five minutes.

I recall, one morning, I was all dressed except for one shoe. I put it under my arm and marched to the refectory with the other Nuns. I was so nervous, I dropped my shoe and thus broke silence As a result, the Mother Superior had me step out of line and took me through a narrow stairway leading to the dungeon beneath the ground. She locked me in this dungeon, just wide enough for me to reach out either wan and touch the walls with my fingers The ceiling was high and the floor was a dirt floor. Mother Superior left me there three days and nights without food or water. This disciplinary action was employed to teach me that the rules of the convent were to be strictly obeyed and that I was to never be careless again and break silence.

Each morning before going to the refectory for breakfast, we were given an office duty. Frequently I had to scrub the refectory floor. After I completed the chores satisfactorily, Mother Superior might have inspected and said, “Do it all over again nicely.” I was often motivated to retaliate, but I dared not for my punishment would be severe. This, we were told, was a method of teaching us humility.

Our breakfast consisted of one slice of dark bread and a cup of black coffee — no sugar or cream. Our only other meal was at four o’clock and consisted of soup made with vegetables and water. We had no meat nor seasoning as they were not allowed. A cup of coffee or a glass of skim milk constituted our beverage.

This was our diet 365 days a year — with the exception of Christmas Day. Wonderful Christmas! — how we looked forward to it. We each had a spoonful of syrup to supplement our rigid diet. That syrup shone like gold in our tin pan (our china plate). Rest assured the syrup lasted as long as possible. Is it any wonder that the Nuns die young? Their healthy, plump bodies become emaciated and skeletons with the skin stretched over them after a few years in a Cloistered Convent. This explains why it was not uncommon to have seen one of us steal potato peelings when we worked in the kitchen, and stuff them into our pockets. We were always hungry!

I can recall being so hungry that I thought I would go mad — especially during the times when I was placed in the dungeon for days without food. It was then I even tried to gnaw the woodwork. My mind felt like it would snap if they didn’t give me food.

We were brought there to be the Brides of Christ, but we found ourselves turned into fornicators with the priests, thieves for stealing food, murderers for having hearts filled with hatred and vengeance, liars and tattlers. Every Nun spied on the other. You dared not trust one soul in the convent. The Nun’s only hope was Hell here, and Hell hereafter.

We had many jobs in the convent. Besides cooking, cleaning and laundering huge bundles the priests brought from the outside, many hours were spent in prayer, chanting, and doing penance.

One penance took place in the laundry room. We washed the old-fashioned way — that is, with tub and washboard. Naturally, a lot of water spilled on the concrete floor and became very filthy as we worked. On one occasion the Mother Superior told me to stoop down and make the sign of the cross with my tongue on that floor. Seeing the look of disgust and anger on my face, she made me continue to lick the likeness of crosses on that concrete floor through the soapy, filthy water until my tongue was swollen and bleeding. That, too, was to humble me and make me a better Nun.

We also sewed, knitted, and embroidered for the Church Bazaars and other institutions. We made the holy garments for the Bishops, Cardinals and Priests.

A little Nun who may have been sick with raging fever and unable to have left her bed, nevertheless, had to sew or embroider so long as her hands were well. There is no mercy passed out in a Cloistered Convent!

If a Nun was obedient to her superiors and suffered her penance without having murmured or complained, or if she willingly gave her body to the priests, her penance was less severe. She was permitted some recreation as a result of her obedience. When the Mother Superior so willed, we were allowed in the yard between the convent and the high wall, to play a game such as bean bag. Sometimes we just stretched out on the grass and relaxed the entire twenty or thirty minutes. This was seldom my privilege, since I had acted against my conscience to obey all that my superiors had asked me to do and was punished.

We retired to our cells at 9:30 P.M.. The heights were turned out and the Mother Superior locked us in like criminals in a penitentiary. Our bedroom cells were arranged in one long row. They were opened to the Mother Superior’s gaze so she could check on all the Nuns. In our cells we had a narrow cot made of a slab of wood, one blanket (no pillow), and a crucifix in the room and a prayer board. As we knelt on our prayer boards, we felt tiny, sharp wires prick our knees. The tiny, sharp wires protruded upward through the bottom board, which made our praying very painful.

One night, while all was dark and silent, I heard the moaning of Sister Rosie in the next cell. Her moans reached the ears of Mother Superior and soon I heard those death-chilling words from that hard, callused individual. She spoke softly to Sister Rosie, “Here. Take this glass and drink, and you won’t suffer any more.”

Sister Rosie drank the contents of that glass. Mother Superior returned to her room. Suddenly, Sister Rosie screamed out, “My God, my God, I’m dying!”

We were certain that Mother Superior had poisoned her, but we dared not ask questions. Another Nun and I undressed her cold lifeless body the next day and carried her to the lime pit. There we sprinkled lime and chemicals over her nude body. That mixture would not only eat the flesh, but destroy the stench.

Of course we had no funeral — no high mass or low mass — no candles or flowers. Her death was not reported to her family or to the law. She was just another Nun in eternity via the lime pit route.

Mother Superior knew that dead Nuns didn’t talk, but did she know that Almighty God had designed a plan declaring, “Whatosever a man soweth, that shall he also reap?” Had she never read about His thundering voice at the Judgment Day spoken of in the book of Revelation:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerors, and idolators, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”