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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I've been thinking about telling you my mother's story. Then the local paper trumped me and printed it themselves. My mother was raised by nuns in an orphanage. As a result, nothing that anyone every says about the clergy or religious causes me the slightest pause. Well, almost never. You have all heard me say many times, that nuns are wrong all the time. That sometimes we actually make things up. That nuns, back the the days of classroom crowded with sixty children in the baby boom, and back in my mother's school days, didn't receive a particularly great education.

I haven't mentioned brutality.

I have been thinking about it for a long time.

Then I got this question:

I am actively looking for help. I need a patron saint for my daughter's college roommate. This is a beautiful child who was raised by a mother (very loose use of the word) who verbally, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically abused her. I am desperate to find a novena and saints I can appeal to for this young woman. Anybody, PLEASE, who can guide me in this........

My mother has that list, too, but you can add "physically" to it. My mother will help you. Not because she is a saint in heaven. Because her patron saint is Mary the Mother of Jesus. One of our other readers suggested you turn to Mary, as well she put it, "Get out the big guns."

My mother's particular "Mary" is Our Lady of Perpetual Help. You're probably familiar with the painting from which this devotion is derived.

No one actually knows much about its origins. Our Lady of Perpetual Help is painted on wood. It is Byzantine in style and is supposed to have been painted in the thirteenth century. Who painted it? No one knows.

It represents The Blessed Mother holding the Child Jesus who has been frightened by The Archangels Michael and Gabriel as they present before Him the instruments of His Passion. What's up with that? I'm not sure why they would want to do that, but it does remind me that if the Archangels Michael and Gabriel can go around scaring the Baby Jesus and get away with it, I shouldn't hold a grudge against some old uneducated nuns. Anyhow, the Child Jesus has run so quickly to His mother that one of His shoes has come off. She is comforting Him.

But she is looking at us.

Over the figures in the picture are some Greek letters, abbreviations of the words “Mother of God,” “Jesus Christ,” “Archangel Michael,”and “Archangel Gabriel”
respectively. I imagine that is so we don't get confused or pretend it isn't really the head angels that are scaring Jesus right out of His shoes, right in front of His mother.

The painting was brought to Rome in the fifteen century, where it was
revered until the French invaded Rome in 1812. It disappeared for forty years until it was found in the oratory of the Augustinian Fathers. Perhaps some Augustinian Father had it in his closet for safekeeping for a while. Pope Pius IX took a personal interest in the painting and ordered it open once again for public veneration. It now resides in St. Alphonsus Church in Rome.

I can't tell you that Our Lady of Perpetual Help is the reason my mother survived her brutal childhood. There are a few reasons, not the least of which being that my mother is a remarkable tenacious person. But I can tell you that always in times of doubt, stress, fear and troubles, she has turned to this devotion. I always light a candle to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in any church I find myself, in my mother's behalf.

To this I would add the prayer she says to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, The Memorare.

Remember, oh most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who implored thy help or sought they intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly to thee oh Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate,despise not my petition, but in thy mercy hear, and answer me. Amen.

Parse those words. Please.

I would tell you my mother's story, but now, thanks to an article in her local paper, I don't have to. She can tell you herself. I'll put the article up later, as I have to take out some names for my own sake.

I will tell you in advance that there were two reactions to the story. Shock, from the people who weren't there and satisfaction from the people who were. "It's a story that should have been told a long time ago," as one of her contemporaries there said when he called her to say, "I can match you story for story."


Sanctus Belle said...

Of course Mary is an excellent choice. I would add St. Germaine Cousin as well. She is the patron of the abused and her story is incredible. She is one of my daughter's patron saints - because she admires her holiness in the face of abuse, NOT because she is abused...of course.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha: I'm so grateful for this post today. As the mother of two children who experienced great abuse before coming to us, I lay awake some nights wondering what is going to happen to them over the long term. Pray ... hope ... and pray some more.

I linked to your post today at my Mary blog: http://beholdyourmotherbook.blogspot.com/2008/04/sister-mary-martha-says.html.

Thanks again for sharing this glimpse into your mother's heart!

Terry Nelson said...

I'm looking forward to your mom's story. You are my favorite nun ever! God bless.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all, my heart has been so heavy since meeting this girl. I just have to do everything I can.
Prayer is, of course, the best start I can make. I will also do my best with every opportunity the Lord gives me.
Tho our earthly parents may fail us we do have the perfect Father we can always go to. Thank you again.

Soutenus said...

I, too, look forward to reading your Mother's story. Thank you for posting The Memorare.
God bless!

Anonymous said...

Would St Bakhita of Sudan be considered a patron saint for the abused as well? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Your advice matches my personal efforts. I probably cannot count how many copies of The Memorare I kept around me during my teenage and college years to pray and I always tried to keep the focus on Mary as my mother.

I wonder how you came to know your mother's story. My oldest child is 12, so far my kids accept the "he is not a nice person" reason that they don't know certain people. I don't know if this will always work or what they should ever know if anything.

MOm said...

Sister: Paradoxically, I have found my history as an abused child; physically by my father, emotionally and psychologically by my mother, to be a great blessing. Not that I would wish what I went through on any child ! but that the experience, once overcome (and throw in a conversion to Catholicism in there too), has taught me incredible lessons about forgiveness, made me appreciate my children so much, taught me humility, and well, so much more. Perhaps your mother would say the same.
Anonymous: I always thought that my children deserved an unclouded relationship with grandparents and extended family, so I didn't tell them ANYTHING (and never left them alone) until they were in their late teens. Then it would easily come up in conversations like "Son, when I was young, yelling meant someone was going to get hurt. I know you are just expressing your frustration with math homework, but when you yell, it scares me. Please find some other way to express your frustration. If you need to yell, go outside." This would develop into a conversation about a small slice of Mom's history. They need to know that this is part of human nature and behaviour, but not until they are ready to deal with the information and ready to recognise the same tendencies/potential in themselves. It seems to be working, all six, now adult, have a loving relationship with their grandmother and the love of grandchildren (and great-grandchildren especially!) seems to have healed many of her hurts as well.

picky person said...

Hi Sister,

Whatever your mom endured, she obviously overcame it all and came out smelling like a rose, judging by the daughter she raised.

The Memorare I learned had a few extra words. "...that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help....". Could the Memorarae be like the Prayer to St. Michael, which seems to have several variations (protection/safeguard, cast/thrust, prowl/roam)?

bill7tx said...

Is there a patron saint for the disorganized? Our parish could use some help lately. (Just don't send Sister Nicholas.)

Joey Cruz said...

Glad to have found your site. Very inspiring and informative.

Anonymous said...

I love the Memorare. One of my favorite prayers...right along with Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy...

We can't forget the Mercy.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,
Somewhat miraculous to find your site tonight, Following my memorare, I will sleep in peace