The Red Skirt: Memoirs of an Ex Nun by Patricia O’Donnell-Gibson (2011)

Lots of folks who grew up in catholic schools of the 50’s and 60’s will laugh, nod, and cringe through this memoir.  As a catholic school girl of the 70’s, I experienced little, if any, of what the author went through, but I know my older sisters would surely identify with much of it, beginning with First Communion, the sacred right of passage that Gibson describes as “pretty heady stuff for an eight-year-old” as she admits “I did believe—right down to my shiny white shoes—that Jesus–the same one who looked out from the picture of the Sacred heart—was coming into me; into my body and also to my soul.” Actually, I’m not sure it’s any different today, except that fewer kids are terrified of priests and nuns, so if they don’t believe their bodies are literally joined with the body of Jesus through a wafer, maybe they don’t feel condemned to purgatory for such outrageous thoughts.  She offers great stories of missionaries preaching about the poor pagan babies who will forever hang out in a place called Limbo after they die, stories about being forced to flatten her hair and lengthen her skirt, and stories about the nuns constantly reminding students that any talent they possessed came straight from God, not from natural ability or hard work.  The memoir follows Gibson’s years from grade school, through high school and her “calling” into the Dominican order, her years as a Postulant, then a Novice, then a teacher, and finally, her decision to walk away from her life as a nun.  The best, most vivid writing in the book comes in the chapters about teaching elementary students.  The writing becomes livelier and more detailed.  It’s beyond me how she can remember so much from so long ago.  Sometimes I can’t even describe a class of students that I taught five years ago.  Perhaps if I had been a better Catholic, God would have provided me with a better memory.  (memoir)

One comment

  1. One older sister remembers these years all too well, and will surely recall many not-so-fond memories when she reads this book, which she looks forward to doing.


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