Testimony Of Mary Ann Collins – Ex Catholic Nun

I joined the Roman Catholic Church because I was looking for God. I entered the convent because I wanted to be close to God and to serve Him with radical devotion. But it wasn’t until after I left Catholicism that I found the kind of relationship with God that I had been looking for all along. You can read about it in my poems (Appendix F).

My pastor and my father both advised me not to give out personal information. This testimony is an attempt to share my heart and my life within the framework of their advice.

I started out as a secular humanist who was prejudiced against Christianity. I had been taught that Christians were gullible people who were either stupid or uneducated. I looked to science, psychology, and politics to save mankind from its problems.

However, I did have some exposure to Christianity. There was a western movie on TV where a man was killed and the people went to his grave and read the 23rd Psalm. They read the entire psalm. I was deeply impressed by it. In addition, I was exposed to Christianity through Christmas carols and other music.1

During my senior year in high school, I fell in love with a young man who was a devout Catholic. That was my first encounter with someone who strongly believed in God. I may have met Christians before that, but if so, I didn’t know that they were Christians.

This young man prayed. He loved God. He was a man of principle and integrity. His life was guided by his religious beliefs. He had hope. He had a kind of compassion and respect for people that I had not seen before. There was something different about him. I didn’t know what it was, but whatever it was, I wanted it. I figured that it had something to do with his religion, so I started taking instruction in Catholicism. The young man moved far away and I didn’t see him again, but I continued studying Catholicism.

During my first year of college I majored in biology. I also studied French and Latin. I went to a local priest every week for instruction. Under his direction, I studied many books, including the Baltimore Catechism, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Miracles, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and biographies of well known modern Catholics.

This was in the days of the Latin Mass, before there was a formal catechumen program. When I returned home for the summer, I found another priest to continue my instruction.

I was unable to return to college the following year. I found another priest to instruct me. For several years, I continued to study with that priest, while working to earn money for college. The priest gave me more books to study, including a series of booklets on Scripture. (There was a booklet for each book of the Bible. On each page, the top of the page contained Scripture and the bottom contained a Catholic commentary about those portions of Scripture.) I loved Scripture, and I read every word of those books, including all of the notes.

My job was close to a Catholic Church, and I went to Mass during lunch hour. I prayed for God to give me faith. I was praying, even though I wasn’t sure that God existed. My very first prayer was, “God, if You’re out there, show me.” I didn’t take communion because I wasn’t a Catholic. I only said as much of the Apostles Creed as I actually believed. It was a long time before I could even say the opening phrase, “I believe in God.”

After several years, I was baptized as a Roman Catholic. Soon afterwards, my brother also became a Catholic. His instruction was through group classes. I attended those classes with him because I was hungry to learn anything that I could about God.

I went to a Catholic college and majored in Religious Education. My classes on Scripture taught a lot of modern “higher criticism.” Some of my other Religious Education classes taught things that seemed to be contrary to the official teachings of the Catholic Church. I found a priest at that college who was willing to help me, so when something that I was being taught in class seemed to be questionable, I asked him whether or not it was consistent with the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

I entered the convent for several reasons. I wanted to be closer to God and to serve Him more wholeheartedly. I wanted to learn more about God and to spend my life being more intensely focused on Him. And I believed that God wanted me to be a nun.

When I entered the convent, I was careful to choose a conservative one which followed the official teachings of the Catholic Church. My training for religious life included studying the documents of the Second Vatican Counsel, other books relating to Catholic doctrine, and biographies of well known saints.

I spent over two years as a postulant and a novice. This was a time of testing for the leaders of the convent—and for me—to decide whether or not I should make vows.

I was in religious life for a little over two years. I was a novice, but I never made vows. A novice is someone who has entered a religious order and has been given a habit. He or she undergoes training and “religious formation” in preparation for taking vows. (There are novice monks as well as novice nuns.)

My mother superior had some questions about my calling, and she and the leadership decided that I should not remain in the convent. I left the convent on good terms and have occasionally been in contact with the sisters since then. Those nuns were dedicated,self-sacrificing ladies who loved God and wanted to serve Him.

Years later, I realized that the convent was not a healthy place, either spiritually or emotionally. Our self-imposed penances, and our other attempts to make ourselves more holy, actually encouraged self-righteousness. We were not allowed to have friendships, or to be close to any human being. We were supposed to be emotionally detached. We were taught to love people in a detached, impersonal way.

This is not Biblical. When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” He was referring to more than just marriage. The Bible encourages close relationships.

Our example of the perfect human being is Jesus. He was unmarried, but he was not at all emotionally detached. He wept publicly. His heart was “moved with compassion.” He made many statements that showed strong emotions. He had special friends (Peter, James, and John) and a “best friend” (John).

Some people have asked me why I call myself a former nun when I never made vows. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, if a novice has been accepted by a religious order (which I was) and has been given a religious habit (which I wore), then he or she is a monk or a nun in the broad sense of the term. So I refer to myself as a former nun.2

Our mother superior was careful about which priests she allowed to say Mass for us. We had priests who were loyal to the Catholic Church and its official teachings.

When I left the convent and went to live with my parents, I couldn’t find priests like that. The local priests seemed to have little faith and little loyalty—either to God or to the Catholic Church. I remember one Mass where the homily (a short sermon) was so distressing that I left in tears. I stayed outside, weeping. But then I went back inside, in order to take communion. I tried every Catholic church in town, but I couldn’t find a good priest.

I vividly remember a priest who spoke about Luke 7:38-50. This was the time when Jesus ate in the home of a Pharisee. A woman came and wept and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair, and anointed them with ointment. The Pharisee was critical of the woman. Jesus told him that he had not washed His feet, but the woman did. He had not greeted Him with a kiss, but the woman kissed his feet. The Catholic priest said that this event must not have really happened, because it would be rude for a guest to say something like that to his host, and Jesus would never have been rude. This illustrates an attitude towards Scripture which I encountered with a number of priests. It was very distressing.

Meanwhile, my parents had become Christians. They had joined a little Methodist church where the pastor believed the Bible and loved the people. Because the local Catholic churches were distressing, I started doing the splits. I went to early morning Mass (out of duty) and then I attended the Methodist church. When my parents joined another Scripturally based Protestant church, I followed them there, while still attending early morning Mass on Sundays. I did the splits for years.

I made myself go to Mass out of duty. But I went to my parents’ church eagerly. I learned exciting things about the Bible there. I sang songs that stirred my soul. I took classes that made me more and more hungry for Scripture. I got to know people who were enthusiastic about God. I learned that Biblical principles really work, and that they make a significant practical difference in real-life situations.

As I learned more about the Bible, I began to realize that some Catholic teachings are contrary to Scripture. This was disturbing. At first, I pushed those contradictions to the back of my mind and didn’t deal with them. They made me uneasy, but I wasn’t emotionally able to handle the idea that there might be something wrong with the Catholic Church. I had strong faith in the Catholic Church, and was intensely loyal to it.

My brother was a devout Catholic. He assisted the priests at Mass for many years. We had a tradition that on Easter and Christmas, he and his wife would come visit and we would go to midnight Mass together. This was a Mass on Christmas Eve which ended shortly after midnight (very early Christmas morning), and a similar kind of Mass the evening before Easter.

One Christmas, at midnight Mass, the priest taught that the Christmas story as presented in the Bible is basically a pious myth to make people feel good, but it has nothing to do with history or reality. My brother got so angry that he wanted to jump up and shout, “Are we here to celebrate it or debate it?”

The next day, we went to church with our parents. The pastor there told us that Daniel had been in charge of the “wise men” of Babylon (the magi). Therefore, they knew about Baalam’s prophecy that the King of the Jews would be heralded by a star. Their religion included watching the stars for signs. So when they saw the special star, they realized that it signaled the coming of this special King of the Jews. Also, one of their functions was to decide who the valid king was if there was a controversy about it. So when they came to confirm that Jesus was truly the King of the Jews, they were fulfilling their official function.

Needless to say, the contrast was striking—and troubling. I did a lot of praying after that. By the following Easter, I had left the Catholic Church and joined my parents’ church.

I didn’t know what to tell my brother and his wife, because they were coming to visit at Easter, and I didn’t want to go to midnight Mass with them. We had a long, awkward telephone conversation. Then I finally told them. They started laughing. They had also left the Catholic Church, and were in the process of visiting different churches, trying to find a church home. And they didn’t know how to tell me about it.

I used to be all tied up in rules, regulations, and rituals. But now I have found a wonderful, vibrant, personal relationship with the Creator of the universe, who loves me. And with Jesus Christ, who loves me so much that He died for me. And He has put a new song in my heart:

Your Word brings life to save my soul.

Your Truth brings light to make me whole.

Your perfect love casts out my fears,

Comforts me, and dries my tears.

I’m in the shadow of Your wings

Where you teach my heart to sing.

Safe and secure from all alarm,

Your faithful love keeps me from harm.

I will bless You all my days.

You fill my heart with songs of praise.

1. I played piano, and we had a music book titled The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. In that book there were many different kinds of songs, including Christmas carols, spirituals, and a few hymns. I used to play and sing those Christian songs because I loved the music. In the process, I was exposed to the words of those carols, spirituals, and hymns. I didn’t understand what the words meant, but I loved those songs, so I kept playing them and singing them. Sometimes God can reach people through music. Those songs got me longing for something, but I didn’t know what it was. Looking back, I now realize that I was longing for the Lord.

2. “Novice,” Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XI, 1913. (Accessed 9/25/08) The term “novice” refers to both monks and nuns who go through a period of training and preparation.