Nuns behaving badly

A theme that recurs in some stories of saints is how their peers resented them for their piety, or for their efforts to reform the convent when they were in a position of leadership. I’ve run across another example today, from the story of Our Lady of Good Success, in Quito, Ecuador. One of the foundresses of the convent, Mother Mariana, was opposed early on by a group of nuns who wanted an easier religious life instead of the strict Franciscan rule that was kept at the time (this is in 1500-something). The ‘nonobservant’ nuns plot to get the bishop to take over rule of the convent, and to demote and imprison the prioress, Mother Mariana.

What was fascinating was that the convent had (and presumably still has, since the convent still exists and is still the home of the same religious order) a prison within it, a large room (nearly 400 feet long), complete with sleeping platforms, stocks, prayer books, and shackles. And so the imprisoned mystic – and eventually many of the nuns who supported her – were shut in there for some weeks or months on several occasions, where they carried on in piety and charity while the mean girl nuns taunted them.

This rang a bell, as it were, remembering dozens of similar tales: St. John of the Cross (imprisoned and tortured), St. Joseph of Cupertino (imprisoned); Saint Benedict (attempted poisoning)… I thought I’d try googling for a list of saints who were threatened with harm by their own brethren or superiors, but it was too hard to define well for the search engine. The attempt did reveal that “saints who were sinners” is one of the most popular saints-related searches.

Sometimes when I talk to people about this kind of story they are happy to hear that not all people aspiring to holiness are doing very well; others are inspired by the perseverance in charity of those being afflicted by their ill-intentioned peers. Perhaps perseverance in charity is only inspiring if it seems like something possible for oneself, even if one isn’t there yet?

Saint Joseph of Cupertino levitating in ecstasy.

All this put me in mind of a ponder: what makes a saint admirable to someone? Or even, taking away the detail of sanctity, what makes another person admirable? Thinking of my own experience, I can’t think of any examples that clarify what I think. So I’ll let that simmer until something comes up.

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