1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 16:
Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia
It was Ash Wednesday. Athanasius Kircher, S.J., substituting for Father Larry Mazzare at the parish of St. Mary’s, had made a place in his schedule, on one of the busiest days of the church year, for the three women. When Bernadette Adducci had called for an appointment, she had asked specifically that it be on Ash Wednesday. Not, as the up-timers normally asked, for an appointment on a certain day of the month. She had referenced the liturgical calendar.
He had made it his business to find something out about each of the three women who would be coming. Between running the parish, even with three curates to assist, and teaching at the high school, he did not know Father Mazzare’s parishioners as well as he should. It had been—impressive. It appeared that among the up-timers, families of the middle classes, ordinary businessmen and sometimes even manual workers, educated their daughters as carefully as the down-time high nobility. Granted the absence of Latin and Greek—one always had to make allowance for the absence of classical languages among the Grantvillers. He looked out the window. There were four women coming.
“Miss Adducci, Miss Constantinault, Miss Mastroianni, and…?”
“Noelle Murphy, Father Kircher. I made up my mind to come along at the last minute since I’m in town for a few days. I’ve been working down in Franconia and I’m headed back next week. But I’m not one hundred percent sure about this.”
Kircher noticed that Bernadette Adducci had a book in her hand. Presumably one of her own, that had not been wanted for the national library, or that she had needed for her daily work. Kircher refreshed his mind. In her mid-forties, she worked for the police department as their “juvenile officer” specializing in transgressions by, and against, children. She had an advanced degree, not in any field that was a subject of university study in his day, but she was a magister. Magistra? The word fell strangely on his ears. Her brother, Tony, the state treasurer, he knew fairly well.
She handed him the book. Over a hundred pages. Several entries on each page; for each a picture of a woman in a habit and and short description. Women’s religious orders as they had existed in the United States of America in—he flipped to the front—the 1950s. A half century before the Ring of Fire occurred. The four women sat quietly while he looked at it.
Finally, Miss Adducci spoke. “I entered the Daughters of Charity founded by Vincent de Paul when I was twenty years old; I left, not because of any scandal, when I was thirty-three.”
She had not said, “St. Vincent de Paul.” Did she think that Larry Mazzare would not have shared the original name of Grantville’s parish with his assistants?
Her next question confused him. “Have you read any of Simon Jones’ detective stories?” He assured her that he had read several.
“There was—is—a series that I love. An elderly nun who was a detective. Sister Mary Theresa Dempsey. I can lend you a couple of the books, if you might possibly have time to read them. I mostly borrowed them from the library, when I was working in Pittsburgh, but I bought a few in paperback that the library never got in.”
Kircher noted the wryness of her smile. She was continuing. “There was one young nun in that house, among the elderly women. In one book of the series, she remarked that when she entered the order, one of her relatives had commented that she was ‘climbing aboard a sinking ship.’ The women’s religious orders in the United States were a sinking ship. It happened in a half century, between when that was published,”—she gestured at the book in his hand—“and the time the Ring of Fire happened.”
He maintained his silence. After a pause, she continued.
“Do you want to know why?”
“I can’t answer for everyone. In part, probably, it was that there were other opportunities—the same reason that fewer women were going into elementary school teaching and nursing. But. I entered the order wanting to give a hundred percent of what I was capable, or more. By the early 1980s, though, so few young women were entering that the superiors seemed to be afraid of frightening them away. They never seemed to require more than eighty-five percent. Oh, I might have found it somewhere else. I could have asked for a transfer. In Calcutta, I am sure, Mother Teresa could have found a sufficiently strenuous job for me. But I was American; it was selfish, perhaps, but I didn’t want to go so far from my family. So, what did I do? I left the order and went into social work. In social work, I assure you, Father Kircher, a person can give more than a hundred ten percent for a lifetime and still see a gaping black hole of unmet needs before her.”
Kircher wondered idly what a “black hole” might be. A pit, perhaps? An abyss? Miss Adducci appeared to have said all that she intended to say. Miss Mastroianni gestured, an understandable request for permission to speak. He had noticed that many of his students used the same one and she was a teacher, a woman about thirty. He nodded.
“We’ve never had a house of sisters in Grantville, Father Kircher. The town could use one, now. Not the kind you’re used to; women enclosed inside walls. Not contemplative. The active kind that Bernadette is talking about. All we’re asking is that you think about it. If you could look at the book—see what sisters did? There’s so much that we could do.”
Kircher’s fingers met one another. He placed his chin on them. “And the four of you are doing nothing now?”
One of the younger women rose. Miss Constantinault; just appointed the chief of staff of the state court system for all of the state of Thuringia-Franconia, trained as an administrator and, to some limited extent, in the law. She looked at him sharply and said, “Not as a group—not as a unit. And not,” she pointed to the “AMDG” motto on the wall of his office, “to the greater glory of God.”
The youngest girl said, with some suddenness, “That’s why I came along. Because that is why we should be doing things.”
“I will,” he heard himself saying, “look at your book. Carefully.”
The four women rose. “We know that you have a lot to do today,” Bernadette Adducci said. “That is all we ask. Shall we plan to meet again after Easter?”