Benedictus: The Story of Sister Anne is a love story of both divine and human dimensions. The story of the nun is also the story of Joseph, her psychologist. It was a labyrinthian path that brought the two together and changed both their lives. Twenty years of conflict over her vocation had taken Sister Anne into the depths of darkness. She had always believed that someone would come to help her—and someone did—but not in the way she had imagined or that the world would easily accept.
The medical director of the hospital where Sister Anne was a patient states in the book’s prologue: “The extent of her physical, mental and spiritual perplexities required all the resources at our individual and collective command and strained our beliefs to the limit. Very rarely does a patient undergo a REAL transformation, showing that true healing can occur.” The themes of this story dating from 1970 are universal: awareness of the forces that have shaped our lives while at the same time embracing the power of choice and the freedom to change.
Entering into therapy with Joseph Wright was an agonizing and deliberate choice, never to become routine. Always, it would demand that fears be set aside and risks be taken. It proved to be a psychological mine field, never knowing, but quite expecting, that with the next step, my whole world would be annihilated. I had tried every avenue of help and found none; why would this be any different? Yet, something told me it would. The despair of my present condition was fertile ground to seek the truth.
“Sister Anne!” The voice of compassion penetrated my gray world of withdrawal. With awareness, fear and anxiety returned. My eyes locked with Joseph’s and a heavy, tense silence hung in the air between us.
The psychologist leaned back in his swivel chair, picked up his pipe, and filled it with tobacco, slowly, deliberately. Drawing deeply, he brought it to life and smoke swirled toward the ceiling. The ritual. “As I was saying, Sister, look at all your options. How long have you been a nun?”
“Twenty years!” I was aware of the fierceness in my voice, my defensive tone. I gave him a piercing look that said no more. Then, looking at him directly, my voice dropped to a whisper, “You’re going to tell me to leave the convent, aren’t you? You think this illness is psychosomatic, don’t you?”
“No, I’m not going to tell you to do anything. I value religious life. I was a minister myself at one time. I’m just saying, look at everything. Open all the doors! I don’t know about ‘psychosomatic.’ I don’t use labels. Man is a unity. We can’t isolate the mind, the body, the soul. Everything is interrelated. We can’t talk about anything in isolation.” The words were spoken with conviction, and I felt reassured. A sigh of relief I didn’t quite understand escaped me.
Joseph concluded the session by going to the heart of the matter: “Was it your choice to be a nun, Sister Anne?”