“A Holy Snooping” by Mardi Link

by University of Michigan Press on July 7, 2009

Isadore's secret Mardi Link is author of the forthcoming true crime novel Isadore’s Secret. Below is a posting that appeared on her blog Rusty Gun on July 2, 2009.

July 1st the New York Times featured a story on naughty nuns. Well, not naughty nuns per se, but rather Rome’s decidedly dim view of the behavior of nuns in the U.S. According to the article, the Vatican has initiated two investigations into the workings of American convents. Specifically, those convents whose Sisters are out and about, working with the public. Cloistered nuns who shun our modern world are, apparently, still ok.

“Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming,” NYT reporter Laurie Goodstein writes in the piece.

An apt description of Sister Mary Janina, a Felician teaching nun here in Northern Michigan in the early 1900s. She was born in German Poland, immigrated to the U.S. with her parents in the late 1880s, and was taken in by the Felician Motherhouse in Detroit after being orphaned. The Felicians educated her and, after she took her final vows, sent her to the Leelanau Peninsula to teach in the remote Holy Rosary School in Isadore.

If her fate is any indication, the Roman Catholic Church is about 100 years too late in their snooping – just a year after she arrived, Sister Janina was pregnant, later murdered, and buried alive in the basement of the very church she had been assigned to serve.

SisterJaninaI’m telling you all these juicy details because Sister Janina is the central character in my latest literary effort, Isadore’s Secret: Sin, Murder and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town, to be released later this summer by The University of Michigan Press. Her disappearance, murder, and the trial of her accused killer was reported on by the NYT, as well as newspapers throughout the country, but despite her celebrity, this is the only known photograph of her, found inside her prayerbook after her disappearance, and first published in the now out-of-print book, The Errant Nun


I can’t help but wonder what the Vatican would have found if they had launched their investigation in 1909 instead of 2009. Sister Janina had been missing for two years then, and townspeople assumed she had run off with a lover or fallen prey to a botched abortion. Her fellow Sisters had fled their convent in fear for their own lives, as they did not believe she had left of her own accord. Her lovesick priest, who had been out fishing with two witnesses on the day she disappeared, moped through his days and spent hours in the woods and fields searching for her body. 

In the comments section of today’s NYT article, one reader suggests that where crimes within the Catholic Church are concerned,  “Let the nuns do the investigating, for God’s sake.” A viewpoint Sister Janina probably would have supported. 

You can read the Prologue of the book on Good Reads.

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