My Personal History
Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)
My pastor and my father have both advised me not to give out personal information. This biography is an attempt to share my heart and my life within the framework of their advice.
I started out as a "liberal" intellectual who was prejudiced against Christianity. I had been taught to believe that Christians were gullible people who were either stupid or uneducated. I was basically an agnostic who didn't know or care whether God existed. For me, the idea of God was irrelevant. I looked to science, psychology, and politics to save mankind from its problems.
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 they didn't make their Christian beliefs known to me.
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 overseas 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" 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. 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 half of the page contained Scripture and the bottom half contained a Catholic commentary about those portions of Scripture.)
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".
I went to a Catholic college and majored in Religious Education. My classes on Scripture taught a lot of modern "higher criticism," and some of my Religious Education teachers taught things that seemed to be contrary to the official teachings of the Catholic Church. I found a conservative priest and I checked teachings out with him to see if they were the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Because I no longer trusted the teachings of the Religious Education department, I changed majors.
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. 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.
Our mother superior was very careful about which priests she allowed to say Mass at our convent. We had priests who were loyal to God and to the Catholic Church. They believed the Bible. They were faithful men.
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 in, 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 was spoke about Luke 7:38-50. This was the time when Jesus ate in the home of a Pharisee and 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. Jesus told him that he had not washed Jesus' feet, but the woman did. He had not greeted Jesus 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, but I kept on going to Mass in spite of it.
My brother was a devout Catholic. He assisted the priests at Mass for many years. He lived several hours' drive away from us. We had a tradition that on Easter and Christmas, he would come visit and we would go to Midnight Mass together.
One Christmas, at Midnight Mass, the priest taught that the Christmas story as presented in the Bible is basically a pious fairy tale to make people feel good, but it has nothing to do with reality. My brother got so angry that he wanted to jump up and shout, "Are we here to celebrate it or to 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 (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 did not 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.
There was a prayer that had a major impact on my life, but I don't remember the exact words. When I prayed it, I was crying and I didn't know why. And afterwards, things were different, but it's hard to put into words. The prayer was something like this:
Since then I have been struggling with issues related to Catholicism. The papers that I have written have emerged from that struggle.
In addition to being a former nun, I am also a widow. My husband and I were very close, and his death introduced me to a level of emotional pain that I didn't know was possible. The articles which I have written about finding God's comfort during times of adversity were born out of my own experience.
THE HISTORY OF MY WEB SITE
Some Protestant friends of mine asked me to give them information about apparitions of Mary. I did research on the subject, as well as drawing from my own personal experience. (I was devoted to Mary and influenced by the apparitions of Lourdes and Fatima. I wore a scapular and a Miraculous Medal, prayed the rosary, and participated in special services honoring Mary.) I wrote a paper for my friends entitled, "Mary Worship? A Study of Catholic Practice and Doctrine". (Marian devotions and my involvement with them are described in that article.)
My family suggested that other people might be interested in the paper. So I created a web site for that one paper. People wrote to me about the article and about Catholicism in general. I wrote more articles in response to their questions and comments.
I welcome correspondence. However, I get a lot of mail and I'm not good at remembering names. So please forgive me if I forget your name, or don't remember that we corresponded before. Also, occasionally somebody's letter may "fall through the cracks". I don't always have time to respond to letters right away, and they may get lost in the crowd when a bunch of new mail comes in. So if I don't respond to you, please try me again.
If you are disturbed by some of the things which I have written, I understand how you feel. I am disturbed by them, too. I was a devout Catholic for many years, and strongly loyal to the Catholic Church. It is painful for me to read about these things and to write about them. But we need the truth, even when it is painful.
If you disagree with me so strongly that you want to write me an angry letter, please feel free to do so. I understand where you are coming from. However, I may not reply. But I will pray for you.
I no longer get involved in doctrinal debates. I've spent many long hours doing that and enough is enough. Time is precious and I have other things to do with my life.
USING THIS ARTICLE
You have my permission to copy this article, as long as you copy the biographical portion in its entirety. You have my permission to distribute copies of this article. I encourage you to link to it or to put it on your web site.
May the Lord bless you, guide you, and reveal Himself to you