Reproduced from Lay Witness, May 2000 issue
reviewed by Tim Drake
Ever since the publication of Patrick Madrid's best-seller Surprised by Truth. conversion stories have gained wide appeal. Cast in that mold, Prodigal Daughters offers a new twist on the familiar tale of the prodigal son Like Donna Steichen’s 1991 book UnGodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism, this book focuses on women and their relationship with Christ and His Church. This book, however, is far more hopeful. Prodigal Daughters provides the stories of 17 women who, for various reasons. left the faith of their youth only to later return to the Catholic Church. Their stories are compelling, honest, and inspirational.
Because of the prodigal son story, we expect prodigal sinners to be sons, Steichen writes. For it is women, by and large. who have filled most of the pews at morning Masses and Rosaries. Yet Steichen cautions against taking feminine fidelity for granted. The experimentation and dissent hidden under the guise of "the Spirit of Vatican II” have left many in doctrinal confusion and have led many right out of the Church.
All of the women featured in the book were born during or shortly after the baby boom era. While the women themselves, and their stories, are quite diverse, they share a common pattern: their disillusionment with the Church, a replacement for the Church, and their eventual return to the Church.
The reasons for their departures vary greatly. Ignorance or stubbornness led some astray. Others, such as Mary Lou Partridge Pease replaced the Church with empty intellectualism. Liturgical disorders led some out of the Church, Some found alternative belief systems. For Moira Noonan it was the New Age movement; for Kathleen Brown Robbins it was Zen Buddhism. Constance Bucks embraced the militant feminism of the National Organization for Women. For still others. the trappings of our culture, or personal problems and sins such as alcoholism or abortion, put them on a path leading away from Our Heavenly Father.
Juli Loesch Wiley’s story is especially riveting. She left the Church at age 18 and returned indirectly through spending 11 years as a Benedictine lay associate with the Pax Center. Through her diary entries, readers follow her journey and eventually feel her disillusionment with the direction the Mount St. Benedict community has chosen. Near her final days with the community, she writes:
Leila Habra Miller describes her sadness at being robbed of her faith:
As interesting as their reasons for leaving the Church are the personal reasons for each of their returns. For some it was prayer, for others their husbands. For many it was a modern apostle, such as Scott Hahn. Mother Angelica, or Peter Kreeft, fighting religious illiteracy. For others, it was the personal example of a mother, grandparent. or friend. One comes away from the book realizing the highly individual and wonderful ways in which God reaches His children. Steichen explains:
The book is written as much for faithful Catholics as it is for those who have fallen away. In fact, Steichen says that the reason she wrote the book was because so often when she was speaking to audiences, two kinds of people would approach her. "Women of my own generation who were heartsick because their children had left the Church. and younger people who said. 'You know, I'm one of those reverts you talk about.' It occurred to me that these two groups needed to know more about each other."
More than anything, these grace-filled testimonies offer hope—hope that a kind word heard, a prayer offered, a witness, or a book, tape, or Rosary accepted may prove to be the first step homeward for those who have strayed.
Reading such personal accounts, we are allowed to share in the pain and disillusionment of these women and learn from their mistakes. Once they are restored to the life of grace, Steichen describes them as “yeast in the measure of flour that can eventually leaven the whole of society" (p.171). In their stories, we are humbled and reminded of our own sinfulness. Like the prodigal son, these women upon their return home, have discovered the loving embrace of a merciful Father.
Prodigal Daughters may be ordered by calling Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.
(This book review can also be seen on the LayWitness website)