Book Review reproduced from The National
Catholic Register March 12th 2000 issue
Woman Who Took The Long Way Home
By Bridget Neumayr
Thousand Oaks, California
There’s a ballerina in Prodigal Daughters.
There’s also a former New Age therapist. Read all these essays and you’ll even meet a one-time member of NOW.
What could women from such disparate backgrounds have in common? All longed
for home and weren’t satisfied until they were
securely settled in with the Catholic Church.
All of the prodigals in these pages write of
a strong homing urge pointing to the Catholic Church — specifically its fullness as a timeless bastion of truth. This is a collection of stories about
the return journey.
The book turned out, says the editor, to be “a
portrait of a unique generation of Catholic women” —“reverts,” rather than converts, because the
flame ignited in childhood never quite died out. Cradle Catholics born in the ‘50s and ‘60s, they left but made
their way back. Compared with the women of their mothers generation, some of whom are described here as “silent
and smiling,” they
are vocal witnesses of God’s grace. Their hallmark is intellectual and spiritual clearheadedness. Perhaps
not coincidentally, they also have a good sense of humour. Kathleen Brown Robbins’ account of popping former Boston
Cardinal Richard Cushing’s portrait into the closet whenever her faith ebbed is genuinely funny. (Eventually he
came out for good).
Come to think of it, with their passionate opinions
and eloquent expression, these women would make formidable
opponents in debate with the outspoken feminists of their generation — the Germaine Greers and Gloria Steinems
of the world. And, indeed a number are now writers and speakers, as we learn from the updates added by the editor.
Who are the women? The ballerina is Diane Yelenosky Spinelli, born into a loving home in 1955.
The discipline of dance kept her away from the temptations of the other prodigals — drugs. smoking, sex and alcohol
— but as a teenager, she dropped out: “An emotional idealist. I craved knowledge of my ultimate purpose,
a stronghold of convictions on which to base my life choices.” She writes. “ I was ready to respond to heroic demands, but them were none in the diluted,
spineless, ‘feel good’ religion being offered to me.”
During her time the at the Royal Ballet in London and back home with the Houston Ballet, Spinelli was supported spiritually by various Protestant churches. Protestant contacts brought her to the pro-life movement
and it was in this way that she became reconnected with a more dynamic Catholicism.
Spinelli represents the daughters who did not wander quite
so far, often using Protestantism as
a sort of halfway
home. New Age therapist Moira Noonan, however. wandered far.
Her tale, “Ransomed from the Darkness”, is an eye-opener.
Primed by her interest in Eastern Religion and disabled after a car crash, Noonan was ripe for
the “New Thought” she encountered at a pain clinic in Wisconsin. She subsequently became psychic and for a while,
believed herself clairvoyant. Providentially, she never lost her love for our Lady.
Pregnant from a short-lived marriage, Noonan, on holiday in Paris, spontaneously consecrated her unborn daughter to the Blessed Mother at the Basilica
of Sacre Coeur. The daughter brought Noonan back to the Church.. Like other writers, she found she could
not give her own child a stone instead of bread. While practicing as a New Age therapist and conscious of her paradoxical
position, she sent her daughter to first Communion classes. Her own “reversion” followed, Now repentant and active,
Noonan helps others to “escape from the darkness”.
If Noonan was far out, Constance Buck was far in. The one-time NOW number, once listed in Who’s
Who Among American Woman, viewed the world through a feminist lens. Everything had to be redefined “I began purging my life of both God and family,” she recounts.
Of course, this left her
empty, so she took the drugs and, as she puts it “ate macro-biotically”.
Crowned with academic honors, she went to work in the US. House
of Representatives. By chance one Easter, she found herself at Mass. “All at once I saw my errors quite
clearly . . . the fact of my salvation or damnation would not rest with me but with Him”.
A number of the writers had similar epiphanies.
Most of the prodigals have a distinctly intellectual bent. Rosemary Hugo Fielding, for example, almost
driven to despair in graduate school by the philosophy of deconstruction, values the principle of contradiction. “I saw at last that radical feminism contradicts Christianity: one was true
and one false.” But the book’s essence is spiritual. All the writers see clearly that it is only through God’s grace that they are home. Their expressions of love for the sacraments,
particularly reconciliation and the
Eucharist, are deeply moving.
These women desperately needed forgiveness. They found it in the
Church. Read the stories of Allyson Smith and Rachel T. Riley, the prodigals who had abortions, and you will never
take the sacrament of penance for granted again.
Smith writes that she had
not been to confession for 20 years. “I walked out of the confessional feeling lighter
than air. . . . From that day on, instead of dreading the Sacrament of Penance, as I had when I was a child, I
have loved it, because now I understand its healing power.”
Each story is unique, yet each fits the prodigal archetype. These women sing a joyful chorus
that rises in stark contrast to the sterile feminism exposed by Steichen in Ungodly Rage
(Ignatius 1991). Each can identify with Smith at the moment of absolution. “My
Heavenly Father welcomed His prodigal daughter all the way home at last.”
Thanks to Donna Steichen for a book rich not only in spirituality
but also common sense and literary elegance. Her introduction and conclusion are gems of spiritual reading
This is a powerful book which should be read by dutiful and prodigal alike, for it will open the eyes of the former
and comfort the latter.
Section Contents Copyright © Donna Steichen 2008
Version: 17th February 2008