An Unquenchable Thirst, Faith, Mary Johnson, Memoir, Mother Teresa, Roman Catholics, Strong Women

Review: An Unquenchable Thirst

One of my all time pleasures is reading. Lots of books, usually two or three at the same time. I’ve been called a bookworm, bookhound, and bibliophile. 

I would call myself a bookinista-you know like fashionista. But I thought of a Spanglish term, a hybrid of “book,” and “conquista,” hence booquista, or book conqueror. 

I read to momentarily escape from my world, learn about other cultures, societies, or to see things from another point of view. 

Last month I had the pleasure of hearing Mary Johnson read selections from her book AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST: A Memoir, at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. 

I wanted to read this book because I was born and raised a Catholic during the 60’s/70’s. I attended Catholic elementary and high school. When I was around nine years old, I contemplated becoming a nun. That went out the door when I turned twelve.

I was also curious about Mother Teresa and her missionary nuns. The curiosity about cloistered life was a big draw. 

When I was a kid I thought all nuns were like my grammar school principal, Sister John Bosco, who carried a yardstick with her at all times and was OCD about clean chalkboards. 

I never thought about how nuns dealt with their humanness or feelings of sexuality, until Sister Rose Marie ran away with Brother Peter, the Dean of Boys at my high school.

But back to the book. At seventeen, Mary felt a calling when she saw a photo of Mother Teresa on the cover of Time magazine-18 months later (Summer of 1977) she began training as a Missionary of Charity, a nun in Mother Teresa’s order. 

The story has been described as a spiritual memoir and a feminist coming of age memoir.

Mary recounts her experiences as a teenager, young adult, and mature woman facing the challenges of living an austere life of poverty, chastity, and service. It takes a strong woman to serve under those conditions, ones she freely took, but persevered. After 20 years of service she leaves the Catholic Church to find her own path. It takes a strong woman to leave when your convictions guide you to do so. 

This is not “The Singing Nun,” or just a diary of a woman in a religious community. Her story goes deeper, into the culture of this particular order and her responses to her experiences. This is about her own spiritual development, faltering, doubt, hope and faith. 

You may have heard that the book has been calledanti-Catholic,’ negative, shocking.  

I didn’t see it as anti-Catholic. It was Mary Johnson’s experiences with pre-Vatican II dogma that she questioned. Heck (you know I wanted to say He**, but I still remember the yardstick). I questioned that a lot too, doesn’t make me anti-Catholic. 

Yes there are some experiences that surprised me (falling in love, stalked by a sexual predator subordinate, self-flagellation). But these are precisely the things that show the woman behind the blue and white sari. She speaks of these issues with candor and empathy, not as melodrama. 

The memoir reads as a novel, it’s intimate, descriptive, and intriguing. The insights into the political ‘party’ of Rome, the interactions with the other nuns and the townspeople they served, and the insider knowledge of Mother Teresa herself was very engaging. 

If you love reading well written insightful memoirs that give you a peek into other societies you will find this book enthralling. 


Family, Latino Family Traditions, Lent, Mexican Cooking, Mexican Holiday foods, Mexican Vegan food, Roman Catholics

When We were Catholic-Lent

by J. Cobb
My mother is Roman Catholic. She baptized and raised us as such. We attended Catholic schools from first to twelfth grade. Everything you can imagine in the 1960’s-70’s era of Catholicism, in our Latino home, we had it: Virgen of Guadalupe, St. Jude, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus statues. We had an altar under the niche in the stairwell.Wooden crucifixes, lit votives, rosary beads, and brown scapulars dotted our rooms along with framed pictures of the Pope, JF Kennedy, and Cesar Chavez. The parish priest came to our house for dinner. That’s how Catholic we were in those days.  

Now, three of the four of us are Christian and the other doesn’t affiliate with any denomination. We don’t practice the Lenten season like we used to ‘back in the day,’ the Roman Catholic way. But my mom still asks us every Ash Wednesday “…where are your ashes.” Don’t you commemorate that Jesus died? Don’t you fast? Do you eat meat? Surely you give up something-chocolate? wine?
She’s legally blind so we could lie and say we had them but they smudged, but come on who’d lie on Ash Wednesday. For a couple of years we’ve explained that our Christian denomination doesn’t practice the marking of ashes on the forehead, but that soon leads to an argument. It’s her way (the Catholic highway) or no way. 
No use in arguing with my mother about religious doctrine versus biblical scripture. So we look for common ground. Yes, we assure her that we do believe Christ died and rose again, we can fast, we can make this a season of service, and introspection. “That’s good,” she says. “But what about the food?”
Yes, the Lenten food we made in the (Catholic) past will still be made during the Lenten season. But it’s not reserved for the Friday’s of Lent. The food has become part of our family tradition, except for the fish sticks.   
When we were Catholic we ate comida Cuaresmena (food of Lent): tortitas de camaron (shrimp patties), nopales (cactus), chile rellenos and Capriotada (bread pudding). We also ate a lot of potatoes, beans, and vegetable soup, but they weren’t half as good or as special as the one’s mentioned.  
Shrimp patties photo by
Capriotada-photo by Janie R.

This is my sister Debbie’s recipe for Capriotada:

sliced French bread( regular or sour dough), piloncillo (raw sugar cone), dark brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, raisins, walnuts, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, oil/butter or spray oil , and water.

Pour 6 cups water in large saucepan, stir in one piloncillo, 4 whole cinnamon sticks, and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Use medium heat and bring to a boil. If you want it sweeter add 1/2 cup brown sugar. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add raisins during last 3 minutes if you want them softer. Discard cinnamon sticks before pouring syrup on bread.

Coat a 13x 9 oven proof baking dish with cooking spray, butter or oil. Preheat oven to 350.
Layer bread in pan and pour on syrup, layer with grated jack cheese and walnuts. Proceed with layering until the loaf of bread and all the syrup is gone. Bake for 30 minutes, if too soggy, bake another 15 minutes. 

Serve warm or chilled. For Vegan Son I use a non-diary cheese or leave out the cheese. Some people use only pillocillo, almonds, and Mexican Cotija cheese. It’s a matter of taste, just like it’s a matter of how you practice Lent. 

I’m hungry now, so I’ll post some of the other recipes at a later date.