My Life Turned Upside Down

by Paulette Curran, editor

When I arrived at Madonna House in 1970, I was lost and deeply unhappy.

I came out of the counter-culture of the 1960s, the so-called hippy era—not the drugs and free sex part, but the idealistic, rebellious, the-world-is-terrible-but-we-young-people-will-change-it part.

I had rejected the values I had been raised in. In some ways, this was good. I didn’t want to live for money and getting ahead. In some ways, it was bad. I rejected the good things, too, the most important ones being God and the Church.

It was good that I broke away from a possessive mother to find my own life. But the grounding, the stability that had come from a pre-Vatican II Catholic childhood, were gone. As I said, I was lost.

The life-style I was leading when I arrived at Madonna House—that of the counter-culture—and more especially the space I was in inside came from a number of sources.

They came from my wounds. I was from a dysfunctional family and had emotional problems. I was also very immature, not ready to take on adult life.

I was lonely and felt I didn’t fit in anywhere.

My sinfulness certainly played a part. I was lazy and self-centered, not caring and hardly aware of it, when my actions hurt someone else.

Ignorance played a part, too. There was so much about life and how to live that I simply did not know.

All of that was true. But these things were not the whole story.

In rejecting the society around me, my instincts were sound. Then as now, lots was wrong with it. I see that even more now than I did then.

I had quit teaching about a year and a half before coming to Madonna House and had tried one thing after another—searching, searching, searching.

I was searching for a way of life, something I could throw myself completely into, something I could believe in with all my heart, something that would give me a vehicle for working towards making the world a better place.

But deeper than that, far deeper than any of that, something I wasn’t aware of at the time, God was drawing me, and I was hungering, hungering, hungering for him. That’s why nothing else would satisfy me.

So I arrived at Madonna House. I had been doing what I wanted, believing what I wanted for years. So guess how I reacted to the discipline of Madonna House? I hated it and made no secret of that. I argued with everyone and was in general a real pain in the neck.

But my real problem with Madonna House was that God was very much around here, and if you have a problem with God, this place will drive you crazy.

My generalized unhappiness became acute pain, and I almost left.

But something kept me from doing that. Something was attracting me.

When I was here about a week, I walked into the chapel upstairs and said to God, “This place is awful, but I do want to get back together with you. Please open up a way for that to happen.”

That’s a prayer I’m sure God always answers.

Within days, I had an experience of God which resulted in my returning to the Church.

This, of course, brought me tremendous joy, but not too long afterwards, my other problem started bothering me. What do I do with my life?

After a little while I said that to the priest who had become my spiritual director.

His answer was a bombshell.

He said, “You have been looking for what you want to do with your life. Have you ever thought of asking God what he wants you to do? You need to surrender your life to God. When you do, he will tell you what your vocation is.”

Surrender my life to God! What a bombshell! Remember, I was only just back in the Church!

He said, “You need to stop running. You need to stay here or some other similar place until you are ready to surrender your life to God.”

Deep in my heart, I knew he was right.

It took some time but I finally did it. Finally, I said to God. “I will do whatever you ask. If you want me to get married, you find me the man, and I’ll do it. If you want me to join a convent, I will. If you want me to stay single in the world, I will. If you want me to join Madonna House, I will.”

It was the deepest decision I ever made in my life: deeper than becoming an applicant to Madonna House, deeper than making first promises, deeper even than making final promises.

Within five months of my arrival at Madonna House, I knew what my vocation was. I knew that I was being called to give my life to God in Madonna House.

This answer came in several stages—but mainly in a growing peace and a deep, quiet sense that this was home. More and more—I know this sounds really strange, but it is true—I could not imagine leaving Madonna House.

Finally, I knew, deeply knew that God wanted me to stay here. Yes, it was true what my spiritual director had said. When I finally surrendered my life to God, and when I listened to Him, He told me what my vocation was.

Does all of this sound very limiting—limiting my freedom, ignoring my desires? The thing is that, though God might not move with our superficial desires, he does move with the deepest desires of our hearts.

God knows each of us intimately. He moves with who we uniquely are. He wants to bring us to a life that fits who we are and which will give us a deep sense of being home and bring us peace.

At the deepest level of my heart, I wanted God. And he wanted me.

And when I surrendered my life to God, an amazing thing happened—something I didn’t see until a few months later.

My life had been so turned upside down during my first year in Madonna House, that, in many ways, I hadn’t seen what was here.

I had always loved traditional, old fashioned ways, and here were traditional, old fashioned ways.

I had hungered for family. I was an only child in a dysfunctional family. Here was family.

I was from New York City and had always wanted to live in the country. Here was country.

Here, even, was snow all winter. I had always wanted to live in a place where there was snow all winter.

When I accepted what God wanted for me, even on a natural level, he gave me so much that I had always wanted.

And on a deeper level, I discovered that Madonna House spirituality fit me. I believed every bit of it. The struggle was (and is) to live it, but there’s nothing about it that I didn’t deeply believe and accept.

Within Madonna House I found a way of life that deeply fits me, a way of life that in the words of the song, “Climb Every Mountain” would “need all the love I can give, all the days of my life for as long as I live.”

And, most important of all, I found what I had been so desperately hungering for. I found God.

All of which is not to say that I lived happily ever after. Life in Madonna House has not been easy. There has been and continues to be, pain and struggle as there is in every life. I have been healed of so much, but I continue to come up against my wounds, my inner poverty, and my sinfulness. I imagine I always will.

In a year and a half, I will be celebrating my 50th anniversary in Madonna House. And I can honestly say that there is no place on this whole earth where I would rather have spent my life or where I would rather be now. I am more grateful for this vocation than I would ever be able to say.