By Sooz Jeson, Founder
I grew up in the 50s when Norman Rockwell’s image of the American family was the ideal portrait of the American family. But it really wasn’t for many Irish Catholic families behind the four walls of make-believe. The dysfunction ran deep and continued for decades. The rebellious 60s mirrored our pain and out of that restless pain we tried to speak out with purpose; but often to deaf ears. While Martin Luther King, Jr. fought to address racial inequalities, many in my family protested in his honor alongside Father James Groppi. However, some members of the “Rockwell ideal families” held their own people hostage with abuse and threats to remain silent while we were also being abused in the dark shadows of our Catholic churches.
I began to write during adolescence. It wasn’t for anyone else to read, but it was my way to put words to what was happening to me and try to understand my self-hatred. Later, in 1972, I lost a very close friend and from that loss was blessed with a “real loving mom,” my friend’s mother. Losing him just ignited in me a festering pain that I struggled to bury but that filled me like poison inside. In my contaminated mind I believed suicide was the best answer. But, before I took that final step, I confided in one of our parish priests who had brought peace and comfort to my friend’s family when they had lost their son. He was sadly a “priestly imposter” who sexually abused me that night, and that was it, the end of me. Or so I thought. I followed through with me suicide plans.
Weeks later, when I did come out of a coma, I was overwhelmed with a new grief and the belief that even God didn’t want me. Of course, I now know that was not true, God did want me, just here on earth. Now, I am a part of Healing Voices according to His plans. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans of purpose not of harm, plans to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11). His words, His promise, are part of my daily mantra during morning meditations, which I excitedly end with, “What are your plans for me today Lord ? I am ready.” Do I fall? Yes, I do fall, but I always get up again. Remember, Jesus fell three times and still got up again and followed God’s plan.
I did marry later but brought a very broken person to that marriage, and like so many other survivors I wrestled with conflict and trust. We later divorced; however, we do have a son, an adult now, whom we adopted after three years of marriage from Peru when he was abandoned at 3 months old. During the divorce process, I pretty much went back into survival mode in order to be a “real mom” to my son and to build a healthy loving future for him. I took my own abusive past and stuffed it into a drawer so I could effectively function. I went to college and earned my degree in education. During that time my love of writing experienced rebirth and then continued throughout my college years . For 15 years I taught in public schools. Working with my students and witnessing the heartache many of them grew up in, I began to take their pain home with me. I could identify with their wounds, and slowly my drawer began to creep open. For years I worked on emptying my drawer with the help of two wonderful psychologists and, in 2003, reported my abuse by the “priestly imposter’ to many deaf ears. I continue to speak out to many who choose not to hear.
One day in my quest to be visible, I sat in a church on the south side of town in an area where I was about to buy a house. During the homily, the presiding priest, one of God’s faith-filled servants, addressed the travesties that saturated the nightly news. With tears flowing, he apologized for the actions of his brothers who had abused so many. He told us they had not only sinned but had also committed a heinous crime. Speaking in front of 200 or more, his voice trembling with emotion, Father said, “If you are someone sitting here in one of these pews who is or has been abused by clergy, God will send you a priest to help you heal.” Suddenly the 200 people around me disappeared and I felt welcomed home. It was just me and this very special priest, Father Robert Joseph, in that church, God catching our tears and embracing our wounds. Our many conversations and prayers together did bring me healing. A year and a half ago God called his “faith-filled, loving servant” home. Today, I continue to walk in Father’s loving shadow and bring that healing light of hope he shed on me into the lives of others.
Now that I have retired, I am committed in using my pain to help others no matter where their pain began. I am supported by Jeremiah on one side and Father Robert Joseph on the other, and God’s love and promise all around me.