A Cold Winter’s Night

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Since actress Alyssa Milano inquired over last weekend how many women have been sexually assaulted or harassed close to one million women, have responded with #Me too. I have my own story to tell.

I attended the College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minnesota in the late 1970’s. It was run by the Rochester Franciscans. The chaplain, Fr. John Surprenant was a diocesan priest. John’s home located on the edge of campus was a gathering place for many of the students. No one seemed to question girls coming and going from his house at all times of the day and night.

Being a religious studies major, I was also quite involved with the campus ministry team. I saw John at all sorts of campus functions and felt no reason to mistrust him. That is why one winter night during my junior year I stopped in at his house on my way back to the dorm from the library. Surprisingly he was all alone. We chatted about a boyfriend I had back home and some issues we had had. Somehow he got me across the room into his arms. He told me he could help me feel more comfortable being touched by a man. I remember him kissing me and touching me in ways I knew were inappropriate for a priest. The last thing I recall was him saying goodbye to me at his front door.

For a very long time, I never understood what had gone on between us. Was I somehow special to John now? I couldn’t talk to anyone about this. How do you tell a friend you’ve made out with the priest? My confusion lasted well until after graduation. I do know I made sure I was never in a room alone with him ever again.

Ten years later when I was 30 years old, Fr John was charged with sexual assault by several students. Only then did I realize what he had done to me. His whole ploy to get me in his arms was disgusting, but it seemed I wasn’t the only one he had used it on. But there was still a splice in my memory tapes. How did I get myself away from him? How did I get out of his house that night?

Forward to 2002 when the Boston Globe report on clergy abuse came out. The dam broke loose on what truly happened to me that winter night. My story is too long to tell here, but I can tell you the reason for the blank space in my memory is because what John did to me that night was so horrific that my psyche shattered.

He somehow got me upstairs to his bedroom and locked me in. There he stripped me. Although I fought back with everything within me, he told me I would never see my family again if I didn’t submit to all he wanted. He reminded me no one knew I had come to his house. He could keep me for days.  In the end, he choked and beat me until I couldn’t fight back. He raped me all the while telling me men would be grateful in my future because he had taught me about sex. It’s still fuzzy how I got out of his house that night.

Even though all this happened, I feel incredibly gifted. I walked home that night with no recollection of the terror I had endured. I did not get pregnant. Other girls did from this man. I would not recall any of this for the next 25 years. I got married and raised two children. Only then when I had the profession psychological and spiritual help I needed did all these memories come back. I’ve had the right people to walk this healing journey with me. And most of all God’s blessed me with a loving husband who has been my rock through all of this. I can only be grateful.

Please feel free to contact me if you have a story of clergy abuse. Maybe if only to say ME too!

My next blog will cover how the Catholic Church and my family and my friends responded to me when I decided to come forward as a survivor.