Mary-Margaret Fischer emerges into the world at the same moment her mother is leaving it. “Conceived in sin and birthed in sorrow,” she is the tangible result of a seminary student forcing himself upon her mother, who had just taken her vows as a School Sister of Notre Dame. Now in her 70s, Mary-Margaret, along with her circle of sisters, is somewhat reluctantly writing her memoir “for those who will follow us, so they’ll know that sometimes God calls us to do things we may never understand, and that sometimes God calls us to do things we can grasp the reason of right away. Usually there’s a little of both in the mix, if you live long enough and develop the capability of recognizing the Divine fingerprint. Holy smudges abound, indeed.”
Raised by her grandmother and aunt, and later by the sisters of St. Mary’s Convent School, Mary-Margaret’s earliest memories include Jude Keller, the lightkeeper’s son, who would take her life sailing, spiraling and diving like the kites he loved to fly. The other was Jesus, who overflowed her heart with love, even when guiding her down paths she didn’t want to go. Her visits from Jesus were perhaps my favorite parts as they continued on through the years, powerful in their brevity and simplicity. Lisa Samson made these conversations believable and wonderful. But let’s get on with the story.
Jude grows better looking and a little rougher around the edges with each passing year. There is something about him that excites the young Mary-Margaret, and something about her that he keeps inside his heart’s only tender spot, reserved for no one else. As teenagers, the choices they take head them in far different directions, and it seems implausible the two could possibly end up together. But God has plans for them both, and together they must be.
Mary-Margaret moves diligently toward her dream of becoming a sister, serving in the South during the civil rights movement. When she attempts to merge the black and white classrooms of a Catholic school, she is mercilessly beaten by the KKK while the school burns down. Meanwhile, Jude, who ran away from an abusive home situation, has fallen into a life of prostitution and drugs. Weeks before Mary-Margaret is to take her vows, Jude visits her. Gaunt and faded, Jude confesses his drug abuse and his continued lifestyle of prostitution. He promises to meet her the next day to talk more, but never shows up. Shortly thereafter, Mary-Margaret learns he has syphilis. The next time Jesus visits her, He says He wants her to marry Jude.
Saddened and confused, but lovingly obedient, she convinces Jude to marry her and discovers a new and beautiful kind of love. They bear a son, John, who becomes a Jesuit priest and surgeon. Long after Jude dies, Mary-Margaret visits her son in Africa. It is there, thousands of miles from her home, that she learns the truth about her father and mother, and the union that brought her into the world.
There is something powerful about this book. Not powerful like an erupting volcano or a rocket launch, but more like a silent riptide flowing beneath still waters. It courses far deeper than the memories of Sister Mary-Margaret, using her story to bring the reader just a step or so nearer to Jesus. It adds a layer of depth to the phrase “inspirational fiction,” for truly it inspires the reader to see people beyond who they appear to be --- maybe just a little more like the way God sees them.
I would expect nothing less from Lisa Samson, whose stories reflect an unwavering faith, a natural understanding of human nature and an uncanny ability to gently draw you in. She is downright gifted at painting a three-dimensional picture of her characters, easing you into their hearts and minds, thoughts, feelings, desires and shortcomings. I found myself thinking about THE PASSION OF MARY-MARGARET long after the last page was turned.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on March 10, 2009