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Book Review: An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa by Mary Johnson

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First, let me say that I am not Catholic. I was raised Baptist but I am now Unitarian Universalist. So that may influence my review of An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life.

However, like everyone else, I greatly admired Mother Teresa’s charitable works. And I have always wondered what the daily life of a nun is like. What does it really mean to make vows of obedience and poverty?

Mary Johnson joined the Missionaries of Charity at age 19 and became Sister Donata. She lived a life of austerity and service for 20 years before returning to the secular world.

During those years, she traveled with Mother Teresa several times and spent much time performing important but, for her, mostly unsatisfying, work for the sisters. She wanted to work directly with the poor, but she was assigned teaching and administrative roles for the most part. She did find satisfaction in working with children and in music, but found it difficult to obey without question what she was told to do, and to refrain, as she was supposed to do, from all human physical contact or relationships, even that of one close friend to another.

Over the course of her book, Sister Donata struggled with her sense of self, need for love, understanding of the nature of God, her faith, and her sexuality. Finally, after spending more time as a nun than she had spent in the outside world, she left to find her own path and her own way of knowing and loving herself and others.

An Unquenchable Thirst is an eye-opening look at a world that is alien to most of us, a world both simple and complex which seeks holiness and yet is deeply embroiled in politics and power struggles.

At times, it is hard to believe that in modern times some of these practices, such as mortification of the flesh, are still followed. They sound like something from a time far away, and yet they were a part of Mary’s daily life when she was Sister Donata. She was even encouraged to suffer serious chronic illness and pain without treatment, as Mother Teresa did, as an offering to God.

The courage it took to walk away from that life as a nun and to embrace a new way of thinking, living, and loving is almost unimaginable, the courage to share her story in this book even more so. Mary Johnson is a brave, good woman, and she has written a fascinating, compelling book which will raise important questions in the mind of any person with an interest in spiritual matters.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.