The Tulip and the Pope

The Tulip and the Pope
by Deborah Larsen

A former nun turned poet and novelist, Deborah Larsen has written a vivid and nuanced memoir of formative years spent in a Midwestern religious order four decades ago. The Tulip and the Pope is a story of achieving adulthood through the doors of a convent. In 1960, at age nineteen, Larsen entered the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). It was a common choice for a girl of her time and place, with vocations at an all-time high and alternatives limited. Larsen knew no career women and few joyful marriages. She knew the BVMs, who had been her teachers in high school, to be intelligent, purposeful, and essentially independent. The convent offered safety and opportunity at once, and Larsen believed that becoming a religious would bring her closer to God than she could be through any other means. After a year of college, she and two high-school classmates took a train from St. Paul to Dubuque and a taxi to the motherhouse. In the cab she smoked two last cigarettes and handed the rest of the pack-along with all the money in her handbag-to the driver. She was as ready for what lay ahead as an adolescent can be.

The highly codified regimen in the convent constricted her life. Eager to correct what she feared was her “crooked self,” Larsen found that the self-examination this correction required of her bred a scrupulosity that grew “like mold.” She missed her books, and the comfort of a kiss at bedtime...

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About the Author

Madeline Marget, a frequent contributor, is the author of Life’s Blood (Simon & Schuster).