Mystery in the Convent

David Thorndill


I have lost touch with the civilized world and leave these notes so that someday truth and justice will replace deceit that leaves a priest in prison and me in exile, but I still remember vividly the events that took place several years ago in a cloistered convent in the heart of the city.

The first assault took place at the end of the summer, just before the new wing of the school was opened.  Sister Marie was dragged into the boxwood maze after dark where she was gagged then raped.  There were no witnesses; no clues.

This type of assault was not uncommon in the poor neighborhood surrounding the religious enclave, but it was the first assault within the sacred walls of Saint Thomas Aquinas.  Monsignor Torbolt called the bishop.  The bishop told him this was a church problem, and that the monsignor was to personally investigate the incident and prevent future attacks.  The police were never called.

The Church owned an entire block in the center of town.  During the first century of the parish the most exciting event to take place within the walls was the fire of 1887.  Flames destroyed half of the pews and all of the altar woodwork in the Georgian style brick church.

But in the 1990s the religious compound was the scene of rape, suicide, and murder.  This was accompanied by scandal and notoriety that eventually touched Rome.

Only the parking lot was outside the tall brick wall.  The church, the girls’ school, the convent, and the rectory stood inside the walled enclave.  The schoolyard, the cemetery, and the gardens were between the buildings.  The new wing of the high school had a gymnasium, a locker room, two classrooms, and a science laboratory.  Yet the high wall could not keep the angel of death away.

Three priests ran the church and a soup kitchen across the street.  Twenty-three Sisters of Notre Dame served as teachers and administrators for the school.  They were also housekeepers and cooks for the rectory.  The priests had duties in the community, but Mother Superior was the only nun who could leave the walled fortress.

Earlier that summer the bishop had sent three new Sisters and replaced one of the priests.

Sister Marie was a slight woman with a soft voice and dark eyes.  This was her first teaching assignment.  She taught English and literature and formed a drama club.

Sister Bridget was stunningly beautiful and had worked her way through a teacher’s college as a fashion model.  She taught biology and chemistry and started a science club.

Sister Elizabeth was tall, had sparkling blue eyes, and was the most experienced teacher.  She had picked up an Italian accent after serving in Rome for five years.  She taught Latin and moral theology and monitored the girls locker room.

Father Frank was a strong, middle-aged Polish priest who had served ten years in Hamtramack.  He loved to fix cars or work in the garden.  The dirt under his fingernails and sweat on his shirts repelled some of the yuppies, but it appealed to the working men and to the visitors to the soup kitchen.

After Sister Marie’s rape, Monsignor assigned Father Frank to check all the doors to the church and school each evening.  Father Mark checked the gate to the driveway and made sure no one was in the cemetery, gardens, or garage.  Mother Superior locked all of the doors to the convent each evening.

There were no problems that fall.  But early New Year’s morning, two altar boys found Sister Bridget dead, hanging by a rope belt from the crucifix above the altar.  A handwritten suicide note had a faint odor of musk.

This time the bishop had to call in the police.

And the bishop also called me, Father Jean Paul, a Jesuit, the Society of Jesus.  My background is security and surveillance.  Yet I have never seen a case like this before.

My parents are French Canadian Catholics.  As a rebellious youth I quit the church, moved to the U.S., enlisted and served in the Special Forces in Vietnam.  I did four years at Harvard and then joined the Secret Service.  I helped protect Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter in domestic and foreign locations.

But a vision changed my life and brought me back to the church.  I was watching a video  while eating fries with ketchup.  French Jesuits set up missions in seventeenth century Canada.  Father Gabriel Lalemont prayed that he would be martyred among the savages.  He saw pain and death as the most glorious road to heaven.  He wore coarse clothing and slept barefooted on rocks to mimic the suffering of Christ.  In the winter of 1649, Father Lalemont and Father Jean de Brebeuf were tortured, mutilated, and had their beating hearts cut from their chests by the Iroquois they were trying to convert.

  Suddenly I saw suffering as a road to heaven.  Pain and suffering changed from a dark, evil curse, to a bright, hopeful honor.  I was ashamed of my comfort, my worldliness.  I wept.

My knee banged the food tray and ketchup spilled onto the carpet.  It dripped off the bottle as if from an open wound.  To me it was the blood of Christ.  Had it been sent by the Holy Spirit to cleanse me?

The next Sunday I went to mass for the first time in fifteen years.  The gospel was Luke, Chapter 15, the parable of the father welcoming back his prodigal son.  I could not contain the tears.  God was welcoming me back to his flock.

I resigned from the Secret Service, went to seminary, and was ordained.  Then I took the vows of the Society of Jesus.

I did not seek martyrdom or extreme deprivation as my French-Canadian Jesuit role models did, but the Jesuit Order assigned me to duties which combined my respect for pain and suffering, and my military and Secret Service skills.  Though I could serve mass, they made me a security officer.  Dressed as a Jesuit Priest, or as a business executive, or as a bum, I have set up security routes for bishops in New York, Mother Theresa in Baltimore, Cardinals in Rome, and the Pope in Cuba.

I was sent to Baltimore in May, 1996.  There were rumors that anti-gay terrorists would strike as Mother Theresa visited the Missionary of Charity Sisters shelter and AIDS clinic.  I posed as a homeless wretch and spent many days and nights on the street, often sleeping barefooted under cardboard boxes.  I had to fit in.  I had to be accepted.

Tips led me to a bar where gay-bashers hung out.  I wore heavy boots, dirty jeans, a studded denim jacket, and a rub-on CASTRATE QUEERS tattoo.  My boasts of Vietnam Special Service demolition raids was my ticket to the ears of the conspirators.  They were brash, bold, and stupid.  Two days before Mother’s arrival I helped the Baltimore police arrest the goons.

I posed as a homeless AIDS client at Mother’s visit to the clinic.  I lay on the sidewalk and begged.  She leaned over and kissed my forehead, and with a tear in her eye said,”My son, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  As she walked away I wept.  There was a holy aura that surrounded this diminutive woman.

The bishop sent me to St. Thomas Aquinas on a similar mission.  It was covert.  It was low key.  He wanted an independent, inside investigation of what was happening behind the high walls of St. Thomas.  Neither the police nor the sisters nor the priests knew I was a Jesuit.

Three days after Sister Bridget’s suicide I had my first meal at the soup kitchen across the street from the church.  Dressed in shoddy street garb, I roamed the neighborhood and slept in an alley.  During the day I swept floors and carried trash for the soup kitchen.

I asked questions of the staff and homeless clients.  Nobody knew of Sister Marie’s rape.  Only a matronly food server had heard of the suicide.  Her grandson knew the altar boy who discovered Sister Bridget hanging on the cross.  But she told me to stop talking about it because it would harm the parish.

I did find out that boxes of food were disappearing.  The cook suspected the server.  The server suspected the accountant.  The accountant suspected both.

I discovered the culprit my first Saturday night sleeping in the alley.  It was still dark when a car came down the narrow alley, banged a metal trash can, then stopped right behind the kitchen.  Exhaust from the Buick flowed in to my palace of cardboard boxes.  A well-dressed woman knocked on the rear door of the kitchen.  Father Frank came out carrying a box of food.  She opened the trunk.  He put in the food.  They both went back into the building.  I climbed up onto the green dumpster and peeked into the back window of the soup kitchen.

Mystery solved!  Frank had his pants down to his ankles.

I waited for Father Frank.  When he came out, I threatened to expose his food for sex scheme.  Then he tried to strangle me, but I broke his grip, snapped his arm behind his back, smashed his face against the dumpster, and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Later that day Monsignor Torbolt, upon Father Frank’s recommendation, offered me a small room over the garage within the convent walls in exchange for help.  I would do the heavy or nasty chores that the Sisters would not or could not do.  I was in the walled enclave.  It was exactly one week since Sister Bridget’s death.

I carried trash, moved furniture, and climbed ladders.  I soon had access to the school, the convent, the rectory, and the church.  I watched and listened.  I asked questions.

There was anxiety and fear everywhere within the walls of St. Thomas.  The autopsy report for Sister Bridget said that she had had a sloppy abortion.  She had anemia and vaginal bleeding.  The cause of death was strangulation, though the bishop convinced the coroner to downplay the two deep throat bruises, and declare a self-inflicted strangulation by hanging. 

I did see the suicide note: “I can’t take this any longer.  I’ve got to put an end to it.”

It was unsigned, but clearly Bridget’s handwriting.  I thought it strange that the piece of paper measured 81/2 by 2 inches, as if it had been cut from a longer message.  The police used paper chromatography to match the ink on the suicide note to ink in Bridget’s pen.

From the condition of the uterus and blood hormones, the coroner estimated Bridget had been four months pregnant.  She had never left the walls of the religious compound since her arrival the summer before.  One of the priests, or a tradesman, or the father of a schoolgirl must be her lover.  There were many suspects, but few clues.  But no one had seen Bridget alone with a man.  Since it wasn’t a crime to knock up a nun, the police closed their investigation.

The bishop and monsignor had administrative and political reasons to be upset about the rape and the suicide.  Sister Bridget’s students were devastated by her death. 

Father Frank was overwhelmed by the loss, though he went to the soup kitchen every Saturday night for his blowjob.  He and Bridget had been very close.  She cleaned his rooms and kept the parish financial books.  On nice days they lunched in the garden.  Frank felt responsible for her death.  He had gotten smashed on New Year’s Eve and had not locked the church.  If he had been sober, he said, he might have been able to help Bridget with her depression.  If he had locked the church, she could not have gotten into the sanctuary and hanged herself.

Sister Elizabeth went into depression over Bridget’s death.  They had been roommates.  Elizabeth had severe headaches and stayed in bed.  She stared across the room at Bridget’s empty bed.  If only she had listened to Bridget more, she would say, she might have been able to help.  Bridget might still be alive.

I continued to sweep and sneak, and all winter there was peace in the convent. I noted an unusually close relationship between Mother Superior and Sister Marie.  I suspected an affair.     I wasn’t the only one.  Chief of the rumormongers was Father Frank, who, according to several sources, had made a pass at Mother and had been kicked in the groin.

When Elizabeth’s headaches returned in March, Mother Superior personally helped care for her.  Mother would come each evening and feed Elizabeth, then read and pray with her.

On Ash Wednesday, shortly after midnight, screams came from Mother Superior’s suite.  The door was locked.  Sister Marie ran to the rectory and rang the outside dinner bell.  Fathers Mark and Torbolt came to the door.  I came down from my room in the garage.  The three of us followed Marie back to the convent.  We tried to force the door open, but it was bolted.  We grabbed the oak bench from the hallway.  Each time we rammed the door it groaned, but it would not yield.  Finally, Father Frank came into the convent.  Clots of mud dropped off his boots onto the carpet.  Boxwood leaves clung to his sweater.

The four of us lifted the bench, and with all the energy that three middle-aged priests and an elderly monsignor could bring together, we charged the door again.  The door cracked as wood burst around deadbolts and screws.  Then it snapped open.

Mother Superior was naked, a wrist and ankle tied to each bedpost.  Duct tape covered her mouth and vagina.  She had been stabbed several times and the word DIKE had been carved into her chest.  Blood was all over the pillow, the sheets, and the bedspread.   A long rope was tied to a bedpost and hung out the rear window.  A light breeze blew the curtains apart.

The ambulance and police arrived within five minutes.  Mother Superior was pronounced dead at the scene.  The coroner bagged her body, and the crime team dusted for fingerprints and collected evidence.  One detective mumbled that the crime scene had been compromised.  Police officers searched the area around the convent, and detectives questioned me and each priest and sister.  At 2am they sent the Fathers Frank, Mark and me back to the rectory.  A voluntary house arrest.

A sharp knock on the door awakened me at sunrise.  The bishop stood before me in his finest attire.  Still groggy and in dirty shorts I bowed before the bishop.  Two Jesuits stood behind him.  One was a former boxer, the other an ex-Marine.

I had new orders.  I was to work with the police.  My undercover work was over.  The Jesuits would handle security within the walls of St. Thomas.  City police would patrol outside the walls.  Guards monitored everyone who entered the school, the church, or the gate.

I put on the robes of my order and had breakfast with the priests.  They were shocked to find that this homeless, untidy, handyman was actually a high-level Jesuit security specialist.

Father Mark left to give mass in the church.  Father Frank excused himself to work at the soup kitchen.  Monsignor Torrbolt and I met with the detective in charge of the investigation.

The noise of the girls in the schoolyard was noticeably less than on most school days.  The bishop decided to keep the school open, to keep things as normal as possible.  But the local TV stations had featured the “Ritualistic Murder of Mother Superior” on morning newscasts, and only half the children came to school.

The detective told us that after the screams last night, Sister Elizabeth saw a tall man in dark clothing run past her rear window into the boxwood garden.  Sister Marie said that Mother Superior had a secret lover.  She said Mother was thinking of exposing the lover because things had gotten too bizarre.  Marie did not know who the lover was.  Her guess, she told the detective, was the handyman.  Me!

The preliminary forensic report said that Mother Superior died from loss of blood due to multiple stabbings.  She had been raped, but there were no traces of blood, hair, skin, or semen from the assailant.  There were no suspicious fingerprints.  Mud and boxwood leaves were found on the floor.

I told the detective that the leaves and mud had been brought in after the murder, by Father Frank.  That I saw leaves on him last night as we broke down the door.

The detective’s phone rang.  Monsignor Torbolt and I hurried to keep up with him as he jogged across the playground to the school.  We ran through the gymnasium into the girls’ locker room, then into the showers.  A student with long black hair lay on the floor, covered with a towel.  She shook and shivered as if in shock.  The school nurse dried her forehead while Sister Elizabeth held her hand.

The detective asked Monsignor Torbolt if his men could search the school and the garden.  Monsignor nodded but told him not the convent and rectory.

Paramedics checked the girl’s vital signs and put an IV drip into her arm.  Her shivering stopped and she began to talk coherently.  She had not seen her attacker, but he had strong hands and a musky smell.  She had twisted her knee on the schoolyard and was excused from class early.  She stood alone in the shower when he grabbed her from behind, then raped her and beat her unconscious.  Elizabeth found her under a running shower, naked, blood flowing from her vagina, still unconscious.

A commotion of footsteps and voices came from the locker room.  A policeman shoved  

a man into the shower room and crowed that he had found him hiding in the boxwood garden.

It was Father Frank.

Monsignor Torbolt asked Frank why he wasn’t at the soup kitchen.

Frank did not give an answer.

Sister Elizabeth cried and hugged him.

An hour later the detective handed a search warrant to the monsignor.  It gave him authority to search the rectory.  Four men from the crime lab marched in to the rectory.

I waited on the porch with the three priests.  The Monsignor brought out crystal goblets and two bottles of brandy.  At least if we’re all together and drunk, he said, we can’t be suspects if anyone else is killed.

Before we finished the brandy, the detective came out and put handcuffs on Father Frank.  He had found enough in Frank’s room for his arrest:  a handwritten love letter from Sister Bridget, a bloody sock, musk cologne, and Mother Superior’s blood-soaked diary with pages ripped out.  He read Frank his legal rights and took him away in the police car.

I stopped in to see Sister Elizabeth.  She lay in her bed in great pain.  Her headaches had returned, and we later found out she would never recover from them.  Many of the sisters went to Father Frank’s trial, but Elizabeth could not attend the trial or return to the classroom.  When her brain tumor was diagnosed the defense withdrew her subpoena.

She told me that my deception had never fooled her.  She knew I was not an innocent bum turned parish handyman.  She did admit, though, that she thought I was a cop, and had never guessed I was a Jesuit.  “Or was I really a Jesuit?” 

When the forensic report came in, Father Frank was charged with the assault, rape, and murder of Mother Superior; and the assault and rape of the high school student.  Mother Superior’s blood was on the diary and one of his socks.  The musk cologne on her sheets was from his cabinet.  The coroner estimated that she died an hour before the screams were heard.  Frank had time to clean up after the murder, then give a fake scream, and then run around the front of the convent to help break down the door.

Frank’s semen was found in the vagina of the high school girl.  Her blood was on the clothing he was wearing.

Though Father Frank was never charged with Sister Bridget’s death, their relationship was presented in court to establish a pattern of fornication and abuse.  His musk cologne was on Bridget’s sheet and suicide note.  Her handwritten letter was found under his mattress.

Dear Brother in Christ,

I fear to tell you this in person because of the violent rage it may put you into.  For I am pregnant with your child.  We have already sinned, perhaps beyond

redemption, but I am determined to have our baby. We must leave St. Thomas to be married. Please say yes!



The woman who traded food for sex at the soup kitchen was called as a witness for the prosecution.  She was my contribution.  I didn’t think he was guilty, though.  Guys who can get sex by bartering food don’t usually need to rape women.  But then I’m a priest, not a criminologist.

The prosecutor wanted the death penalty.

The bishop tried to get Father Frank to plead insanity, or plea bargain a lesser guilty verdict.  The bishop wanted to avoid publicity that would harm the Church.  But Father Frank insisted that he was innocent, and he would not cooperate.

The defense lawyers did little to convince the jury that Frank was innocent.  The evidence against him was clear and uncontested.  But during the sentencing arguments, the lawyers injected the jurors with doubt (there were no witnesses), sympathy (Frank has a sick mother), the Bible (thou shalt not kill), and the fear of God (Who shall cast the first stone?).

So Frank escaped the death penalty.  He was sentenced to life in prison, which these days could be twenty years of less.

The deaths and scandals were difficult on everyone.  The Church took decisive action.  The bishop and the monsignor took the fall.  They were both exiled to a parish where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day.

I was called to Rome shortly after Father Frank’s arrest.  The Pope wanted me on his personal security team. I kept in touch with Father Mark about activities in the convent. My role in the convent scandal was over, I thought.

That year of turmoil was very hard on Sister Elizabeth.  She suffered frequent, severe headaches.  Then she started to faint almost every week.  It was clear to me that she probably had a brain tumor, maybe brain cancer.  Yet she refused to be examined or treated by a doctor.  We do not know God’s ways, she said, but we must accept His will.  She had a few remissions where she would walk in the garden, but she never went into school again.  It was a slow, two-year failure.

In her last few weeks she was bedridden, yet she refused any help from the Sisters, except that they would bring her food twice daily.  She prayed almost constantly.

Her new bishop called me in Rome.  Elizabeth was dying and wanted me to administer her last rites.  She wanted to confess to me.  To no one else.

I thought it odd that she asked for a priest from Rome when there were a thousand near her. I had only talked to her a few times.  But I flew to America the next day.

School girls bounced balls and laughed and shouted.  Father Mark walked me across the playground at St Thomas Aquinas.  He now ran the parish.  Everything was back to normal.

The new Mother Superior greeted me on the steps of the convent and took me to Sister Elizabeth’s room.  The heavy curtains were closed and a single candle burned on her nightstand.  A chimney of smoke rose from glowing frankincense, but it could not cover the smell of urine, the stench of an unclean body, the aroma of death.

She lay rattling and gasping for air.  I barely recognized the sickly nun.  Her cheeks were sunken and her eyes lay deep in their sockets and lacked any vitality.  Her wisp of a mustache was now vigorous and had spread over her face.

I opened my bag and took out a white linen cloth, candles, sacramental oil, a host, and holy water.  I kissed her forehead and asked, “My sister in Christ, do you have any sins to confess?”

“Bless you, Father,” she said with tears flowing.  “I’ve been waiting.  Now you can save me.  Soon you can save him.”

“And what sins do you dearly repent,” I said, “and ask our Lord’s forgiveness for?”

“Oh Father, if it is within your power to beg God’s forgiveness, for He has turned from me.”

“No, my sister.  He listens to saints and sinners alike.”

She sat up.  “Our Lord has turned from me, for it is I who raped Sister Marie.  And it is I who impregnated and strangled dear Bridget, my beautiful lover, and hung her on our Lord’s cross.  And in my rage I killed Mother Superior.  And it is I who raped and beat the young virgin in the shower stall.  And it is I who murdered Sister Elizabeth Dontello.  I confess these sins, and I repent and ask for God’s mercy.”

I was dumbfounded.  Stunned.  Speechless.  At first I was shocked, then amused.  A joke?  No, probably her brain tumor.  Sister Elizabeth, a rapist and murderer?

She reached under her pillow and pulled out a package wrapped in brown paper.  She handed it to me.  “My diary and letters.  Take these and read them.  You may reveal my secrets when I am gone.  For Father Frank’s sake, you must.”

She unbuttoned the top of the nightgown and exposed two sagging breasts.  “They used to be full,” she said, “but I can hardly eat, and I ran out of hormone pills.”

Then she opened her gown to her knees, completely revealing her nakedness.

There it lay.  A penis!  Elizabeth was a well-endowed male.

“Read the diary,” he-Elizabeth- said.  “Then you’ll understand.”

The next day I met with the bishop.  I told him that there was a mystery about this sickly nun, and that he ought to be present when she died.  A death which will come soon.  That he ought to personally examine her body.  That she asked me to reveal her confession after her death.

On the flight back to Rome I unwrapped the package that Elizabeth had given me.  The diary and letters were an incredible account of the last years of her life.  Three years ago she was Antonio DeSantis, a petty crook.  He was a transsexual, and with breasts pumped up by hormones he passes as Rosa.  He hung out on corners in Rome, some near the Vatican.  He would do a trick as a woman or as drag queen, AC-DC, it didn’t matter to him.  Or he would extort a client.

But he made enemies.  Some were in the government, some in the Mafia, some at the American Embassy, some in the Vatican.

As a young man, he went to St. Mary’s Seminary in New York, where he translated Latin and Italian texts into English.  He minored in fellatio and fornication and was expelled his final year.  So he returned to Rome and preyed on American priests and diplomats.

Life on the street was dangerous, and he was having constant stress and headaches.  So when there was a contract put out on him, he decided to return to America.  He needed to get past Italian and American customs officers, and past the Mafia.

A friend stowed Antonio away on a cruise ship to New York.  He mingled freely with fellow passengers, not as the seductive Rosa, but as the matronly Rosanna.  He worried about his arrival in New York.  He worried so much his head hurt.

Then he met Sister Elizabeth Dontello.  She was returning to the States after serving in Rome.  She was an only child of a single mother in San Francisco.  When her mother died, Elizabeth sought a religious vocation.  She took her vows and taught Latin.  Then her Order sent her to Rome.  Now she was being sent to the East Coast.  She knew no one out East.

While the ship was still in deep water, Antonio wrapped the lifeless, nude body of Elizabeth Dontello in heavy chains, and threw her overboard.  He crossed himself and bid her sleep well with the sharks.

The traditional habit, with ankle-length black robe and full head cover, was the perfect disguise for Antonio.  And Elizabeth’s papers provided an easy way to get off the ship.  Then, whether inspired by desperation or the Holy Spirit, Antonio vowed to become Elizabeth Dontello.  He vowed to accept her new teaching position.  He was, after all, a Latin scholar.  He  vowed on a crucifix to repent and give up his life of sin.

Elizabeth was delighted with the position at St. Thomas Aquinas.  He taught Latin and moral theology and monitored the girls’ locker room.  The high walls gave him additional security, and the anxiety attacks and headaches disappeared.

But then the headaches returned, and although he still took female hormones, horniness overcame him.  Now the walls were like a cage, and his desires must be met within.

Sister Marie was the first victim.  Hide in the boxwood, strong hands from behind, a few deep thrusts, relief. No one suspected the matronly sister Elizabeth.

Then Elizabeth became friendly with his roommate, Sister Bridget, a sexually frustrated former beauty queen.  It was easy for roommates to be bedmates.  It was delightful fornication. But when Bridget became pregnant she gave an ultimatum:  leave with her or be exposed.

On New Year’s Eve Elizabeth gagged Bridget, cleaned her uterus of fetal tissue with a coat hanger, then strangled her and hung her on the cross.  He cut the center line from a letter Bridget had written to him and laid it out as a suicide note:  

“I am pregnant with your child and we must flee with it.

I can’t take this any longer.  I’ve got to put an end to it.

If you don not leave with me I will tell Mother Superior.

He, Elizabeth, sprinkled her sheets with cologne that he later planted in Father Frank’s room.  He took Bridget’s letter to him, “Dear Brother in Christ,” and hid it under Frank’s mattress.  This was the letter the prosecution used against Frank.  No one had guessed that “Brother in Christ” was actually Sister Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s next conquest was the lesbian Mother Superior.  At first there were compliments, then hugs and casual touches, then sexual massages, and finally cunnilingus.  In all of this, Mother still thought Elizabeth was a woman.  But one day, as Mother stood naked in front of him, his head pounding with pain, he pulled it out from beneath his robe and raped Mother Superior.  She threatened to expose him.

The next day Elizabeth gagged and tied Mother Superior, then raped and stabbed her.  He used a condom so that his semen could not be traced.  After the bloody carnage he casually bathed and changed clothes in Mother’s bathroom.  He sprinkled Father Frank’s cologne on the bed, dipped Mother’s diary in fresh blood, and placed the diary in a plastic bag.  He screamed for help and climbed out the window.  Later, he told the detective that a tall man had run past the back window into the boxwood garden.

Elizabeth knew Frank’s weaknesses.  She had promised to meet Frank for oral sex in the boxwood garden.  After killing Mother Superior, she met him in the garden and satisfied him.  But  she held his semen in her mouth.  Then as Frank ran to the cries of Father Mark, she dripped the semen into a vial.  She walked to the empty rectory, went into Frank’s room, dabbed one of his socks with Mother Superior’s blood, and hid the blood-soaked diary.

The next day, Elizabeth overpowered the school girl in the shower.  He put on a condom and raped the virgin.  Frank’s semen was then rubbed onto the unconscious girl.  Meanwhile, Frank waited in the garden for another blowjob from Elizabeth.  A policeman found Frank in the bushes and dragged into the locker room, where Elizabeth hugged him and purposefully, but discreetly, dabbed the girls blood onto his sweater.  Father Frank was brilliantly framed.  I remember the hug, but I never suspected the pious Sister Elizabeth of evil deeds.

All of these stories were in Elizabeth’s diary.  Along with her confession, they completely exonerated Father Frank.

I don’t know if her bizarre carnage was due to the brain tumor, or mental illness, or demonic possession.  But when I finished her diary, as I sat on a 747 bound for Rome, I prayed for Elizabeth and her victims, and I wept.

When I got to Rome there was an e-mail from the bishop:

                Elizabeth is dead.  I have examined her as you requested.  It is urgent that

                you tell me of her confession.  Send by overnight post, not e-mail.

I cancelled my appointments and typed out Elizabeth’s confession.  My letters and Elizabeth’s diary were mailed the next morning.  I asked that Father Frank call me when he was released from prison.

I heard nothing from the bishop or Father Frank.  I waited two weeks, and then I sent an e-mail to the bishop.  No response. 

The next day I telephoned his office.  He was at mass.  He never returned my call.

I called Father Mark at St. Thomas.  He said that he and the bishop went to Frank’s appeal hearing last week, but no new evidence was presented.  The bishop made no statement.  Father Frank was still in prison.

I asked about Sister Elizabeth.  Had she been buried in the church cemetery?  No, Father Mark said, the bishop insisted that she be cremated.  All of her personal belongings were also burned:  clothes, bedding, books, papers, letters.

Now I knew what was happening.  This bishop, called in last year to control the damage caused by the murder and rapes at St. Thomas, had done just that.  Now that the diocese was calm and back to normal, he had no intention of reminding everyone of the grisly events.  He was willing to destroy evidence to preserve tranquility.  He was willing to destroy Father Frank to protect the Church.

A week later I was sent into exile. The power of this bishop had reached all the way to Rome. And Rome enforced the conspiracy of silence.

For the past two years I have been the sole Jesuit, the only white man, in a remote mission somewhere a thousand miles up the Amazon River in western Brazil.  Most of the natives have never seen another white man.  Once a month a supply boat travels a thousand miles to bring us food, medicine, and Bibles.  None of the natives can read.  But every month the do-gooders at St. Thomas Aquinas feel better about themselves because they have sent a dozen English Bibles to the savages.

But the natives here are no more savage that the faithful at St. Thomas.  Why the previous two Jesuits lasted almost a year!  One disappeared, and the other was found in the thatched chapel with his head bashed against the marble altar stone.  I thought it strange that the Jesuits would haul three-hundred-pound Italian marble slab two thousand miles up the Amazon.

The natives call themselves by a name that I cannot write in any language.  The traders and civilized tribes call them “the headbashers.”

As I sit here barefooted at the marble altar, exiled in the jungle, writing these notes, as pesky flies bite at the sores on my ankles, I wonder if I too will join my French-Canadian brethren, Fathers Gabriel Lalemont and Jean de Brebeuf, in martyrdom.



With degrees from Oakland University and Johns Hopkins University, David Thorndill has written the novel First Contact at Cabo Rojo and Tales from the Confessional, a collection of short stories narrated by Catholic priests. Stories from Tales won a $3000 prize from the Maryland State Arts Council. He has recently written feature length screenplays for Rise of the Dolphins, The Last Vikings, and The Voyage of Genesis 2. The screenplays have received recognition from several film festivals including best action/adventure script (The Last Vikings) at the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival.