Guest Letter: Let Me In, Margaret!

Aug 31, 2023 at 7:22 pm
Guest Letter: Let Me In, Margaret!

Hello. My Name is Rose Boyle. In 1955, I was Sister John Bosco, an Ursuline nun on her first mission assigned to Our Mother of Sorrows parish. I left convent life in 1962, am now 88 years old. Recently, I was remembering my first mission, and I thought if I visit Louisville, I want to see where I lived next to the “call house.” Then I googled to get the address, and to my amazement, I found the research and story of Anna the Madam by Lisa Pisterman. I am gratified to know that the call house has been changed into a “house of healing” for vulnerable women. 

Enclosed is a recounting of a little incident that happened my one and only year at Our Mother of Sorrows. I enclose it for your amusement. It is true according to my memory but I have changed the names of the nuns. Thank you for your research and true story. If I do travel to Louisville, I will visit the site of the “healing house.”

The Nuns and the Brothel

The year is 1955. I am twenty years old, recently out of the novitiate and assigned to my first mission where I will live with 12 other nuns and teach fourth and fifth grades. 

One afternoon Sister Elise and I exit the front door of our convent and begin walking to our classrooms. We are carrying supplies for the coming term. As we walk along the sidewalk past the adjacent house, I get a glimpse of several scantily-attired ladies, fanning themselves and lounging lazily on their front porch swings. Looking straight ahead, trying to practice “custody of the eyes,” I sense their amused regard of us. 

It is a hot sultry August afternoon in Kentucky. Sister Elize and I are garbed in reams of black wool, muslin undergarments and skirts, stockings, cardboard bonnet with veils, linen gimps and headbands so that only a part of our faces and hands are exposed to air. We are a total contrast to the “ladies.”

The layout is this. At the corner of our street is our convent, a large two-story house with many small bedrooms, a front porch and back door leading to a long grassy yard. Adjacent and parallel is the ladies’ house, very similar in appearance, two stories, back exit with long grassy yard. Next, is the two-level brick school, extending from the sidewalk back to the alley. Then the church and beside it, the pastor’s house. These five buildings are parallel and extend from sidewalk to alley. Usually, we nuns exit our back door, walk through the grassy yard to the alley where we turn right and walk along the alley to either the school or church. As we walk through our yard, we can see the ladies next door sunning themselves in lounges scattered about their garden of flowers and shrubs. Sister Elise cautions me not to look. I come to grasp somewhat what is going on next door with all the cars parked, coming and going all hours. However, I entered convent life after eighth grade at age 14, so I’m quite ignorant about the ways of the world. 

My classroom faces the ladies garden, so I have been advised to shutter the windows when the ladies are sunning lest my students witness something out of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “Garden of Delights” (The Garden of Earthly Delights).  We are so busy with teaching, prayers, and household chores that we give little thought to our unusual neighbors. 

One night, I’m asleep in my small bedroom. The wake up bell is ringing, but it’s way too early, scarcely midnight. I don a robe, exit my room and see the other sisters exiting and questioning what is happening. We proceed to the living room where our Sister Superior (manager) appears without her cap and teeth, and seems quite agitated. She informs us that Sister Serita has just had a terrifying experience, that she was asleep in her second-level bedroom, had the window raised to get some evening breeze when a man’s arm and leg started coming through the window. He was calling, “Let me in, Margaret!” 

Sister Serita tried to push him out and then fled the room, wakened the house. Sister Superior announces, “We have called the police who will inspect our rooms and yard for any intruder.” 

Just then, two policemen enter and call “all clear.”

Later, there’s a knock at the door and two detectives enter. They listen gravely to Sister Superior’s story, keep serious faces, and say they will go next door to investigate. We all go back to bed. 

Next morning, on my way to school, I notice our pastor with several workers. They are tearing down the lattice work and vines beneath Sister Serita’s bedroom and inspecting all the windows. We forget about this incident expect that occasionally, Sister Elise will try to get a giggle from me by whispering, “Let me in, Margaret!”