When she pulls down a box filled with mementos of a past life, former nun Mary Johnson shows host Erika Lantz a small display box that contains just four strands of Mother Teresa’s hair, arranged in a cross. The hair of a saint, Erika says, to which Mary Johnson replies, “And it’s not only the hair of a saint I have in a box on my bookshelf, but the hair of a woman that I knew and had a very complicated relationship with.”
This perfectly describes the life, beliefs, and legacy of Mother Teresa, a woman revered by popes, presidents, and the public whose simple outward mission to help the poor has become shrouded in mystery and controversy.
“The Turning: The Sisters Who Left” asks where the line is between religion and cults, examines the legacy of the world’s most admired woman, and shares the stories of the women who joined the Missionaries of Charity and found the strength to leave it.
“The Turning: The Sisters Who Left” is a 10-part podcast about the women who followed Mother Teresa only to find that the reserved outward persona of the woman managed to hide dark secrets of her order. Episodes of this iHeartPodcasts and Rococo Punch podcast are just 45 minutes long and should be listened to in chronological order.
This podcast is about the difficult legacy that Mother Teresa has left behind. She was seen as a bastion of hope, love, and selflessness, known for being one of the few people who saw a problem in this world and actually tried to fix it.
In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity, and the order ran soup kitchens, staffed orphanages, and opened schools for those struggling in poverty around the world. She was considered a literal saint on Earth, despite being canonized into sainthood 16 years after she died. Around the world, she was a symbol of kindness who inspired thousands of women to join her in her mission.
Only, that’s not the whole story. Those thousands of women found that life in this religious order was not at all what they imagined. They took strict vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, fully dedicating themselves to the poverty-stricken around the globe. Those are actually the three typical vows that all Catholic nuns take.
Mother Teresa added a fourth: wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor. From there, they entered a closed society of secret ceremonies and rituals. While many of us know today that Mother Teresa was perhaps not the perfect saint she made herself out to be, we also don’t know the depths of her legacy.
In “The Turning: The Sisters Who Left,” the former MC nuns tell Erika their astounding stories from the order – stories that make this religious charity group sound eerily similar to a cult. The women talk about the brainwashing within the society, the isolation, the discouragement of free thinking or even private conversations with other sisters, even self-flagellation.
They say that they were not allowed to have “particular friendships” and were forced to detach from human relationships to instead become closer to God. They speak about seeing Mother Teresa as God, or at least a figure so close to God that even when they left the order, they held some reverence toward her. Mother Teresa even talked about herself in the third person, calling herself simply Mother.
This podcast is based on Mary Johnson’s book, An Unquenchable Thirst, which chronicles her 20 years serving as a Missionary of Charity, knowing Mother Teresa, and then leaving the Missionaries and the church entirely. Her story is not unique to the others, filled with shocking secrets and cult-like practices.
Except unlike others, she became very close to Mother Teresa, learned of her unusual beliefs, and forged a complicated relationship with the controversial woman.
“The Turning: The Sisters Who Left” is deeply fascinating. It’s a look into the world that Mother Teresa created and used to attract women with promises of love, sacrifice, and bettering the world for over 70 years. These women gave up normal lives to become closer to God and find deeper meaning, but found mainly suffering.
Intriguing, disturbing, and dedicated to telling these sisters’ stories, “The Turning: The Sisters Who Left” should be your next podcast binge.