by Linda Curtoys
When Jeremy and I have related the story of our meeting to people over the 42 years of our marriage, many have directly said or intimated that I was looking for a man to marry in order to get out of the convent and Jeremy came along at the right time. I have always felt insulted and angry by that assessment, so I have decided to tell my side of the story.
For nearly ten years I was a member of a Roman Catholic order of women religious. I joined when I was 17 years old, fulfilling an urge that I had first felt at 12 years of age. I was advised at the time to complete high school, put my whole heart and soul into both the academic and social life, and then see if I still felt an urge to enter religious life. High school was a wonderful experience! It expanded my horizons both academically and socially and I was passionate about both. Nevertheless I entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1961, with the belief that I was fulfilling a lifelong dream as well as answering the call to become “the bride of Christ”, the highest calling one could have as a woman in the Roman Catholic Church.
By the time 1968 began, I was no longer sure I was on the right track. Most of all I had become disillusioned with the strictures convent life imposed on me. As a young nun I was naturally sought after by the teenage girls I taught, yet was told often to leave them in the middle of their tales of the crises in their lives in order to make sure I was on time for prayers. Tell a girl in the middle of her tears over the divorce of her parents that I would pray for her rather than listen to her? I just couldn’t do that, so spent quite a bit of time in the superior’s office and doing various penances, like extra time at prayer.This was not what I had expected when I joined! With much prayer and soul searching, I argued with myself for the next two years. Sometimes I would convince myself that I must stay in the convent to fulfill the promises I had made. Then I would find just as strong an argument to leave and pursue my destiny elsewhere. To put it mildly, I was an indecisive mess! I didn’t really know what I was looking for, I couldn’t put it into words; I just knew that where I was and what I was doing did not fit who I was.
Struggling to resolve the dilemma, in 1969 I applied for and got a summer grant for a social studies seminar offered at Utah State University. I hoped the distance from home would give me mental and physical space for my rambling mind. At the end of the summer I was certain that staying in the convent was my life’s work and I returned feeling settled. However the unrest returned as soon as I got back. So this time I applied for and received a summer grant at Utah State for the summer of 1970. But I also asked for a scholarship to work on a Master’s degree in Political Science for the 1970-1971 academic year. Much to my surprise and relief, my request for financial aid was granted; I was on my way. Little did I know what consequences that decision would have!
Once I left Dayton I decided to discontinue dressing in my religious habit. I purchased some clothes at Deseret Industries and borrowed a nurse’s cape my sister had used during her training. Thus outfitted I attended classes, took on a few extra jobs on campus to augment my scholarship money and went out with friends, often to the Bistro for an evening of talking and drinking beer. I told myself that everyone saw me as just simply Linda Hungling. So when I got in Jeremy’s car that day in December, I thought I was traveling incognito. Therefore it was a huge letdown when Jeremy responded to my question “What do you know about me?” with “Well, I know you’re a nun!” My heart sunk immediately, because I had been fascinated with the tale of his life in so many different countries. It was so exotic to me since I had never traveled out of the state of Ohio until now. And his description of the dilemma he was facing made me feel like I had met someone who understood what it was like to stand at a fork in the road, not knowing which way to turn. And though I had no romantic feeling at that time, I was fearful that being a nun would be an impediment to any friendship that might develop. What man was going to waste time with a nun? Lucky for me the man was Jeremy!
The day after I arrived at their house, my friend Mary invited Jeremy to accompany us to visit some friends I had made the previous summer. It was also Mary who invited Jeremy to stay the night before he left for Berkeley, so that he could get to UCLA early and get on the road. We had become very comfortable in each other’s company and I felt as though I had met a person who understood and was willing to listen to what I was thinking and feeling about life at that time. In addition, I was coming to the realization that the future would hold risks if I was going to come to a decision, so traveling to Berkeley together just felt like a part of that risk and one I was willing to take.
As we traveled we continued the conversation we had been engaged in over the past three days, sharing our past lives as well as our struggles with knowing what direction life was taking each of us. And somehow, even though neither of us can remember just how it happened, we arrived at the same conclusion. We would work out the future together! We simply started planning the future as though we were one rather than two. No bells rang; no romantic dinner; no Jeremy on his knees to propose or offer me an engagement ring. What had evidently been in each of our subconscious minds became conscious to us both at the same time. We needed nothing else!
Mary and Lou were ecstatic when we relayed our intention to marry. My friend in Logan, who had labored with me over the “leaving”, “staying” dilemmas of the past months, was also delighted. Even the Superior of the Sisters of Charity, from whom I needed permission to leave the order, was very supportive once I assured her that I had not made a snap decision and we both knew what we were doing. My parents proved the biggest hurdle. In letters that should have been written on asbestos rather than ordinary paper, they let me know that I was a great disappointment to them. I was taking away from them the pride they had in my being a nun. I was also breaking a fundamental rule in our family, that no matter what the personal cost, you do your duty and do not break your word. However, in this instance I chose to break my word and follow a different duty, one to myself and to the road that gave me the opportunity to be the person I really was. And forty-two years later I would do it all over again!