This is Terry Dosh, then called Fr. Leonard, a Benedictine monk & priest, who became a friend of my family in the late 1950s & stayed a friend until he left the priesthood in the early 1970s. He was the quintessential “people person” & made friends wherever he went because of his profound humanity. When I was in the convent in 1966, he came to visit me while attending a conference in Chicago & when he greeted me, we hugged. We had known each other then for several years. The mother superior was aghast. She allowed us to visit under her supervision but the next day & for a few weeks thereafter she would call me to her office, put me on my knees, & cajole at first, then threaten expulsion if I did not promise under the vow of obedience to never again express physical affection for anyone. I had already been through this with the novice mistress who commanded me not to embrace the children in my family when they came to visit. In both instances I refused saying it was “anti-human” & that I would not promise something that I considered disturbed. “I don’t want to be the kind of person you’re trying to make me,” I explained. Needless to say, this did not go over well.
The superior punished my recalcitrance in several ways. First, I was left home when the order took all of the young nuns to Rome for some kind of ceremony at the Vatican. Then I was told I wasn’t “smart enough” to go to college when all the other young nuns went off to study nursing or teaching. They assigned me to going every morning to clean the chaplain’s toilet under supervision because they knew I detested him for his arrogance & rudeness, especially toward me. (For the record, I never once cleaned his toilet. I would put the seat down & flush several times while I read his magazines on the Vietnam War.) Lastly, they took me away from the learning-disabled children we worked with because I refused outright to use physical discipline of any kind nor even raise my voice with the children. Instead they put me in the kitchen to be trained as an institutional cook. Like most working-class girls, I didn’t have big expectations for my life but a future of dealing with raw meat & powdered eggs was absolutely not in the cards. Not only was the order trying to make me emotionally dead & twisted, but they were trying to kill my spirit & deny me participation in my own historic times. After almost three years, I asked to leave, repeating “I don’t want to be the kind of person you’re trying to make me.” They put me on a train to St. Paul without a dime in my pocket.
The last time I saw Terry Dosh, still Fr. Leonard, was in Minneapolis in 1967 or 68 while I was a student at the University of Minnesota. By then, I was involved in the antiwar & civil rights movements & Palestinian solidarity. (The women’s movement didn’t yet exist.) Now here’s the funny thing: I never mentioned those political things to him because I assumed he was politically conservative. In fact, when I moved to NYC to become part of the feminist movement & active in the abortion rights campaign, I learned that his brother Fr. Mark Dosh (also a friend of my family) was a leading figure in the movement against abortion rights. The confusion probably began with his friendship with my extremely conservative parents. Politics never really came up because it was religion that bound them. He may have judged it wiser to avoid politics. In the early 1970s when I was living in NYC, my mom told me he had left the priesthood & married an ex-nun. My mom was contemptuous of this just as she was about my decision to leave the convent.
Occasionally over the years, I would look him up on the internet & learned he was a central figure in Catholic Church reform groups, in the movement to allow priests to marry & for allowing women into the priesthood. For some reason, perhaps not wanting to defend my own political choices, I never tried to make contact with him again, even after I moved back to St. Paul. Recently, I decided to look him up again, realizing he was in his 80s now, & learned he died in 2016. It was from his obituaries that I learned just how progressive he was politically. After my departure for NYC, he had gone on to get a PhD in Latin American studies from the University of Minnesota & after leaving the priesthood lectured widely on US intervention in Central America. Who knew? He had two sons, one a musician & another a professor of Latin American studies. According to the tributes, he was a loving father & husband & always remained the quintessential “people person.” I regret not fully knowing him until after he died but I would have liked him to know what an impact his kindness & respect for me had on my life. May he Rest In Peace.
(Photo is Terry Dosh as a young priest)