Mary Dispenza: Split and the search for authentic self

**Listen to the StoryCorps interview here**

A clergy abuse survivor, former nun, Catholic elementary school principal, lesbian, gay rights activist, competitive ballroom dancer, and author all walk into a bar …

The “crowd” is just one person: Mary Dispenza. Her story is compelling—rich and complex in the relationships between how our society views sexuality, the roles of women, organized religion, activism, and child sexual abuse.


Mary Dispenza
Mary Dispenza


Mary as a sister at the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary convent in Santa Barbara, California.
Mary as a sister at the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary convent in Santa Barbara, California. She’s far better looking now, I think.


I’ve known Mary for years, but I had the ultimate honor of interviewing her for StoryCorps in 2014. You can listen to the piece here. We talk about how sexuality—as defined by others—has been a recurrent theme in her life. We also talked about family, love and loss. We both cried.

A blog post can’t do justice to Mary’s intricacy. You can’t talk about her abuse without talking about why she became a nun. You can’t talk about why she left the convent unless you talk about her passion for education. You can’t talk about her life as an adult Catholic without talking about her sexuality. You can’t talk about her activism without talking about her huge and unconditional love for her family. And really, you can’t get to the loving and multi-faceted heart of who she is without seeing this juxtaposition:


mary queerballroom mary












… or without mentioning her amazing wife Mary Ann.

The Book

I discussed Mary’s book SPLIT before in an earlier post. It’s a worthy read. With the recent release and huge praise of the film SPOTLIGHT, we tend to forget that the faces of the clergy abuse crisis are diverse and compelling—men and women, gay and straight, of every color and socio-economic background (and even non-Catholics).


But Mary’s story is so much more than just a tale of abuse and recovery. In many ways it’s a story of all of us: how our authentic selves are a work in progress. How we evolve. How we grow.

And how we do it from a place of love.

It’s only .99 for the Kindle.  Don’t have a Kindle? You don’t need one – but you can buy them here:


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