A web serial by D.H. Sayers
“It is with a humble heart that I stand before your Eminences and give testimony to the life, works and death of Sister Mary Teresa, also known as Jacquelyn Carmichael. What I know, I pray, will be beneficial in assisting you to pass judgment and to, perhaps, sway you from listening to the hearsay that has surrounded her for the last thirty-two years.
I first met Jacquelyn Carmichael in August of 1942, when Padre Matteo De’Corvi returned to San Lucia with her. I know that Padre Matteo is another name that is of contention not just among the Body of Christ, but perhaps also with some within the College of Cardinals. I only ask that you bear with me. Have the patience of Job and allow the truth to will out.
I am quite sure that each of you has read the accounts of what transpired at Saint Angelo Carmelite Monastery of the Rose in the summer of 1942. It is, after all, the main document that stands now in the way of the canonization of Sister Mary Teresa. The testimony that I will provide for you this day, I hope, will allow you to see that document for what it is: a lie.
I have made the journey from the United States to Vatican City, not out of pride, or thought of a place in such a historic decision, but because, as the Apostle John stated in chapter eight, verse twenty-three, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” That, your Eminences, is what I am searching for. To be free. Free of the guilt that I have carried for so many years, knowing those things which I know.
I will ask you again to bear with me, to have patience. I quote for you Galatians chapter six, verse nine ‘and let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.’ That is what I ask for today. Allow the due season of Sister Mary Teresa’s actions, her good work be reaped her before you, in love and truth, so that you may decide for yourselves if she should be listed among the Saints.”
“Jacquelyn Carmichael was born to wealthy parents in New Orleans, Louisiana in the winter of 1926. Her mother and father were strongly devoted to their Catholic parish, and were seen as upstanding pillars of the community. It is a sad tale of events that would lead Jacquelyn from the languid days of the Mississippi River to the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Six years after she was born, while being carried for by her nanny, her parents, Marshall and Diana Carmichael, were involved in a tragic, head-on collision with a street car. The two were killed instantly and made an orphan of the baby girl.
When the news reached the Carmichael estate there was a great commotion. In true Cajun fashion, the couple were simultaneously wept for over their death and celebrated for over their lives. A procession of people over a mile long saw them to where they would be interred at St. Louis Cemetery number one, each of their voices ringing out in a praiseful chorus of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. At the end, a little girl in a white dress, was left without a mother, without a father, without a family.
It would eventually come down to a standoff between the local government, who wished to see little Jacquelyn placed into the state’s foster care system, and the Catholic Diocese, who wanted to respect the parents’ wishes and see that the girl was cared for within the flock. The decision would ultimately be taken out of their hands by Father Ignatius DuBois, who spirited the child away to Saint Angelo Carmelite Monastery of the Rose in Southern California. It is no doubt that you know that Father DuBois even spent time in jail for his unwillingness to submit to the court’s demand for her whereabouts.
Saint Angelo of the Rose would be Jacquelyn’s home for the next ten years. Before I discuss what happened to her there, how she came under the protective wing of Padre Matteo, her excommunication at the hands of Father Iago De La Cruz and her home at San Lucia, I want to examine what I know of her best; the twenty one years that I knew of her.
San Lucia, as you may or may not know, is a small farming community west of the city of Los Angeles. It is nestled within a small valley west of San Bernardino and over shadowed by the mountains, north of a place called Big Bear Lake. It is a community of those many would consider poor, for they do not own much land, or have very much money. Having been their priest for over twenty five years, I can tell you from personal experience that these people are anything but poor.
When I first arrived as Our Lady of the Pines, the grounds, the buildings, the congregation were in disrepair. It took me several years just to fix the damage that had been done by the previous caretaker, and even then it may never have happened if it were not for the assistance of Padre Matteo.
I know as I mention his name, I see that some of you here today have personal biases towards him. All that I can say in my defense is that he was a man with his own demons to bear, but in faith assisted where he could. I did not come to know of Padre Matteo’s vocation until my first summer in San Lucia. That came about of a young boy named Armando possessed of a vile spirit. You will remember the incident, as I personally requested the assistance of an exorcist from the California Diocese. My request was summarily denied, as the victim did not meet all of the criteria set for by the Vatican.
In my despair, perhaps some might say sin, I confided in Padre Matteo. After answering all of his questions, it would be he who went to the Rodriquez home and cast the demon from little Armando’s body. I stand before you, under solemn oath, to state that this is true. Over the next few years, I would come to know of other men, women and children that Father Matteo would save from the grip of Lucifer.
Two years after my arrival to San Lucia, Padre Matteo would return one cold, winter morning with a young girl, no older than sixteen. She wore an ill-fitting dress and carried only a small bag of personal effects. At first I did not know what to think, but as I kept a watchful eye over the young girl, who now lived in the small rustic cabin overlooking the community, I saw that the Padre’s intentions towards her were of those of a father to a daughter.
Jacquelyn, a quiet, reserved young girl, with long black hair and clear blue eyes, became a favorite among the families who lived and worked in San Lucia. She never once looked down on them for their state, or spoke ill of their situation. No, she simply accepted them as they were, loved them despite their flaws, and eagerly worked alongside them when the chance arose. I believe, to this day, that the people of San Lucia accepted her more readily than they did me.
I don’t say that to point out any jealousy on my part, but rather to impress upon you some of Sister Mary Teresa’s character. She quickly became a part of this extended family that lived, laughed and loved together. When Padre Matteo would pass on from this world, it would Jacquelyn that picked up his work.
I know that is another source of consternation for your Eminences, but I ask, in humbleness, that you bear with me and listen.
How and why we have come to this conjuncture starts on the evening of July the twelfth, 1963.
I remember the day quite well. It is very seldom that we get any other traffic into our little valley aside from trucks who come to transport produce, the occasional Grey Hound bus every other Thursday morning, and every so often a Sheriff’s cruiser to ensure that all is well. That afternoon, however, it would be a sleek, shiny black Mercedes Benz that would appear on the roads, coming down out of the western hills and invading our quiet community.
The gentleman called himself David Martin esquire. From his expensive suit, dark sunglasses and gold watch I knew him for what he was the moment I saw him standing at the door; a lawyer.
“Excuse me, Father?” He’d asked, standing just inside the threshold. I could tell he was not Catholic by his hesitance at entering further not understanding etiquette.
“Yes, my son? How may I be of service?” I returned.
He reached up to remove his sunglasses, revealing intelligent gray eyes, which were never touched by the smile on his face. We shook hands and he produced a small Polaroid from the inside of his jacket pocket. I instantly recognized Jacquelyn’s face.
“I am looking for this woman.” He stated.
I turned the picture over in my hands, looking from it, to him and then back again, wondering what reason he might be in search of her. Any attorney utilized by the Catholic Church would be Catholic themselves, so I did not fear for her in that regard, but it was rare for anyone from the city to come to San Lucia for any other reason than being lost.
“I can assure you, that I mean her no harm.” He continued, noticing my reticence. “My employers wish me to convey a question to her. No more.”
The picture in my hands was several years old. I could tell not just from the fading, but the fact that Jackie, as she liked to be called, did not where Padre Matteo’s cowboy hat in it. I nodded and handed the man back his possession.
“You will understand that our community does not get many visitors. Such isolation from the world makes a bit distrustful of strangers.” I said.
He smiled, again his eyes never changing. “I can understand that and I assure you that I mean no harm to you, your flock or Ms. Carmichael.”
The use of Jackie’s surname and the inflection in which he mentioned each, made me realize that this man knew more about our community than perhaps I had given him credit for. I motioned for him to follow, walking out into the dirt yard of the church.
“Do you see just there to the center of the valley, where the farms and houses are clustered together?” I asked, placing a hand on his shoulder and pointing to guide his gaze.
He squinted, shielding his eyes from bright sun, before nodding.
I raised my finger a few inches, up along one of the ridge lines, to the highest hill above the community.
“Above them. That hill. There is a cabin. The drive, or path because she does not own a car, can be a bit difficult to find, but that is where she lives. You will probably have a better chance, however, of finding her in the fields. Most days she likes to get her hands dirty with the rest of my flock.”
His eyes lingered on the farms and fields, before he turned and offered his hand again. I shook it, still watching his unchanging eyes.
“Thank you, Father. I assure you, you’ve made the right decision.”
He left me standing in the dirt, as the sleek, black Mercedes kicked up dust and he drove down the road in search of Jackie. His quick parting was a testament to both his desire to find her and the city from which he’d come.
The lack of speed limit signs, police and other obstacles put the vehicle parked on the roadside next to the fields only five minutes later. The attorney would find Jackie in the fields with the rest of the community harvesting avocadoes to be sent into the city and sold. It’s always funny watching someone from the city try to navigate the fields, especially when they are ripe for harvesting. The attorney, David Martin, picked his way across and for what it’s worth, made it to them without spilling himself into the dirt. Twenty eight men, women and children walked amongst the rows, picking the dark green fruit from the trees of the orchard. After showing her picture to a few of the people and speaking in a smattering of Spanish, he puzzled out her location.
“Ms. Carmichael?” He asked the woman standing at the top of an old, gray-weathered ladder.
“Not that I go by that name much around here, but who’s asking?” Jackie asked without looking, her voice flat and untrusting.
“Ah, Ma’am, my name is David Martin esquire. I’m an attorney for the Williamson family in Los Angeles. Might I have a few minutes of your time?”
The further reliance on etiquette made Jackie turn to look down at the man. The expensive suit, the patent leather shoes and the silver sunglasses were enough to make her climb down the ladder and toss the last avocado she’d picked to Horatio, who was looking over the harvest. She grabbed the ladder and began to move to the next tree.
“You’ve got about five, Mr. Martin. That’s about how long it’s going to take me set up next to that tree, get a drink of water and get back to work. So make it quick.”
“Um, yes, Ma’am, I…” He said following her.
“Don’t give me that Ma’am bullshit. It’s Jackie.”
I want to assure you that the language I am using is her own. I don’t do it as part of some spectacle but rather to give you the whole of Sister Mary Teresa, so that you might understand her better.
“Very well, Jackie. I represent, as I stated, the Williamson family from Los Angeles. They’ve asked me to speak with you concerning their daughter Elizabeth Todd Williamson.”
Jackie placed the ladder next to the tree, ensuring each support was set firmly in the ground and its braces were taut.
“Yep, go on.”
“Elizabeth is the Williamson’s only child. She…” Mr. Martin esquire looked about the orchard at the people working around them.
Jackie chuckled. “Most of the people here don’t speak a lick of English, and those that do, don’t care, Mr. Martin, so I suggest you not waste time and say the piece you’ve come so far to say.”
She stalked over to the communal water barrel, tossing the dusty, weathered cowboy had back and dousing her dark hair with a ladleful of clear, cool water.
“Yes, they have asked me to come speak to you on their behalf. Young Elizabeth, as the Williamson’s have confided in me, has… she is taken of a vengeful spirit.” He said.
The words made Jackie stop before the second ladleful reached her lips.
“You want to say that one more time.” She said.
“Um… yes, Ma’… I mean, Jackie. The Williamson’s have asked me to speak…”
“Yes, yes. I get it. They couldn’t be bothered to drive themselves all the way out here so they sent you. What did you say about her being possessed?”
“That is pretty much the long and the short of it. The little girl is quite unwell. They have had doctors to the estate and no one has been able to console the young girl. The Williamson’s being devout Catholics have asked me to send for your… services. They believe their daughter to be possessed… by a demon.”
Jackie finished her water and tossed the hat back on her head, protecting her from the blazing sun overhead. She stared at Mr. Martin for a long, silent minute and then climbed onto the first few rungs of the ladder.
“Sorry, Mr. Martin esquire. Can’t help you. Try the Catholic Diocese in Los Angeles. That’s their purview.” She said.
From behind her she could tell that the attorney was still standing in the dirt beneath the avocado tree watching her.
“They have, Ms. Carmichael. Last Friday they received a letter from the Archbishop of California stating that Elizabeth did not meet the criteria of a valid possession and therefore the Catholic Diocese could do nothing to assist them. In short, thank you for the several thousands of dollars you donate monthly to our organization, but your daughter does not mean that much to us.”
Jackie could hear the disdain in his voice, and it drew a small smile across her face. The crunch of leather in the dirt made her realize that he’d moved closer and was now standing at the foot of the ladder. She glanced down to see him holding out his hand, a small, stark white piece of paper between his fingers.
“My card. The number to a motel several miles from her is written on the back. You have until the morning and then I will be returning to the city. If, for nothing else, Ms. Carmichael, think of little Elizabeth. I am sure you were a young girl once yourself.”
She took the card from him and without waiting for any type of an answer, Mr. Martin esquire stomped off through the orchard in search of his Mercedes. Jackie looked over the card and then slipped it into the pocket of her dirty jeans and went back to work.”