A very special Dominican

Sr Pauline Quinn, op

This is a shortened version of an article by Timothy Radcliffe, whose permission we have to publish it. Sr Pauline, who also said “yes” to our request, asks us to pray for her. We are sure you will all remember her in your personal prayers. You can read Sr Pauline Quinn’s full story in the book “Secrets Shared: The Life and Work of Sister Pauline Quinn op” – published on 14 Oct 2016, available on Amazon websites (or ask your local bookshop to stock it!).

Sister Pauline Quinn’s arms are criss-crossed with scars. They shed a harsh light on the devastating suffering of the abused. But by God’s grace, she climbed back up to the light.

Kathy, as she was then called, grew up in the glamorous world of Hollywood. When her father disappeared, the family disintegrated.  Then began a long history of sexual abuse, first of all by a neighbor and the milkman.

As a teenager, Kathy constantly ran away, only to be recaptured and sent to juvenile detention. She ended up in the notorious Camarillo State Hospital in California, “a warehouse for discarded human beings.” She was chained to the bed, and raped by two doctors, to whom she had to repeat: “You did not do anything to me”. She began to die inside.

Hurting herself was the only way to express her pain and despair. She became a vagrant, living on the streets, cutting herself, raped by strangers, including the police. Then she met a Catholic Sister, Josepha, who gained her trust. Then she was given a German Shepherd dog, Joni. For the first time, she felt safe and loved. In 1981, she started the Prison Pet Partnership Program in Washington State Corrections Center for Women. She has since started such programmes all over the US and as far away as Argentina.

Then, helped by a priest who was in hospital with malaria, she was gradually converted to Catholicism. She became a Dominican tertiary in 1987, taking the name Sister Pauline of the Cross. Unusually for a tertiary, she wore a habit, and from that moment she never cut herself again.

It verges on the miraculous that a single woman, profoundly wounded by years of abuse, unsupported by any organisation, has done so much. She believes that people have a vast capacity for kindness and so she asks of them an astonishing generosity. She teaches us that we must dare to ask, and ask again, because she refuses to believe that human beings are essentially self-centred.

Many communities of sisters were alarmed by her history and the wounds she carries, which can still cause her to explode in angry recrimination if she feels threatened. I have received piles of letters from indignant cardinals, bishops and nuncios demanding to know what right she has to call herself a Dominican Sister and how she fits into the institutions of the Church. Who has authority over her?

I can only reply that we were proud that she was part of our Dominican family and that she had my authority to call herself Sister Pauline Quinn OP. She took her final private vows to the Mexican Dominican Bishop Raul Vera Lopez in 1995.

We need difficult people who challenge our complacency and insist on believing in our capacity to be kind and generous. Sister Pauline is now having chemotherapy for cancer. In between bouts, she is back in California seeing how one of her prison programmes is doing. Pray for this great woman.

Ruth Anne Henderson


(25 March 2017)