She signed the documents in her own red blood, vows of chastity, crucial poverty, and obedience. She would never marry, own property, or disobey Church authority. Charlotte Keckler was a young woman who loved God and believed that her decision to join a Carmelite convent and serve Christ and humanity behind the closed doors of a nunnery would save she and her family. She could not have imagined the hardships and absolute terror that awaited her. The life that she innocently believed to be spiritual and sacred she found to be perverse and profane. Controlled and even enslaved by a corrupt Church and an unholy hierarchy, Charlotte spent over two decades in inhumane conditions, struggling to survive. Her story, From Convent to Pentecost, was transcribed from her own words, by Sister Eunilah Rutledge Mean, a United Pentecostal Church evangelist and pastor. It is a testimony of a nun who was miraculously delivered from the captivity of the Roman Church and found true Bible salvation.
Charlotte was reared in a devoutly Catholic home and entered the convent school at age thirteen. At sixteen, she became a novitiate, officially dedicating her life to the Church in a wedding ceremony where she was espoused to Jesus Christ. The Mother Superior, impressed with Charlotte’s devotion, suggested that she consider entering the cloister, shutting herself away from the world to pray for lost humanity. After much prayer and persuasion from the superior and her confessor, Charlotte took her perpetual vows, vows that could never be broken. Diametrically different from the white wedding of her novitiation, Charlotte, renamed Sister Patricia, spent hours in a crude casket, shrouded in a thick, incensed pall, ritualistically symbolizing her death to the outside world (Rutledge 9-10).
Life inside the cloister is the stuff of horror novels. Charlotte recounts gruesome and incredible atrocities committed against and even by the nuns. Mother Superior, whom she dubs “Legion”, is a wicked artificer of cruel tortures and unreasonable punishments (41). The nuns, who are constantly reminded of Christ’s suffering, bear their own Calvary, shedding their blood and stretching their bodies to the limits of human endurance. Charlotte herself was variously mistreated being hung from ropes for nine days in a penitential chamber, only offered bread and water for sustenance. She was made to lick the sign of the cross on filthy floors, burned with a fire poker, and temporarily blinded by some chemical concoction thrown in her face by the abbess (44-45; 92-93). She describes deplorable conditions in an underground dungeon where some nuns suffered and even died. Each year during the Lenten season, leading up to Easter, Charlotte describes a macabre ritual of human sacrifice, thinly disguised as Christian martyrdom:
. . . a glass casket was rolled into the center of the chapel (one flight underground). While the ceremony was performed, amidst chanting and prayers, a little Nun was then sealed and pushed back into the crypt in the wall. However, before the casket was placed into the crypt, we Nuns were allowed to look on that martyr through the glass lid. (Rutledge 28)
The convent perpetuated evil, appealing to the most godless and twisted perversion of Christ’s death.
Most disturbing is Charlotte’s claims about murders. Disobedient nuns were often killed or imprisoned in the subterranean dungeon until dead. Abnormal, illegitimate babies, sired by lecherous priests who visited the convent, were also murdered after receiving the rite of baptism. Charlotte describes a lime pit where bodies were taken for chemical treatment and decomposition.
For corroboration, Charlotte cites The History of Puebla, a book which includes details about the opening of Mexican cloisters by the government. The discoveries made by Mexican detectives and officials in the 1930s, revealed an underworld of torture, imprisonment and death for nuns, illegitimate babies, and errant priests. Many other published tales of escape nuns in the nineteenth century lend credence to her story. Edith O’Gorman, who escaped a New Jersey convent in 1868, told of underground dungeons, sexual impropriety, and licking floors for penance. A British nun, Sister Lucy (Ann Cullen) published tales of her experience after escaping from an English convent, detailing drunken parties by priests, flagellation with chains, and dubbing these nunneries “sacerdotal harems” (Kollar 207-209). Father Charles Chiniquy, who spent 50 years as a Roman Catholic priest, and demonstrated sincere and honest fervency for his Catholic faith, eventually left and became a Protestant. His writings reveal a good deal about the characters of his fellow priests. He describes a meeting of Catholic clerics: “Some were handing the bottles from bed to bed . . . but half an hour had not elapsed before the alcohol was beginning to unloose tongues and upset the brains. Then the bon mots, the witty stories, at first, were soon followed by the most indecent and shameful recitals.” The drunkenness continued each night: “One night three priests were taken with delirium tremens almost at the same time. One cried out that he had a dozen rattle-snakes at his shirt . . . ” (Chiniquy 421). Modern accounts of the vilest corruption in the Church of Rome are ubiquitous; and even now, the sexual scandals that plague the Church are regularly reported in the media.
Miraculously, Sister Charlotte escaped from the convent. Through the treachery of her own family, she was kidnapped and returned to another. Under the direction of the new Mother Superior, she was burned with a plumber’s torch until she recanted for fleeing her former station (Rutledge 169). Over two years later, doing hard penance, Charlotte was providentially presented with another opportunity for escape when a gate was left unlocked after a delivery of coal. She fled again-this time for good (Rutledge 175).
God, who recognized Charlotte’s hunger for Him, eventually brought her into contact with Apostolic believers. In March 1945, Sis. Charlotte Keckler was gloriously filled with the Holy Ghost in a revival meeting preached by Sis. Nilah Rutledge in Davenport, Iowa. She was baptized in Jesus’ Name at the close of the revival (Rutledge 194-195). This inspired encounter launched Sis. Keckler’s ministry, and she traveled alongside Sis. Rutledge giving her testimony of God’s deliverance from convent life for the next 14 years. In 1957, Sis. Rutledge met and married Bro. John Mean, who has served as a United Pentecostal Church District Superintendent in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for over 26 years. Sis. Charlotte continued to travel with the Means for two years following their marriage. In a recent telephone conversation, Bro. Mean described the Catholic opposition that Sis. Keckler met with during her meetings. The team began a revival meeting in Trenton, Nova Scotia. Sis. Charlotte’s testimony incited bitter protests from priests and the Catholic faithful in Antigonish, a nearby city. A mob came out with stones to attack Sis. Keckler, and the Chief of Police from a neighboring city, New Glasgow, promised police protection if they would move the revival to their town. The revival venue was changed, and deputies were placed at the meetings to protect the evangelists (Interview).
Sis. Charlotte Keckler’s message provides us with an astonishing look at the evils perpetrated in the name of the Catholic faith. While her experiences may be exceptional, they are not unique. Sis. Keckler used the pain of her past to create an effective ministry. Bro. T.F. Tenney, former District Superintendent of Louisiana, visited a Pentecostal service for the first time to hear Sis. Keckler’s incredible story. Her deliverance is nothing short of miraculous, and the book faithfully preserves the overcoming word of her testimony. She died in September 1983 at the age of 85, a faithful member of Bro. Paul Price’s church in Napa, California. Her story was never discredited, though many have tried. Bro. John Mean says: “She was a genuine lady, and a very beautiful person. She never misrepresented her cause” (Interview). Sis. Keckler is undoubtedly beholding the face of the Saviour that she longed to know when she entered the convent. She has now laid down the pain of her incomprehensible sufferings, for eternal life in Christ, not the Catholic Christ who necessitated such awful tortures, but the God of eternal love and blessed comfort!
Chiniquy, Charles Fr. Fifty Years in the Church of Rome. London: Robert Banks & Son, 1891.
Kollar, Rene. “An American ‘Escaped Nun’ on Tour in England: Edith O’Gorman’s Critique of Convent Life.” Feminist Theology: the journal of Britain and Ireland School of Feminist Theology 14 (2) 2006, pp. 205-220.
Rutledge, Nilah. From Convent to Pentecost: My Escape from the Cloistered Convent. Halifax, NS: Rose of Sharon Books, 1999.