Sister Jane vs the Church

Table of Contents


Jane Mary McDonald was a Catholic nun. She joined the Sisters of Holy Cross, a Roman Catholic religious institute of women in New Hampshire, U.S.A., in 1972. She died of cancer in Winnipeg, Canada, on July 29, 2003. Her connection to the institute was strained for many years before she died. Early in her religious formation, Jane fell under the influence of a superior who was dynamic and charismatic in the secular sense. She claimed to have a healing charism in the religious sense. She founded a spiritual community called Homes for Growth in a house in Lorette, Manitoba, and in houses in Winnipeg. Jane joined Homes for Growth, believing it to be a part of the Sisters of Holy Cross. She became involved in sexual misconduct with the founder and leader in 1978 and 1979. She drew back from the sexual conduct and from the spiritual and psychological theories of this superior, which alienated her from the other Holy Cross sisters in Winnipeg, and in Western Canada. She began to work in homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

She started Chez Nous as a mission to the poor and homeless. It was a drop-in Center called Our Place/Chez Nous at 676 Main Street, at Higgins Avenue, on Winnipeg’s Main Street strip.

In 1999 and 2000, she told her superiors in the Congregation what had happened when she had lived in the Homes for Growth house. When they did not respond, she informed the Archbishop of Winnipeg. He looked in to the story, and his intervention seems to have inspired an investigation by a senior Sister in a different Congregation, on behalf of the Vatican Congregation responsible for Religious institutes. Jane’s persistence earned her the emnity of many of the elected superiors in the Congregation. The Archbishop told her that to them, she was the personification of evil. In 2002 Jane took legal proceedings against her Institute, which were cut short when she died. During the last years of her life, the Sisters of Holy Cross literally expelled her and stopped paying for her living expenses, leaving her to beg and borrow money from friends and supporters.

I was her lawyer and advocate. Jane left me free – in fact with a positive mandate – to make sure that her story was not covered up or forgotten. It a story about Sister Jane’s vocation to work with the poor and to live a consecrated life. It is a story of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada in the last half of the 20th century – how the Church responded to sexual misconduct and enforced the rules of Religious Congregations and the laws of the Church as to celibacy, chastity and obedience. It is a story about innovation and excess in the practice of spirituality and communal life, and how the Church responded to abuse and to Jane’s having exposed her abuse.

I was baptized a Catholic and I attended a Catholic primary and secondary school. I have come to have large doubts about the content of Catholic teachings and the teaching authority of the Church. I have tried to increase my understanding of Catholic teaching to understand the beliefs and values that governed Jane’s life and that ought to have governed others including the people who abused her and the people responsible for enforcing the Church’s teachings when Jane exposed her story to their scrutiny.

More on meeting Jane, and in this 2004 post.


There are obervations and reflections on Jane’s vocation and mission. She lived a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, and she ministered to the poor. Her Christian life was valuable for the respect and love she showed to the poor and the compassion of her mission. She lived in the spirit of the Gospel. She worked under difficult circumstances, in poverty, in solidarity with the poor. Her mission was misunderstood and undervalued by social services agencies, and her religious vocation was misunderstood and undervalued.

There are note on the Church’s interaction with modern culture in America and Europe in the second half of the 20th century. There were changes in the structure and mission of her Religious Congregration, and changes in the practice and presentation of Christian spirituality. Jane encountered people who tried to integrate secular and eclectic ideas about psychology, sexuality, healing, love and spirituality into Catholic practice.

There are notes about the general laws of Canada, as opposed to Church law. Jane sued the Sisters of Holy Cross over the sexual abuse and institutional injustice. I have something to say about that process. I studied the law of sexual abuse and misconduct. I studied the law relating to the Church and the rights of members of Religious Congregations. I tried to educate myself about spirituality, psychology, social dynamics and cults.

There are notes about the Church’s treatment of the men, women and children who report sexual exploitation and abuse against Catholic clergy and Religious. The Church teaches against sexual abuse. It teaches against the abuse of office by the clergy and by the superiors in Religious Congregations. It teaches against sexual activity by clerics and members of the Religious congregations. The hierarchy defend the assets and reputation of the church and villifies victims as greedy persons manipulated by anti-clerical adherents of secular values.

Victims are alienated from the Church when they need pastoral care and support to sustain or restore their trust in the Church.


Memorial page.

Media page with some of the media stories.

Court papers archive with overview.