A nun on retreat makes her way to France and falls in love

And she couldn’t get any farther than it began.

On her way to France, Mary came across the darkest of beliefs, on both sides: that of those who “would serve their conscience without waiting to hear the voice of God, nor do all in their power to hold the evil conscience in abeyance,” and those who “would be radically sure that personal gratification and lasting enjoyment precede by millennia the pursuit of justice and truth.”

She heard the danger of both sides and failed to awaken them in the United States of America. Instead, she heard “with a friend of spiritual fervor the voice of God among the barbarians, and with wit and insight the spirit of the human race … urging them on by an intuition of justice.”

It was the Scots.

She did not forget the defeat that had led to the Colonists’ turning to France, but no one else did, and still no one else would tell her what had gone wrong. She went there to find out what had gone wrong. “Soon,” she wrote home, “under God’s glorious and supreme protection I shall leave this world.” She would eventually be driven back to England to live out her days.

Thus begins Susan McLean’s moving account of her emergence from an English convent and a life of martyrdom to reach her freedom in the heart of a French Revolution. The chapter titles were selected by her great-great-granddaughter, Mary Ellen McLean Proctor, in honor of Mary as “the true elder sister” of Mary Grant, the leading British saint and the patroness of abolition and women’s rights.

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