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A film made in 2002, The Magdalene Sisters, told the sad story of the "maggies" of Ireland. They got that nickname from Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had driven seven demons. Tradition says that Mary Magdalene was the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Hence when a strict order of nuns agreed to take in young women who had become pregnant out of wedlock, they labeled the fallen girls "maggies."

The maggies came to public attention in the 1990s when the order sold its convent, bringing to light the existence of the graves of 133 maggies who had spent their lives working as virtual slaves in the convent laundry. The media soon scouted out a dozen such "Magdalen laundries" across Ireland—the last one closed in 1996—and soon relatives and survivors were spilling accounts of the slave-labor conditions inside. Thousands of young women spent time in the laundries, some put away just for being "temptresses," forced to work unpaid and in silence as a form of atonement for their sins. The nuns took away illegitimate children born to these women to be raised in other religious institutions.

A public outcry erupted, and eventually campaigners raised money for a memorial, a bench in St. Stephen’s Green, a park in downtown Dublin. In Dublin there are several bronze statues and impressive fountains, mostly honoring fighters for Irish independence. I didn’t get to see this on my trip but apparently there is a modest bench beside a magnolia tree. People often sit on it without realizing why it is there. If one asks about this particular memorial, most people will probably give you puzzled look and admit, “I dunno.”

But if you are diligent, you might find it and the plague that is behind it that says, “To the women who worked in the Magdalen laundry institutions and to the children born to some members of those communities—reflect here upon their lives.”

I see how often we fail to follow the example of Jesus. Like the kids in Charlie Brown, we are too often unforgiving and critical of those that mess-up especially those that mess-up more than others and always with those that we love and have higher expectations of. Jesus appointed the Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume: "Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." Mary Magdalene of the seven demons is honored as the first witness of the Resurrection—a testimony at first discounted by his more prestigious followers. Where we shame, he elevates.

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