cover image The Scent of God: A Memoir

The Scent of God: A Memoir

Beryl Singleton Bissell, . . Counterpoint, $24 (294pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-348-6

In 1957, 18-year-old Bissell entered the monastery of the cloistered order of the Poor Clares in New Jersey. At 33, after falling in love with a priest, she left. The memoir details Bissell's lifelong love affair with God and decade-long love affair with an Italian priest, Vittoria Bosca. The two wed once Bosca received a dispensation from Rome to leave the priesthood and had two children before he, 25 years her senior, died of cancer three years after their marriage. Bissell's intense desire to become a saint drew her to cloistered life, where the constraints of pre–Vatican II monasticism created a spiritual existence comprising prayer, work and self-mortification. Her forbidden attraction to Bosca resulted in several years of smoldering but unconsummated passion (despite lots of lusty kissing). He believed they could maintain a loving but chaste relationship as priest and nun; Bissell wanted more. She was shocked to find the Church willing to excuse their sexual relationship, yet disapproving of their marrying. Her memoir details monastic life, the lure of the protective cloister, the spiritual havoc wrought by Vatican II and the conflicts many Catholics have with tenets of their faith. This is a deeply moving tale of a woman torn between her love for God and her love for one of his emissaries. (Apr.)