Letters

Letters 08-31-2015

Inalienable Rights This is a response to the “No More State Theatre” in your August 24th edition. I think I will not be the only response to this pathetic and narrow-minded letter that seems rather out of place in the northern Michigan that I know. To think we will not be getting your 25 cents for the movie you refused to see, but more importantly we will be without your “two cents” on your thoughts of a marriage at the State Theatre...

Enthusiastically Democratic Since I was one of the approximately 160 people present at when Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke on August 14 in Charlevoix, I was surprised to read in a letter to Northern Express that there was a “rather muted” response to Debbie’s announcement that she has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president...

Not Hurting I surely think the State Theatre will survive not having the homophobic presence of Colleen Smith and her family attend any matinees. I think “Ms.” Smith might also want to make sure that any medical personnel, bank staff, grocery store staff, waiters and/or waitress, etc. are not homosexual before accepting any service or product from them...

Stay Home I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read the letter of the extremely homophobic, “disgusted” writer. She now refuses to patronize the State Theatre because she evidently feels that its confines have been poisoned by the gay wedding ceremony held there...

Keep Away In response to Colleen Smith of Cadillac who refused to bring her family to the State Theatre because there was a gay wedding there: Keep your 25 cents and your family out of Traverse City...

Celebrating Moore And A Theatre I was 10 years old when I had the privilege to see my first film at the State Theatre. I will never forget that experience. The screen was almost the size of my bedroom I shared with my older sister. The bursting sounds made me believe I was part of the film...

Outdated Thinking This letter is in response to Colleen Smith. She made public her choice to no longer go to the State Theater due to the fact that “some homosexuals” got married there. I’m not outraged by her choice; we don’t need any more hateful, self-righteous bigots in our town. She can keep her 25 cents...

Mackinac Pipeline Must Be Shut Down Crude oil flowing through Enbridge’s 60-yearold pipeline beneath the Mackinac Straits and the largest collection of fresh water on the planet should be a serious concern for every resident of the USA and Canada. Enbridge has a very “accident” prone track record...

Your Rights To Colleen, who wrote about the State Theatre: Let me thank you for sharing your views; I think most of us are well in support of the first amendment, because as you know- it gives everyone the opportunity to express their opinions. I also wanted to thank Northern Express for not shutting down these types of letters right at the source but rather giving the community a platform for education...

No Role Model [Fascinating Person from last week’s issue] Jada quoted: “I want to be a role model for girls who are interested in being in the outdoors.” I enjoy being in the outdoors, but I don’t want to kill animals for trophy...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Finding Isadore‘s Missing...
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Finding Isadore‘s Missing Sisiter

Mardi Link - November 3rd, 2008
Share this scenario with just about any woman and you’re sure to get a shudder: A nine-year-old girl from a big city in the Midwest is orphaned after her mother is committed to a psychiatric hospital and her father is killed in a traffic accident. The country is facing economic strife, her parents were Polish immigrants and no relatives come forward to claim her. Her two teenage brothers are left to fend for themselves. They manage to make their way in life, barely, but are not equipped to care for their sister. It was as if bad luck and doom crossed paths one day and she was standing at the intersection, all alone in the world, even before her 10th birthday.
These circumstances would be dire today, but imagine now that the year is 1883. Options for women are few–for girls even fewer–and for orphaned girls like this one, there are none at all except for this: the convent.
This hypothetical lost little girl was a real person. In the end, the Catholic Church in Detroit took her in, and the Felician Sisters there –many of them Polish–fed her, clothed her, educated and even loved her. Not surprisingly, she became a nun.

SISTER MARY
Before she took the habit her name was Josephine Mezek, and when she was in her 30s she was sent to teach at a Catholic school founded to serve a Polish settlement in Isadore, located on the Leelanau peninsula. Then, on August 23, 1907, she disappeared and became the infamous Sister Mary Janina, the missing nun of Isadore.
Talk about a cold case. For a non-fiction book about this mystery, I’ve spent the past year trying to find out what really happened to her. The official story is this: She was murdered by the parish’s housekeeper and church leaders hid the crime until circumstances, beyond even their control, made the story public. The housekeeper was arrested, tried, convicted and given a life sentence. End of story.
Well, not exactly. Over the years this mystery has inspired a Broadway play (The Runner Stumbles), a Hollywood movie of the same name, magazine articles, a newspaper series and the signature chapter in a book about Michigan murders.
And yet, more than 100 years later, I found that the full story of what happened to that young woman, and to the village of Isadore after her murder, still remains in pieces. The true story had been hidden away inside library archives, old photo albums, prison correspondence, newspaper clippings and the memories of local people who were children themselves when the case went to trial.

SIFTING THE PAST
I don’t know if this is true for all writers, but for me, the research is the fun part of writing a book, especially historical research. Each new fact leads to two more, which then doubles again and again. Paging through old file folders of original letters, arrest warrants, scraps of notes and rare photographs, I felt like my hands were touching the lives of the people in this story. Thankfully for nosy writers like me, we are a society that values and documents our past.
Through an Internet search, I found out that the University of Notre Dame has an extensive collection of materials on Polish Catholic immigrants in Northern Michigan, and part of this collection was related to the murder of Sister Janina. I called the university’s archivist to get more information about what exactly the collection consisted of. Was there enough source material to make it worth the five-hour drive and a personal visit?
“Well,” the archivist told me, deadpan, “if we took out the whole collection, lined it up on the floor and measured it with a measuring tape, it’d be about 54 feet long.”
I drove down to South Bend the next day. That was early in the process. Since then I’ve found that paper resources like these have been relatively easy to track down – it’s the living, breathing ones that have been much more difficult to access.

MISSING NUN
Pay a visit to the four corners of Isadore, go to mass at Holy Rosary Church, walk through a century of history in the cemetery, line up for one of their famous chicken dinners and it is as if no time has passed. The fate of Sister Mary Janina is still not spoken of. Not in conversation, not on a headstone for her grave, and not even in the parish’s official history.
A well-researched, heavily illustrated and lovingly compiled book about Holy Rosary School was published by the parish in 1998 to celebrate the school’s centennial. Though every priest, every nun, every missionary and even the janitors are all mentioned by name, Sister Mary Janina’s is nowhere to be found within its 175 pages. According to the editors, time leapt from 1904 to 1919 with only this statement: “The succeeding years proceeded relatively uninterrupted.”
I suppose that’s true if you don’t count the murderess who faked insanity, the female spy, the jailhouse confession, the skeleton assembled in front of a jury in the old Leland Courthouse, the Michigan State Supreme Court appeal, a Governor’s clemency and a local farmer’s suicide. The years were indeed relatively uninterrupted except for those events.
To me, Josephine Mezek’s rough start and Sister Janina’s tragic end makes her story more worth sharing, not less. True history isn’t always quaint and congratulatory just because it’s local. Instead, often it’s twisted, chaotic, and even violent. How our predecessors untangled what the fates of the past hurled their way is exactly what makes their lives interesting and their stories worth remembering. And yes, even writing down.
Mardi Link’s book, “100 Witnesses of Isadore,” will be published in July 2009 by The University of Michigan Press. Her first book, “When Evil Came to Good Hart: an up-north cold case,” details the 40-year investigation into the murder of a Detroit family. It was also published by The University of Michigan Press and spent four weeks on the Heartland Bestseller List.
 
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