WESTERLY — Although she was born in 1948 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Patricia Walsh Chadwick doesn't exactly match the profile of your typical East Coast baby boomer.
As an 18-year-old in 1966 — when the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones were dominating the airwaves and miniskirts were all the rage, Chadwick had never attended a dance, never read a newspaper, watched television, eaten in a restaurant or made a phone call.
"I didn't know who Frank Sinatra was, or Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor," said Chadwick one afternoon last week as she sat on the comfortable veranda of her summer house in Watch Hill with the blue waters of Block Island sound glistening in the distance. "I had never heard of Elvis Presley or Marlon Brando."
Chadwick and her family — her mother, father, and three siblings — lived in world that sounds eerily similar to the one depicted in Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," in which families were separated, adults were urged to take vows of celibacy and children were punished for talking. Yet Walsh harbors no animosity and has nothing but gratitude for her experience.
Underneath it all, she said, "I knew my parents loved me."
The Walsh family lived in a Roman Catholic religious community called Saint Benedict Center, founded by Catherine Goddard Clarke. The late Rev. Leonard Feeney, a charismatic and controversial Jesuit priest who was excommunicated in 1953, served as chaplain.
Saint Benedict Center is a sequestered Catholic community, originally located in Harvard Square, that moved to Still River, Mass., a village in the Town of Harvard, Mass., about halfway between Worcester and Lowell. It calls itself the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Little Patricia was separated from her parents when she was 6 years old and was forbidden to speak to them. She was allowed visits from time to time but was instructed not to call her mother "Mommy" or her father "Daddy," but rather Sister Elizabeth Ann and Brother James Aloysius. She and her siblings lived dormitory-style with roughly 40 other children — girls in one dorm, boys in another — and were raised by a group of women called angels.
When Chadwick was 18 she was exiled from the community, deemed unfit to become a nun and remain in the community. She had no money and no traditional schooling, but she had plenty of pluck.
Now 70, and the CEO of a primary health care company that serves the LGBTQ community, Chadwick graduated from Boston University and had a successful 30-year career in the investment business. She has written a memoir describing her experience growing up as a member of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
"Little Sister, a Memoir," was published this spring, and Chadwick, a married mother of 25-year-old twins who divides her time between Greenwich and Watch Hill, has been on a bit of a book tour. She has been interviewed by Bookstr on Facebook Live, by Deborah Becker on WBUR, and has been featured in a number of newspaper articles. She will be the guest author Wednesday at the Ocean House's "Summer Author Series."
Close to 50 people attended her book launch at Savoy Bookshop & Café in April, and another 80 or so packed the Lanphear Livery in June to hear Chadwick talk about her experience living in a McCarthy-era cult.
It's a book, said Carol Akai, an assistant event coordinator at Savoy, that "allows readers to peer into a world of incrementally extreme religious behavior, offering a hopeful take on the possibility of dramatic worldview change after cult life ... [which] has current relevance into frightening ideological choices in 2019 America."
"I want to tell my story to as many people as I can," said Chadwick, who sits on a number of corporate boards, blogs regularly about social, economic and political issues, and mentors middle school girls at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem.
It took Chadwick 10 years to write her memoir. Chadwick said that when her daughter Caroline was 20, she came home from college with a message. "She said to me, 'Mom, I have two things to tell you; one, stop everything and finish your book; and two, accept the fact that you grew up in a cult."
"It took me a long, long, long time to be able to say the word 'cult,'" said Chadwick, "and the word appears nowhere in the book."
"This is not a 'Mommie Dearest' story," said Chadwick. "In essence it's a love story. It's a story about a family that cannot be broken."
"It's also a story that has not been told," added Chadwick. "It's a piece of American 20th-century Catholic history and it has not been told."
Chadwick said her mother, the late Elizabeth A. Walsh, who died in 2018, had a chance to read a galley of "Little Sister," before she died and urged her daughter to share the story.
"She died last September at 89," Chadwick said, "And she said to me, 'There are parts that make me sad but it's all true and you must publish it.'"
Chadwick has also had favorable feedback from former members of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In August she plans to attend a reunion in Still River, to visit with other survivors, many of whom still live on the property she describes as "a bucolic place with ponies and chickens."
Chadwick said she sees her book as a way to honor her parents, and dedicates "Little Sister" to "Mother and Daddy, for always letting me know they loved me."
Chadwick said her father, the late James Walsh, often said, "Don’t fret over the past, there is nothing you can do to change it. Look to the future and make the best of it."
Making the best of the future is what seems to propel Chadwick, who is friendly, talkative and upbeat.
"I have no anger," she said with a laugh. "I enjoy being happy. Why should I go looking for anger?"