By Alethea Yates
A long-running local ghost story claims that in the 1800s or earlier the nuns living on Dudley Road were caught practicing witchcraft and were hanged for it, either by other nuns or by irate local people, and that they now haunt Dudley Road. It’s a story with a shiver in it. Why not pass it along? There are two reasons not to do so.
First, it is bad history. There were no religious institutions at all on Dudley Road until 1924, when the former Stearns farm on the Billerica side of the road became a seminary. From 1924 until 1964 it was an institution for men only, and then in 1964 the Daughters of St. Paul took it over to establish their convent. Contrary to all the ghost stories, there were no nuns living on Dudley Road before 1964.
Second, consider the nature of the story. When ugly tales are told about other groups of people – for example, Muslims, Jews, refugees, homeless families, Mexican immigrants, and undocumented workers – such stories are called hate speech and people who repeat them are called haters. When hate speech is identified, parades are marched, candles are lit, web sites are launched, curricula are written, bumper stickers are distributed, and a high state of vigilance is established to keep it from happening again. Shouldn’t all groups, including nuns, be given as much respect? (One ghost-related web site even goes so far as to name the Daughters of St. Paul as the long-ago witches.)
It’s time to admit that the Dudley Road ghost stories about nuns are just plain slander and no different from anything else that is called hate speech.It’s time to drive a stake through the heart of those ugly old stories.