Rose's Reviews > Isadore's Secret: Sin, Murder, and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town

Isadore's Secret by Mardi Jo Link
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's review
Jan 10, 2010

it was amazing
Read in January, 2010

Isadore’s Secret revisits the August 1907 disappearance and murder of Sister Mary Janina, a Felician nun whose remains were found eleven years later under the Holy Rosary church in tiny and remote Isadore, Michigan. The feisty and aggressive parish housekeeper, who nourished a longstanding antipathy toward the slain nun, stood trial for her murder and was convicted. Over a hundred years later, echoes of this sad case can still be felt in Isadore: when referred to at all, it is called ‘the tragedy’.

The crime aroused national interest for a variety of prurient reasons. The accused murderess, Stanislawa "Stella" Lipczynska, was overheard referring to Sister Mary Janina and her fellow nuns as “whores” and “priest’s wives”. Church authorities knew about the killing soon after it occurred, but failed to report it, forcing the outside world to ponder the missing nun’s whereabouts for over eleven years. Non-Catholics decried the church for concealing a murderess; if they had known that Sister Mary Janina had been pregnant at the time of her death, they would have had a field day, given the fact that the Isadore priest who discovered her remains had impregnated his teenage housekeeper. When Stella Lipczynska went on trial, she claimed that the Leelanau County sheriff had tortured her into confessing, exposing another institution to sinister accusations.

Mardi Link has done a superb job in resurrecting this forgotten story. She takes a creative nonfiction approach that makes the book read like a mystery novel, but fortifies it with both endnotes and a bibliography. Isadore’s Secret has been named a 2010 Michigan Notable Book, an honor it richly deserves.

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