Born on 14th July 1969 as the youngest of 8 children, in her early years Michaela was brought up by her eldest sister, who was 20 years older. When her sister married, when Michaela was aged three, she suffered her absence immensely. Little did she know that this was just the first of a series of challenges that life had in store for her.
“From the age of 7 until I was 16, I endured physical and sexual abuse by various neighbours and relatives.
“I never spoke about the abuse or sought help, and just prayed to God that these things would stop happening to me. Then one day, when I was 14, I was walking home from school, when I was violently raped by a neighbour in his shop in Saqqajja. It was a very savage rape and it changed everything. I shut God out of my life, feeling all alone in life and no one to take care of me; I blamed God for all the things that He was letting happen to me in my life.”
Michaela's school work and behaviour went from bad to worse. She even began to skive her piano lessons to go to the Black Cat bar near Mdina, to hang out with the people there and listen to rock music. She already smoked and bummed cigarettes from everyone, but then somebody gave her something different to smoke and soon they would sell her a matchbox full of weed for Lm10 (€23).
Sr Michaela in her teens “I was smoking marijuana and taking pharmaceutical pills - bought easily at the time without prescription - mixed with alcohol. I was also inhaling lighter refill gas, which sometimes led me to pass out.
“The drugs affected me a lot; psychologically I felt that I was numbing the pain, but really it was only becoming suppressed, so I became depressed and felt suicidal – there was no meaning in life and no reason to live.”
When her new friends from Higher Secondary invited her to a Black Mass in an an apartment in St Paul's Bay, she did not know what to expect, as 26 years ago these things were shrouded in secrecy, but she was interested in pay back time for God. It was the beginning of an involvement in satanic practices that lasted 15 months, during which time she attended a handful of meetings. She believes that these things are still going on, because after telling her story on a TV programme several people approached her for help. “We must remember that even today the occult is popular although still taboo, because in Malta all that is not Catholic people are not open about.”
Today Sr Michaela feels that she must practice her daily Mass with the same ferver she witnessed in satanic meetings to counteract the doings of those who worship the devil so wholeheartedly. But what happened to cause such an extreme turnaround? During this same period, in her mid-teens, the situation came to a head at home. She was always drunk or drugged and a lot of fights with her parents ensued, with shouting, screaming and crying.
“I swore a lot and was very aggressive but they did not know about the abuse or satanic rituals. They threatened to put me in rehabilitation or take me to the police, but instead my mother literally locked me inside the house, even forbidding me to go to school.”
Michaela suffered withdrawals and even tried to commit suicide. A psychologist was called in but to no avail as she would not speak to him about anything. Meanwhile, people from the satanic group watched the house and made anonymous phone calls with threats until they had to change their number. Then, her mother forced her to go to a healing service.
“I was determined not to go but she had people literally drag me there and I was blaspheming all the way to the church, which I refused to enter."
"I stayed at the door, but the healing service felt mysterious and enthralling and I felt as if somebody was telling me, 'Don't worry, we can make a new start.' I was too proud to admit that something had changed in me.” Michaela began attending Charismatic prayer meetings, by her mother's arrangement, as a means of bypassing her house arrest. However she was touched by the group's acceptance of her and their desire to help. Within a year she changed completely: she was working with her uncle, continued to attend the prayer meetings and visited the Ursuline Sisters in Sliema.
“One day I did not want to attend the prayer meeting but the man who usually picked me up kept insisting, worried the devil was out to get me back. That night we sang a new song: 'Shine Jesus Shine,' but it seemed three times louder than it should be so I left the room. I met a nun in the corridor and randomly asked her how old must one be to join the sisters; she told me the youngest was 16, and I was pleased because I was 18.
"I went to see the Mother Superior the following Saturday, saying, 'I am not sure but I am considering becoming a nun,' and then a supreme peace fell upon me and it felt the right thing to do.”
Sr Michaela feels that she can never repay God enough for his forgiveness and to make up for all the bad things she did. She admits that she had always wanted to marry and have children however, although she misses that, she would make the same choice again given the chance. But with 32 children aged between 3 and 20 in their care, Michaela's family is very large.
“When I speak to the children I care for and encounter their needs, their troubles, I see how much I understand them and realise there was a scope for what I went through. Instead of learning about how to deal with abuse in university, I went through it myself. I appreciate that this was God’s chosen path for me.” Sr Michaela joined the Ursuline Sisters of St Angela Merici. Sr Michaela's advice to those experiencing difficult life challenges:
“Start loving yourself because you are one of a kind; there is no one like you and no one who can replace you. Loving yourself means taking care of your body, your dignity and your spirit. I ended up where I ended up because I blamed myself for the things that happened to me and I couldn't bear it, so I opted to kill the spirit inside me gradually."
Sr Michaela's advice to the family and friends of people in self-destructive behaviour:
“Love them and support them – they need even more love than those who lead a normal life. Criticisms only make the self-hatred worse.”