I Found the Faceless Portrait After Breaking and Entering

I’m in love with a podcast called My Favorite Murder – perhaps you’ve heard of it? If not, it’s a true crime comedy show hosted by two hilariously deranged women, Karen and Georgia. As a true crime fanatic, I was ecstatic when it was introduced to me by a friend about two years ago. One of the best things they do is called “hometown murders”, where they read fan-submitted stories about their experiences with the macabre. These submissions have expanded to include ghost stories, sinkholes, things found in walls, etc. This morning I submitted my own ghost story, and after writing it all out, thought it might be a fun read for others.

Please, pardon the language, it’s part of the humor.


Hi All,

While my sleepy hometown remains uncommonly murder-free, I do have a great, Catholic ghost story that I thought you all might enjoy.

I attended college at an incredibly small, private Catholic school for women (yep, only women), because I am both a feminist and filled with unmitigated guilt. There was a single dorm which housed our roughly 350 students, and we shared the gorgeous, wooded campus with a convent of the order of Sisters who founded the school back in the late 1830s. Since none of the buildings had been updated since around 1930, creaking floors, rattling pipes, unexpected drafts, and slamming doors were common occurrences. Add the cemetery, home to every Sister who had died since 1840, and we were basically living on 62 acres of prime haunted real estate.

The Sisters had a huge influence over the school, and any sort of haunting rumors were discouraged. Demons were another story – we had a bathroom which had been exorcised – but ghosts weren’t real. The only story they entertained and truly believed in, was that of the Faceless Nun. As the story went, a young nun belonging to the convent was a savant of oil portraits. She did these for the community elite, and her practice was to always paint the details of the face last. After some recognition and success in the community, she decided that she would try her hand at a self portrait. However, before she could complete the work and add her facial features, she died of whatever illness was frequently killing off otherwise healthy young people at the time (tuberculosis, maybe?). A few days after her funeral, another nun was in the chapel for her evening prayers, when she noticed a fellow sister in the corner – her head bowed, hands covering her face, and crying. The nun went to her to comfort her, but when she placed her hand on the crying-sister’s shoulder, the sister raised her head to reveal skin stretched over bones – no eyes, no nose, no mouth. The nun who saw this apparently passed out from fright and had to be kept in the hospital for the rest of her life. The Sisters purport that the nun in question committed the sin of vanity with her self-portrait and is now trapped in purgatory (sans face). 

I’ve always loved ghost stories, so I ate this shit up. Fast forward a few years and I’m serving as an RA. With the position comes a set of master keys that accessed the dorms and academic building. I, being incredibly responsible, obviously abused this power in search of adventure on boring Saturday nights. My friends and I would enter the academic building, and then use the interconnecting underground tunnels (hell yeah, abandoned underground tunnels!) to access the other facilities. One night we managed to get into the basement of the administrative building, which gives unique access to a service elevator that can take you to the attic. The joyride to the top level was frightful in and of itself because the elevator was never serviced (as it wasn’t supposed to be used) but we carpe diem’d it anyways. The attic probably hadn’t been accessed in over a decade, and was filled with broken religious relics, like statues of Jesus with rebar sticking out of his hands like a fucked-up reverse stigmata. I wandered over to some old paintings in gorgeous turn-of-the-century frames and started sifting through them.

I swear to God I almost threw up in fear when I pulled back one of the frames to find AN OIL PAINTING OF A NUN WITH NO FACE. I started crying for some reason and yelled for my friend to come over so that I could confirm I wasn’t haven’t a stroke and seeing things. The painting was incredibly old, ripped in places, covered in dust, and had burn marks around the edges of the frame. My friend starts freaking out as well, screaming “THEY SAID IT WAS IN THE ATTIC OF FOLEY!”. I too, then, suddenly remembered all of the stories saying that they nuns had kept the original portrait in the attic of Foley Hall, which was the original dorm/academic building in the 1800s. It had been destroyed in a fire in 1990. Suddenly we realize that most of the things in the attic had signs of fire damage – concluding these must have been the surviving artifacts from the building. My friend couldn’t handle it and begged me to leave, so we took off.

A few nights later, I was walking around campus around 2:00 AM thanks to my anxiety-insomnia. I did this often and it was never a cause for concern. As I was walking alongside the Motherhouse, I noticed a nun walking toward me. I didn’t think too much off it at first, but then realized she was wearing a full habit. Our order no longer wore habits – the nuns wore pastel, conservative, but otherwise normal clothes. I stopped and stood there for a second, thinking “maybe she’s wearing it for fun?“. But then she raised her head, and even though it was dark, there was enough light to notice the absence of shadows across her perfectly smooth, NON EXISTENT FACE.

I noped it out of there faster than I have ever noped it in my life. When I got back to my dorm room, I stuck my rosary in my bra (closest to my stampeding heart) and said every prayer I have ever remembered and made up a few new ones to be safe. I don’t think the Almighty minded the few “fucks” I peppered into my Hail Marys. I saw the Faceless Nun one other time while I was a student there, and it was less shocking, but still unbelievably creepy


Just Go With It

Like so many young people, I struggled in adapting to life after college. Not so much in the economical or career sense, but in the social. I had spent several arduous years cultivating a tight-knit group of female friends that seemingly easily dispersed post-graduation. It would take me years to understand that the commitment of those friendships didn’t change, just the physical exposure to the people. But I was young, dumb, and lonely.

I was also dealing with 24 years of unresolved emotional issues, which landed me in therapy. Easily this was the greatest rock-bottom of my relatively short life, because therapy forced me to question myself in every conceivable way. One of the many results of this was an identity crisis. When my therapist challenged my concept of self, I realized that I could, actually, be anyone I wanted to be. I was elated. And horrified. But mostly I was scared to try anything new with people who already knew me.

Enter Fe, Fi, and Fo. These three people would ultimately change who I was as a person by forcing me into a situation of choice. Their first impressions of me were entirely different than anyone else in my life. They may have saw me as naive, most people do, but they also saw a purpose in me that I didn’t recognize at the time. They were friends, long before I came along, but we somehow quickly morphed into a four headed monster of a friendship.

This was my chance, I thought. This was my blank slate. Most people spend their adolescent years trying on different personalities and lifestyles. I was too busy assuming the burden of responsibilities that weren’t my own. I didn’t get to experiment. I never let myself. But suddenly, at nearly 25, I felt the freedom to do so. And I got carried away in this world were these people looked at me like delicious, damaged fruit. My bruises made me juicier, and we would sit around the table, pouring drinks, smoking weed, and comparing scars. They made me think my issues were charming, that my neurotic behavior made me special. Who doesn’t want to feel special?

From an outsider prospective, it was easy to see that the relationship was beyond unhealthy – it was diseased. Fe and Fi were married, happily or unhappily – it depended on the day. Their relationship was rife with miscommunication, guilt, and secrets. I know because they each told me different things. Fo was a friend of theirs, nearly 10 years their junior. Later on, Fe, Fi, and Fo would form a sort of ménage a trois. They were “challenging society’s concept of monogamy”. I was slightly nauseous.

For the solid year and a half of our intense relationship, my mantra remained “just go with it”. I said it after my first, second, and consecutive hits off their blunt. I said it as I mixed my benzodiazepines with alcohol. I said it as every moral line I held was crossed, and every ethical bridge I had built was burnt. I said it after all of these choices led me to an incapacitated state, and I came to being violated by the people who called me special.

I wanted so badly to see if I could be someone else. I wanted to believe I was a part of something so special that other people couldn’t understand it. But even as it does in those formative, adolescent years, the sheen of excitement wears off and you’re exposed to the grime underneath. After almost two years, I came up for air and didn’t recognized my surroundings, but I finally recognized myself.

And I walked away.

These people hurt me in ways I’m still deconstructing. But they aren’t bad people. Fe is an unhappy person, trying everything in their power to make themselves, Fi, and Fo happy – no matter what the cost. Fi is a narcissist, without question, but with enough charm to fool the Pope. Fo has borderline personality disorder, and is one of the most exhausting people in the world to be near. Individually they could stand a chance – together they’re a masochistic Cerberus. They devour one another. For a while, I made their toxicity okay. I was a common denominator. Until I didn’t want to be that anymore.

To anyone on the outside, I’m an asshole who abandoned their closest friends. I’m Judas. I’m the person who left their friends for a romantic partner. I’m the jerk. I’m the villain. I’ll gladly take that title. I’ll be the villain in their story as long as I’m the protagonist in my own.