Band of Sisters: NYC Premiere
Kaitlin Campbell January 21, 2014 - 3:32pm
Band of Sisters, a new documentary film now showing at New York City's Cinema Village until January 30th, features sisters from eleven different congregations who all share the unique story of being American Catholic nuns who entered convents before Vatican II, and whose vocations were radically transformed by the council's documents.
American women religious are portrayed as themselves -- obedient risk-takers whose elevation from selfess servants to community leaders is natural and justified. The sisters narrate their story against a backdrop of juxtaposed images and stories: black-and-white footage of thousands of habits bending to pick lillies on convent grounds; today's sisters in overalls showcasing their organic farms; hundreds of pews full of heads bowed in prayer; nuns well into their eighties lobbying for access to immigrant detention centers; the letter from Pius XII urging U.S. congregations to create "a network" that would become the LCWR; Rome's investigation of the LCWR's "faithfulness to mission" under Benedict XVI; collared schoolmarms keeping order in classrooms; grey-haired women getting arrested at the School of the America's protest; and much more.
Nancy Sylvester, IHM, says her original motives for entering the convent were to love God and to be perfect. She did not anticipate enacting these goals beside laypeople as a lobbyist in Washington. “That idea that nuns and priests are better than the rest of the church really changed with Vatican II. We took seriously the Universal Call to Holiness.” But as the spirit of Vatican II was dimmed subsequent years of contradicting leadership in Rome, questions were raised on which rules to follow – theological questions, doctrinal rules.
Since it's sold-out 2012 premiere in Chicago, Band of Sisters has visited over 60 cities without a paid marketing campaign. It's director Mary Fishman’s first film -- she left her job as an architect and urban planner and began the project in 2004 after taking a few film courses. Thinking back to "all those nuns" who taught at her elementary and high school, she wondered what happened to them, and she was amazed at what she learned. The more she read about the real women and their great accomplishments, the angrier she became about the stereotypes. In making this film, she not only debunks stereotypes about nuns, but puts them in the applauding public light they deserve.
A good friend of mine, a Sister of Charity is telling everyone, “You have to see it. You need to know.” You should listen to her. I left the theatre inspired and challenged, moved to contemplate my place in the church and act accordingly. I was reminded what I was told repeatedly in elementary school, that the sisters demand attention, hard-work, and respect. And this time it was plain to see why.
About the Author
Kaitlin Campbell is Commonweal's marketing coordinator.