Band of Sisters

Last night I went with a band of sisters--a group of young nun friends from Giving Voice who are living in Chicago--to see the new documentary film, Band of Sisters.  The film by Mary Fishman is premiering this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, where it's been seen by sold out crowds so far.

Given the recent spotlight on Catholic Sisters due to the two Vatican investigations, and in particular the hierarchy's criticism of the Sisters' collective focus on social justice issues that impact people who are poor rather than other social issues, it's interesting that the filmmaker decided to focus her story line on the Sisters' faithful response to Vatican II and their creative work for social justice. She's spent the past 8 years immersing herself in the world of Catholic Sisters.  Not only is the end result an obvious labor of love, I also recognized the contemporary face of religious life that I committed my life to in the film.

Julie Viera in the film
My friend Sister Julie Viera, and her partner-in-crime Sister Maxine Kollasch of A Nun's Life ministry, start the film off with a decidedly 21st Century flair ... engaged in their live podcast and internet chat. The two of them sit across from each other at laptops, headphones on, talking about religious life with interested folks across the globe.  While the majority of the Sisters profiled in the film are in their 60s, 70s and beyond, I liked the way the filmmaker frames the story in a contemporary context.  Vatican II called women religious to engage with the modern world, and this continues in new and perhaps unexpected ways today with women like Julie who have only known a post-Vatican II world.

Mercy Sisters Pat Murphy
& JoAnn Persch
The main thrust of the story, however,  is the Sisters' response to Vatican II, and so as the filmmaker said in the Q&A afterwards, this influenced decisions about which Sisters would be featured in the film.  The main thread is the story of two Sisters of Mercy from the Chicago area who advocate for the right of immigrants facing detention and deportation to receive pastoral care while incarcerated.  You see them bundling up to pray the rosary outside the detention center on a blustery day.  You see them walking the hallways of the State Capitol, engaging in thoughtful conversation with lawmakers seeking support for the bill.  You see them doggedly follow up with administrators and legislators after the bill has been passed, ensuring that immigrants receive the access to religious services that is their human right.  And you see them reminding activists that it is important not only to see a child of God in the immigrants, but in the sherrif and immigration agent as well.  Their charism of mercy shines through.  I do not know these two Sisters, but reflected in their story I saw many of the Sisters I have worked with and admire most for their tenacity in following Christ to the margins.

There are many familiar-to-me faces in the film.  Sisters Margaret Brennan and Theresa Kane, both past presidents of LCWR, give context and stories from their personal experience that also touch on the collective experience of women religious in the past 50 years. Sisters Nancy Sylvester and Carol Coston tell the story of the beginning of NETWORK, the group that put on the Nuns on the Bus tour this summer.  Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis of Genesis Farm and Sister Elise Garcia of Santuario Sisterfarm introduce viewers to the universe story and the Sisters' ecological ministry with the people of God and all of creation. There are other Sisters too, not known to me, who share their experience as part of this band of Sisters.

In the end, it is one of the best, wholistic depictions of contemporary American religious life that I have seen intended for a general audience.  Our truth is reflected in a respectful and celebratory way. In the Q&A, one audience member commented that the film was inspiring, and the story and witness of the Sisters made him pause and reflect on how he was responding to God's call to make the world a better place.  If the film comes to your City or town, definitely go see it.  The filmmaker is also happy to hear from folks who are interesting in hosting or helping to organize a screening.

Perhaps the best part of the evening from my perspective was the connections that I made at the end.  During the Q&A, one of the audience members, noting that most of the Sisters in the film were near retirement age, wondered what the filmmaker thought about young women entering religious life today. She responded as I mentioned above that the focus of the story is the response to Vatican II, and so therefore that mandated that the women highlighted would be older Sisters who experienced the renewal first hand.  But she did mention that this is why she chose to begin with the "podcast Sisters," to show that this way of life is continuing.  She also gave a pretty decent layperson's analysis that younger women entering today are in smaller numbers in each community, and so they need to be creative about building connections across communities and use the internet and technology to facilitate those connections.  I saw some of my friends in our row of young nuns nodding our head to her assessment.

GV Sisters at Band of Sisters
Then, one of my friends raised her hand and said that there were quite a number of younger Sisters in the audience.  Our row of Giving Voice type Sisters stood up, as well as 3 younger Sisters in habit in the front row and a few other younger Sisters scattered in the theater.  Afterwards, one of the younger Sisters that I did not know came up to us and asked if we were involved with Giving Voice.  A friend had recently told her about our network of younger women religious, and she was excited to meet some of us.  You could see how excited she was to see a large group of us.  That's always a beautiful moment, when you see someone connect to this vibrant network of young women religious committed to God and the future of religious life. We exchanged numbers and hope to hang out soon.

It was a perfect end to my evening on the town with my band of GV Sisters to see Band of Sisters.


Unknown said...

Beautiful post Susan!

Unknown said...

Beautiful post Susan!

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Thanks Chris! Hope you get to see the film. Lots of Adrians in it representing well :)

Unknown said...

This is the first I've heard of it; so now it's on my to-do list!

Rebecca said...

That looks like a great film.