Band of Sisters
by M. Faust
Nuns get a bad rap. For generations they’ve been depicted in mass media as steel ruler-wielding terrorists of school children, clad in outfits that resemble burqas and preaching denial and self-loathing.
For one thing, not all nuns are in teaching orders. More properly called “sisters,” they have a vocation of serving the needy, ill, poor, and uneducated. For American sisters, this mission had become watered down by the 1950s, with an emphasis on convent life and removal from the world in order to achieve holiness. After Vatican II, Pope John XXIII instructed Catholic religious to be of the world rather than part from it, to return to root concerns of teaching and battling injustice.
The documentary Band of Sisters looks at the efforts of American sisters from the 1960s to the present, depicting the efforts of a dozen or so nuns from different congregations.
When John XXIII made his pronouncement in 1965, one interviewee remembers, “Some sisters didn’t want to change at all, but others couldn’t change fast enough.” In an era of great social change, they allied themselves with other movements and learned how to press for legislation along with grass roots work.
In the late 1980s they received another shot in the arm when the murder of four nuns in El Salvador, and the Reagan administrations indifference toward them, sparked a wave of outrage. Present day sisters are seen working with deportees and their families and with connecting faith to science and environmentalism. One of their biggest problems remains from within: sexism within the Catholic Church, which still refuses to ordain women.
While occasionally scattershot in dealing with a wide range of material, Band of Sisters is a useful corrective to the revival of religious fundamentalism that emphasizes domination. Director Mary Fishman will be present for her film’s presentation at the Screening Room this Sunday.
Watch the trailer for MOVIE
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