Band of Sisters: The Remarkable Journey of Catholic Nuns in the United States
Distributed by Band of Sisters Limited, 11757 S. Bell Ave., Chicago, IL 60643; 773-445-3311
Produced by Mary Fishman
Directed by Mary Fishman
DVD , color, b&w footage and stills; 88 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
Nuns, Catholicism, Vatican II, Social Justice, Human Rights
Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO
Date Entered: 12/17/2013
For Catholics who wonder what became of the nuns they knew in habits and convents many years ago, for activists who feel profoundly discouraged given the problems of today’s world, for women seeking equality in their church, and for people of all faiths yearning for an inclusive and contemplative spirituality…In 1962 Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, saying it was time to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air. Vatican II inspired sweeping change throughout the Roman Catholic Church, including its orders of women religious. The council encouraged all religious orders to seek renewal based on two criteria: the example of Christ and his followers given in the Gospels, and the original vision of their order’s founder as spelled out in that order’s founding documents and unique charism, or focus for ministry.
For some orders of women religious in the U.S., returning to their roots meant a radical shift in focus from cultivating personal holiness within the quiet confines of a convent to identifying with and serving the poor in the messiness of everyday life in the world. Through archival footage and stills, plus interviews with over a dozen women religious from various American congregations, Chicago filmmaker Mary Fishman documents the remarkable transformation of Catholic nuns in this country in the 50 years since Vatican II.
In Band of Sisters we’re introduced to JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy, two nuns whose passion for social justice leads them to visit immigrant detainees in the local county jail. Lack of access to pastoral care for detainees compels the two sisters to lobby their state legislators, their persistence culminating in a new state law guaranteeing that access. CEO of Mercy Housing Sister Lillian Murphy and a formerly-homeless woman discuss how affordable housing run by Catholic nuns is helping her get back on her feet. From organic farmers to directors of inner-city holistic health centers, theologians to lobbyists, peace activists to podcasters—these sisters are living out their calling in ways their orders’ founders could never have imagined.
Change can be difficult—interviewees readily admit that not all members of their congregations were enthused about dispensing with their traditional garb and way of life. And Church leadership is calling into question some congregation’s steps toward renewal: in a recent investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (representing roughly 80% of U.S. Catholic nuns), the Vatican laments their promotion of radical feminism, as well as their lack of attention to traditional Church teachings.
Fishman’s debut film Band of Sisters is a thought-provoking, intimate look at the lives of contemporary American nuns. An excellent choice for church libraries, high school media centers and public libraries, it is especially appropriate for academic collections supporting religious and women’s studies programs, as well as courses in U.S. history and political science.
Chaptered; also available in streaming video format.