‘Band of Sisters’ enlightens on post Vatican II religious life

By Rene Howard-Paez

February 13, 2013

A room packed with mostly gray-haired visitors filled Dominican University’s Priory Auditorium on Jan. 31 for a screening of the new documentary film titled “Band of Sisters.”

According to Claire Noonan, director of the Siena Center, around 300 people attended the screening, causing an overflow room to be used.

“Band of Sisters”, directed by Mary Fishman, is a film focused around Catholic nuns and their lives and work since changes brought about by Vatican II, including less sisters wearing the traditional habits and more sisters advocating for social and political justice. The film examines the lives of over a dozen religious women and highlights the history of nuns and the vast differences in religious life since the early 1960s.

The screening of the film was preceded and followed by a three-person panel offering responses to the film. Sister Kathleen Desautels SP, who appeared in the film, Sister Bernadine Karge, OP, JD, an immigration attorney and Liesl Orenic, Ph.D., history professor at Dominican led the panel discussion.

The film was well-received by many, with periods of laughter and applause peppering the screening.

During one point in the film regarding reception of Catholic church changes, a sister being followed in the film said, “We asked peacefully and respectfully, but we never take no for an answer”, prompting laughter and applause from the audience.

Members of the audience appreciated the film’s insight to the transition in ministry following Vatican II.

“It was an excellent, moving portrayal of the transition of many American women religious from some traditional ministries…into urgent new ministries that address crises of our day,” Noonan said.

However, not everyone in attendance was completely impressed by the film’s portrayal of sisters.

Following the film, John Zielinski, a graduate student and alumnus of Dominican wondered why fewer numbers of women are joining the Catholic religious order.

“Your order is dying off; what are you going to do about it?” he asked.

“Although there may be fewer numbers, that doesn’t mean that things aren’t still being done to help,” responded Desautels.

Zielinski also commented on another topic, stating, “70 percent of new women religious are with the Orthodox order”, a statement to which Noonan disagreed.

“That is incorrect. 50 percent of women are entering the orthodox order,” she responded.

The film also documented women who have left religious orders and their reasons behind it. The women who were included in “Band of Sisters” showed a clear passion and emotion for their old religious order.

Sr. Diane Kennedy, Vice President for Mission and Ministry, believes the film presented sisters in a positive light.

“Sisters were shown in direct service to the poor and the marginalized as well as engaged in environmental issues and in political action on behalf of the voiceless,” she said.

Kennedy also believes the film was used as a good tool with the goal of helping educate others on the lives of the committed religious sisters.

“I think the film can help the broader community understand the unfolding process of renewal and see the selfless, loving commitment of the sisters to the needs of the poor and the marginalized and to the transformation of our world and the church,” she said.