“Sisters” – a documentary film by Carol Rittner

Carol Rittner nearly lost me before the film began by introducing herself as Sister-Doctor-Professor Carol Rittner. That’s a lot of titles… But I’m glad I resisted the urge to exit.

Rittner produced the film “Sisters” in answer to the Vatican “investigation” of American nuns. The investigation is widely referred to as “the new Inquisition”. The nuns (or their leaders) are accused of  promoting “radical, feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” 

The film focuses on five sisters and is told almost entirely in their voices. They discuss their families and childhoods (most went to Catholic schools), their careers, their “calls” to religious community and their spiritual lives. One common thread is social activism. 

The sisters discuss their work with “the poor, the sick and the ignorant”. Nuns have a long history as teachers. I’m used to hearing people speak about “the poor, the sick and the oppressed”, or “…the suffering”. In an article about the movie, the phrase was “the poor, the sick and the uneducated or undereducated”.

There was NO male “voice” in this film. (Men are seen and sometimes heard in the “background” footage of the sisters at work.) Jesus gets only a passing comment. I don’t know if that was intentional. To me, full reliance on the female voice suggest vigorous, conscious feminism, which I like.

The careers developed (sometimes with financial support from their religious communities) by these women are very impressive – ER pediatrician, hospital administrator, college administrator, director of an NGO at the UN and social worker. (Hope I got these right and didn’t leave anyone out.)

In the question period after the film, Rittner was asked how these particular nuns were chosen. It was mostly by word-of-mouth and personal contact. Rittner wanted to include a nun whose ministry has consisted of feeding poverty stricken urban alcoholics for several decades, but the woman was too quiet and self effacing for the movie camera.

The good work accomplished by American nuns is not limited to the USA. Many are involved with projects around the world. I wonder if the male dominated hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church will come to its senses and see these religious communities as assets to be nurtured, not criticized. Time will tell… In the meantime, do see the movie if you have a chance. 


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