Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns

My upcoming novel for Chesterton Press, "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," takes place in a Parisian Convent. This has made for some interesting research challenges, particularly being a Protestant. One resource that has recently come onto my radar screen is Lifetime's new reality show, "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns."

One of the contestants, Claire Halbur, is a friend of several friends of mine. I'd recently friended her on Facebook and couldn't help noticing this show she kept talking about. Five young girls visiting different convents to discern their calling? All sorts of nuns getting interviewed? This was exactly what I was looking for!

"But it's reality tv," you say. "It's just drama, right?"

Not at all. Sure, there is drama, and some of it is heightened because of the cameras and editing, but overall I've been very impressed with the first three episodes and the respect the show is giving both the Catholic faith and their contestants. There is a reason they are labeling it as a "docu-drama" rather than reality tv, even though that's what it is. They did a good job of picking a very diverse cast, so that the drama comes from five very different young women experiencing a very radical shift in lifestyle - which is something that happens when you get a bunch of women living together - no exceptions! i.e. it is realistic drama, not (mostly) staged.

The episodes are available online for cable subscribers. If you don't have access to a cable account yourself, it's worth borrowing a friend's account to check out this (short) series (although I hope it'll make its way onto Netflix eventually). Whether you are Catholic, or interested in learning about a new culture, this is interesting, informative and about as respectful as I think you can expect a reality tv show to be.


Andrea said...

I watched the first couple episodes and although the nuns themselves are fairly conservative, the girls (except for maybe one) don't really understand the meaning of a religious vocation.

My sister is entering a convent in Australia as a postulant in January. It is a traditional order of Dominicans and her formation will be quite different than what they are demonstrating on this show.

As a Catholic, the show doesn't really show what a calling from God to be a religious looks like. They do a nice job displaying a service aspect of the religious, but I think a display of the spiritual formation (thus far) has been neglected quite a bit, and it is love of God above all that drives acts of charity.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...


Is your sister going to be a contemplative or active nun? I'm still a little confused by all of the terminology, but I do know that the different orders place different emphesis on different aspects.

How many episodes have you watched? I just finished episode for, and I actually have been very impressed by how much of the spiritual aspect the show has shown, considering that it is playing on a secular cable network, with a secular audience.

Also, it is important to remember that this is film, and it is really hard to convey the inner spiritual life on film. There are only so many shots you can do of people praying, silently or aloud, before it gets boring and the audience wanders off.

My experience has also been that the cloistered contemplative orders are tremendously restrictive about contact with the outside world, and there was no way a TV network was going to get permission to film at those.

I do want to get as broad of a perspective as I can for the book. Would your sister have the interest/ability in discussing some aspects of religious life and calling with me? Let me know via e-mail (elenatintil [at] gmail [dot] com) if this is a possibility, I would be quite grateful!

Unknown said...

I haven't watched the show myself, but definitely want to! One of the girls (Stacey) actually went to my very conservative high school and her sister was my classmate.
I've been impressed with what I've heard, and it's really made me want to watch for myself. Obviously they can't portray all aspects of such a serious discernment. You've peaked my interest even more, and I'm hoping I can tune in over Christmas break!