This is a clip I posted on Youtube from the 1958 Movie, “The Nun’s Story” starring Audrey Hepburn as a young woman named Gabriel Vandermal who becomes Sr. Luke of a fictional French Women’s Order. The movie, as you shall is stunningly beautiful and the liturgical scenes are carefully done. This movie is available for purchase at Amazon.com and I recommend it to your library.
However the following should be noted. The movie presents a rather negative portrait of Religious Life by emphasizing its hardships and demands to the exclusion of its joys and benefits. It more than suggests that many aspects of Religious Life at that time were unreasonable and unnecessarily harsh. Perhaps they were at times. Some older Sisters I’ve talked with tell me that many aspects of this movie are accurate and things were tough in the old days. An interesting aspect of the portrait presented is that primary source of the hardships was the women toward each other. It is common in some current narratives, especially from older women religious, to speak of the old Church as patriarchal, male dominated, and hence oppressive to women. Yet in this piece from that actual period, the clergy are distant figures, and the main interplay is with the women and how they both support and also oppress one another.
If this movie is a reasonably accurate portrait of religious life in the first half of the 20th century (sounds so long ago now!) then it is clear that reforms were needed. However, as an outside observer who is both male and barely old enough to remember the old Church, I must say I deeply regret that the reforms that may have been necessary got so out of balance for many women’s Religious communities. An over-correction seems to have set it in in many, though surely not all. The abandonment of the Religious Habit, community life, a common apostolate, and deep love for the Church seems to have been lost, in some. Thankfully there are many Religious Communities of women which never succumbed to the radical notions that swept others. Also, there are many new, thriving and exciting new Communities of Women religious as well. In my own convent are the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. (they wear a blue and gray habit). They are imbued with deep love for the Lord, our Lady and the Church. They seem quite happy and foster great holiness within their sisters. They seem also to have found a good balance between the following of a clear rule and of doing so in a way that is respectful of the humanity of each each sister. There is nothing of the robotic and unhappy obedience depicted in this movie. The Sisters I know are quite alive and experience their religious life in a deeply human way.
The movie The Nun’s Story surely has a strong point of view that could have been more balanced. I cannot imagine that it was quite as strict or unhuman as this movie depicts. Further, Sr. Luke makes a decision in the movie that is problematic from the point of view of the vows she made. Nevertheless, with these cautions I strongly recommend the movie. It is beautiful, though controversial in some aspects. I post the clip here in the interest of seeing a brief look at Religious life in the wider culture and in the movies. Enjoy this beautiful video.