Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Nun Story: Defending America's First Feminists

Ingrid Bergman in 'The Bells of St. Mary's'
Two evenings ago on David Letterman's show, guest Jon Stewart, discussing Bill O'Reilly, referred to him as the 'skinniest kid in fat camp' and/or the, and I quote, 'the sluttiest nun in the convent.' The audience laughed as did Stewart and Letterman. And I ask, where's the outrage?

How many movies do we go to where a nun or group of nuns are portrayed as goofy simpletons? Then there's the evil nuns depicted in a 2009 a movie called 'Nun of That' which was acclaimed as one of the best indie films since Slumdog Millionaire and another with Lindsay Lohan appearing as nun licking a gun in a controversial poster for the movie Machete opening this month. Luckily these movies have limited appeal but just the fact that these obviously anti-Catholic movies are out there and not getting as much publicity as the mosque at Ground Zero or any incidents of anti Semitism or anti-Muslim sentiment get is really astounding!  The Bells of Saint Mary's and The Sound of Music are so 20th century I guess! 

Letter to Ursulines from Thomas Jefferson
My question is this: why nuns? Is it just that they're easy marks? That they turn the other cheek? I like to think that they stay above the obviousness of the derision because their real work is just too important to be distracted by Catholic bashing media elites. I was lucky enough to be educated in the Catholic school system when there were nuns in every classroom and I can tell you that the current anxiety over the heartbreaking movie Waiting for Superman could be resolved if these strong, capable, independent women, who taught and controlled classrooms with 55-60 children, could somehow appear and be put in charge of the nation's public schools! 

The history of nuns in this country is remarkable. In 1737, twelve Ursuline nuns arrived in the United States from France. They founded schools, hospitals and orphanages and they did so in dangerous times and places with little money or resources. The first pharmacist in this country was an Ursuline nun. In a recent exhibition at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. called “Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America, there’s a hand-written letter from President Thomas Jefferson praising the Ursulines’ work and assuring them of their religious freedom. The Ursuline school in New Orleans is the oldest continually operating school for woman in the United States. And this is only one of many orders of sisters in this country.

“Catholic sisters built up the largest private health care system this world has ever known,” said Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, “and did it at a time when there really weren’t any options for women.”

In the exhibition the nuns were portrayed as 'pioneering, and surprisingly progressive, leaders in their communities who helped to build America’s healthcare, education and social services, at a time even when women didn’t have the right to vote. They raised funds to build schools, hospitals, orphanages and colleges before most women in the United States could legally own property, negotiate contracts and acquire loans. And they entered the workforce decades earlier than most women.' 
“They didn’t wait for ‘somebody else’ to do the job that needed to be done,” says Ellen Dorn, director of exhibitions for the International Gallery. “They just went right into action when a need arose.”
If you respect women, respect religion of any denomination then respect Catholic nuns and write to networks or Hollywood studios whenever a disservice is done to the honor of our country's first feminists.

Reference and notes from Daniel Burke, Religion News Service and

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