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Film Review: Band of Sisters

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Bilge Ebiri

This new documentary by debut filmmaker Mary Fishman offers an informative look at the activism of Catholic nuns in the United States, particularly in the years following Vatican II’s liberalizing reforms of church doctrine. Drawing on a wide array of interview subjects and decades’ worth of archival material, the film offers a contrasting portrait to the long-outdated stereotype of nuns as prudish, conservative bastions of the social order.

The nuns we meet in Band of Sisters eschew their habits for street wear, work a variety of jobs, and are fiercely committed to championing the social causes of their day—from immigration reform, to inner city redevelopment, to civil rights. This is a generous portrait of a diverse group of spiritually devoted women whose vision of God and how to live in the world is expansive enough to make common cause with unlikely allies.

The film is also poignant in its portrait of nuns who find themselves at odds with the larger church because they are outspoken about their views and committed to change. Fishman spends relatively little time on this aspect of the nuns’ world, and it’s unfortunate. One wonders if there’s a longer, more troubling story to tell: at the same time that her subjects were passionately working to advance progressive causes, many of their fellow nuns were just as passionately working against it. That, of course, is a more contentious subject, and probably warrants a longer, more involved exploration. As it stands, Band of Sisters is an informative, engaging film that will change how you view these remarkable women, whose dedication to bettering their world comes as a logical extension of their religious beliefs.

Photo courtesy of Marquette University Archives


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