Band of Sisters | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Band of Sisters

Mary Fishman's doc looks at American nuns who tackle social-justice and environmental issues


"We are the risk-takers of the Church," explains one Roman Catholic nun. "We are down with the people. We know what the needs are." Mary Fishman's documentary profiles a number of American nuns who, since being released from habits and cloisters by Vatican II in the 1960s, have reinvented what it means to serve their faith. Missions no longer mean teaching school or being a nurse, but run the gamut from social-justice issues (fair housing, immigration reform) and environmentalism (including Gaia gardens) to political activism challenging both U.S. and Vatican laws.

Fishman's film traces some of these personal evolutions, as these nuns (most now elderly) recount being influenced by the civil-rights movement, feminism, ecology, science and, most especially, a sense of their own collective power. Much of this activism involves building bridges to non-religious groups to form like-minded coalitions.

If all this sounds antithetical to the conservative nature of the Vatican and the institution of the Church, it is. The film touches on the pushback American nuns received from Rome in 2010, but I'd have liked a broader look at that ongoing conflict. (Also, are there conservative nuns who aren't so free-thinking?)

Another issue was barely addressed, and it may be the most critical of all: For all the good work these nuns have done and are doing, where are the generations of younger nuns to keep selflessly toiling in the trenches?

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