This week I am attending the Conference on the History of Women Religious. Last night was the opening night which featured the documentary Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism. “Interrupted Lives is a one hour broadcast documentary that explores the plight of Eastern-rite and Latin-rite Catholic Sisters under Soviet domination from the end of World War II to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

I personally was blown away by the documentary. I had no idea that Catholic sisters suffered so much. Yet their faith and their sisterhood kept hope alive through it all. Here is an overview of the sisters’ experience from the documentary’s website www.interruptedlives.org.

While not all of the activities listed below applied to every Sister and community in every country, the experiences were nonetheless widespread:

  • Sisters’ schools, hospitals and motherhouses were seized by the state and turned over to secular uses with little or no compensation;
  • Sisters were denied the right to assembly and to accept and train new members;
  • Sisters were forced to work on state collective farms, in factories and mental institutions;
  • Sisters’ teaching and nursing certificates were revoked and they were forbidden to work in these “helping
  • professions” for fear of contaminating and influencing others with their beliefs;
  • Sisters were imprisoned or sent into exile in Siberia as political punishment for resistance, assisting or hiding priests, arranging Masses, meeting with youth, or evangelizing children in the faith;
  • Sisters in some countries were forbidden to wear their community habits and veils;
  • Sisters were forced to live secretly in ones and twos in apartments as laywomen, compelling them to gather and meet undercover;
  • Sisters joined congregations through an underground network in which they did not know the identities of other “Secret Sisters” for fear of accidentally revealing and compromising others;
  • Sisters professed vows secretly in small, intimate ceremonies, usually in the middle of the night, for fear of police detection; vow papers were often signed, witnessed and burned so as to leave no evidence;
  • Sisters were kept segregated by the state in “concentration convents” with limited access to family and friends;
  • Sisters suffered imprisonment, exile, torture, deportations and police watch.

I encourage you to learn more about the sisters and the documentary. After you’ve had time to view the trailer and check out the website, please share your thoughts here.