Oprah’s Got Catholic Nuns and Geishas

Blog Published: February 9, 2010
By Sister Julie

Tune in this morning for the Oprah Show which features Oprah Winfrey chatting with some of the Dominican Sisters of Mary of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Lisa Ling’s experience visiting their “real-life nunnery”. It airs at 9 a.m. CST on ABC.

I am both delighted and a bit concerned about how this show will go. On the one hand I am delighted for the Sisters of Mary. This is an excellent opportunity for them to raise awareness about their particular way of living religious life. I am excited that Oprah is profiling the work of Catholic sisters and nuns, even if just one congregation, because it helps raise awareness about religious life and maybe even sparks the imagination of someone who is open to a vocation to religious life.

On the other hand, I am concerned about a few things. One is how the sisters will be portrayed. The promo for the show reads: “They’re young and have given up sex, careers and having children to become nuns! Lisa Ling spends the night in a real-life convent.” Now I’m all for a good sound bite to catch people’s attention, but I worry about this one. Sure it does grab attention, but it also conveys the messages (reinforced by the promo photos and video) such as you have to be very young to join, religious life is about “giving up” stuff, and nuns and sisters are not allowed to have a profession. I think this is the danger in profiling only one congregation because there is a huge diversity of ways of living as a Catholic sister or nun, and viewers might get the impression that that particular way is the only way. Now, I’ve only seen the promo stuff so maybe this will be addressed on the show.

A second concern. Already the show has paired two stories — nuns and geishas. A geisha is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a Japanese girl or woman who is trained to provide entertaining and lighthearted company especially for a man or a group of men”. It is difficult to miss the comparison to the image of nuns portrayed by the show. Both nuns and geishas have a particular “stance” in regard to men — nuns “give up sex” and geishas entertain men. Kind of a “good girl / bad girl” thing. Both nuns and geishas have a particular form of dress — geishas wear a kimono and nuns (in this case) a habit. While it is indeed a fascinating comparison simply by positing the two stories next to one another with no commentary, again there are messages being conveyed here.

Well the show is on soon! More later!

Archived Comments

Sister Gayle OSF February 9, 2010 at 10:02 am

I am curious to see how this show goes as well. It is not on til 4PM here in NE IN. I was hoping for a snowday, but I can still watch it. We’ll find out! Thanks for posting!

Sister Julie February 9, 2010 at 10:14 am

Am watching Oprah now … Sayuki, the only Western woman to be a geisha notes that while geisha entertain both men but women, there is still the allure of the “old days” of geishas and their mysterious ways — the outfits, the strict rules, the “secret lives”, the rituals, etc. Interesting comment because “traditional” religious life has that allure too — the outfits, the strict rules, the “secret lives”, the rituals, etc. Lisa Ling asks young women if they know anyone who wants to be a geisha — they laugh and say no, saying they don’t think it’d be very fun. Again, similarities with religious life?

Sister Julie February 9, 2010 at 10:27 am

Dominican Nuns — Sister Francis Mary and Sister Mary Judith talking about their calling, wanting to give their whole lives to God, wanting to have their life “bigger”.

Sister Julie February 9, 2010 at 10:59 am

Wow, Oprah just did a very odd characterization of nuns … including a description of habits, the vows, marriage to Christ, etc.

The Dominican Nuns interviewed have a particular way of looking at religious life and a theology of religious life. That is fine, however, it is so important to know that there are various other ways to look at religious life and a theology of religious life that are authentic too. For example, not all Catholic sisters and nuns use the image of marriage to talk about their relationship with Jesus the Christ. This is one image among many. There are also many ways to live in community, not just under one roof. Again, it’s not that one way of life is better or worse or more authentic or not — rather it’s that there is a diversity of ways to live religious life.

I’m really bummed out that religious life is being portrayed in such a narrow way — not saying the nuns’ life is narrow, but that the portrayal suggests that their particular life is somehow the standard or the typical way of being a nun. The show only slightly hinted that there were forms of religious life other than the one being depicted. In reality there are many ways of living religious life, this is just one and in fact not the predominant one in the United States.

I’m interested in hearing from you and from other cloistered communities, other Dominicans, and other religious on this topic.

Sarah February 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I can see what you mean. I am currently discerning with them and was very excited to hear that they were going to be on Oprah. I just hope it all goes well, I know that it is in God’s hands. I hate it when people make religious look like they became nuns/sisters because they were “miserable” in the world and that is the only reason. I want this because this is where my heart is leading me and how can I say no. I heard the call during the Easter Vigil before I even became Catholic.It is a sacrifice,but what gets me is that why people say they are giving up sex,but if they were never doing it than there is nothing to give up. It is also their 13th anniversary of their community, which God brought about and I hope this shows the world that religious life is not dull and for the brokenhearted. Also, that they live a joy filled life that God has given them. I have been praying that all goes well.

Amparo February 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Wow! Your description is amazing Sister! Even though I could not watch the show (it is not shown in my country) I can perfectly understand what you mean! Anyway, and in spite of all the mistakes or narrow points of view, it has not stopped amazing me that in one show as that one they took the time to at least give a glince over religious life, probably this is the beggining of something that may get bigger with time….

aneesah February 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm

the show is on at 3pm here – i will watch it for sure! As a Dominican i am concerned as well that they are only profiling the Ann Arbor Sisters – and equally concerned and amazed that she is profiling Geisha and their way of life next to religious life – what an odd comparison – very odd……

Another Sister Julie, CSSF February 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Well, I’m insulted just from the promo. In my 32 years in the convent, I have had THREE careers–teacher, Director of Liturgy and caregiver–and am currently on my FOURTH as archivist/historian. Sheesh!

Sue February 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Sr.Julie, These kind of depictions are awful,and people who don’t know any better cause they don’t know any sisters believe all sisters are exactly like the ones on Oprah.Makes ya wonder if Oprah herself believes one congregation fits all. I agree with Another Sister Julie that the promo was insulting and I know well how that feels as nurses are often portrayed awfully on tv and movies also,and I certainly find that insulting to say the least!

Sister Julie February 9, 2010 at 5:07 pm

I am so torn about this segment. As mentioned, very glad for the Sisters of Mary and I think they well expressed themselves and their way of religious life. And though it’s great to see religious life in the news, I was more than a little disappointed on the depiction of religious life.

I would love to see a fuller discussion about this on Oprah. I think she and her audience (and her researchers who did not do women religious justice) would greatly benefit from the likes of Margaret Susan Thompson who specializes in the history of US Women Religious, of Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, who specializes in the theology of religious life, and a variety of Sisters and nuns who can speak to the many ways of being a sister or nun. There has to be some kind of counterpoint to stories like this, especially since the approach of the Oprah show reinforces many popular misconceptions about religious life.

Jen February 9, 2010 at 5:39 pm

You should totally write/call the show. Who knows? You might get on. I’ve been hearing about this particular show all day, and now i”m kind of intrigued to watch it. But I’m at work when the show’s on. I may catch the repeat of it at 8.

Eilis February 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I’ve just finished watching Oprah and I’ve got to say that something about the whole interview rubbed me the wrong way. I, initially, was excited that Oprah was going to interview nuns because I want people to see that nuns are “regular” people, but that’s not how I feel it came off. I feel like she’s playing into the stereotypical view of nuns/sisters.

Also, what really bothered me was when she was describing the different types of nuns. She listed the different kinds of nuns and then kind of brushed off nuns who don’t wear a habit. A habit is beautiful, but not for me. I’m not interested in wearing a habit and don’t really view it as a wedding gown. I’ve never really thought of it as being married to Jesus.

Oprah said something like, “some are the independent kind who have a career, etc.” (I know that I’m not quoting that right). That statement really bothered me. I felt like it was saying that sisters who don’t wear a habit aren’t as “good” or “real” as those who do.

Sorry for the rambling. This who thing really got me thinking. 

And, I agree with other people, it is an interesting comparison to put nuns and geishas next to each other.

Another Sister Julie, CSSF February 9, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Well, I saw clips at oprah.com. I think we should buy all her tickets and fill the audience with nuns, sisters and hermitesses and show her the vast rainbow of women religious. I had a taste of this when I worked on the “Sisters in Song” recordings. We were 60 nuns/sisters and the more stories we told of our Novitiates, the more similarities we found. What an awesome experience! It would blow Oprah’s mind and hopefully open her eyes. It could tie into the Women in Spirit exhibit. It would be a great vocation witness, especially of all the ads were for this order or another! I can see it now, with all these websites crawling across the bottom of the screen! Time to switch to decaf…

Alexis February 9, 2010 at 6:46 pm

I am not a nun nor am I Catholic and I just want to say that I really enjoyed watching the Oprah show. Today was my first exposure nun’s in this way and found it very enlightening. As a result of this show I wanted to know more and came across this site. From an outsider’s perspective I think Lisa Ling and Oprah did a wonderful job exposing a nun’s life to the world at large. I am impressed with the nun’s I saw and have a respect for nun that I most certainly didn’t have before. I see nun’s my age, 31, speaking passionately about her decision was AWESOME and INSPIRING!

Sister Julie February 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Hi Alexis, thanks for writing! It’s cool that that show had that impact on you! And glad that you found us. Join us for prayer some evening or we have a live Ask Sister podcast and take all kinds of questions about what it’s like to be a nun and more!

Jen February 9, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Caught the segment on the nuns…feeling “meh” about it. it’s cool that religious life gets exposure, but like others said, there’s a lot that was left out (deliberately?), even for cloistered monastics.

Sarah, RSM February 9, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Kudos to the Dominican Sisters of Mary for their portrayal of religious life as they experience it! Additionally, I feel a great sense of disappointment for myself and the hundreds of thousands of women religious within the U.S. whose lives are likewise dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel but cannot identify with the lifestyle of the Sisters portrayed on Oprah. I am sorry the discussion did not involve at least a few of the numerous ways in which the call to religious life is lived out in 2010.

aneesah, dominican sister February 9, 2010 at 9:18 pm

well, well … i watched the whole show and i must say that i was impressed about the segment on the Geisha; but am still really disappointed and miffed that it was a comparison with religious life. The life of a Geisha and life as a religious is NOTHING the same – religious are not trained to entertain men [and others, as she pointed out] … it was just a really poor comparison. I have nothing against the sisters of Ann Arbor and i am happy for their growth – and the attraction to younger women – who are looking for a more traditional, monastic life – but it continues to sadden me that there was not any other religious or other religious congregations highlighted. The habit – [and the Dominican habit is very beautiful] – i agree with the comments which pointed out the narrow view of the habit and that it was NOT noted that many sisters do not wear the habit and it doesn’t lessen the vows which we make. It really irritates me the habit was described as ‘the wedding dress’ – because it is NOT. The habit was the dress of the day – and that of widows. I suppose one could say to that it is the sign of our poverty – but certainly NOT a wedding dress …… In many ways i don’t even relate my commitment as a ‘spouse of Jesus’ – that just is a little too weird for me!! i am committed to God, to my Congregation and to the sisters of my Congregation. Of course the enthusiasm of the young sisters is great – and it is fresh – for that i am grateful. i am happy for the exposure – but i certainly think there should be equal time for the 1,000′s of others that live the life of the vows, don’t wear the habit – are out in the trenches working with the poor and the marginalized – living on the edge with the poorest of the poor … struggling to take time out of busy days to pray and be in community. What was portrayed was a monastic way of life – and certainly NOT one that i live!!! i also grow really weary of young nuns playing basketball with their habits hiked up – laughing around a game of cards and lining up to go to Vespers – such clique – i am going to check out Oprah’s blog to see if there are any responses … anyone else check it out?? peace

Megan McElroy, OP February 9, 2010 at 10:24 pm

I didn’t get to see the whole interview, but I did catch the clips on Oprah’s website. I, too, am grateful for the sisters’ witness but am saddened that the show only presented one aspect of religious life. It would be great to have the stories of other women religious told as well. To do so would alleviate the misconception that there is only one way of responding to God’s call.

I, too, disagree with the presentation that the habit is the “wedding dress.” It was never intended as such and may be the way this particular congregation has come to identify it. I agree with Aneesah that the Dominican habit is beautiful; and if it was something to be worn the way our Dominican brothers wear it (over their clothes) for prayers and ministry, I might be inclined to wear one more regularly as well. However, the thought of wearing it all day every day for everything is just not appealing. Even those who are married don’t wear their wedding dresses every day of their married life! Besides, the habit does not make the religious; it is the heart that does so.

I also admit that the “spouse of Christ” image doesn’t really do much for me. I didn’t join the Dominicans to be married to Jesus. I joined to be a part of something bigger than myself; I stay, however ironically, because I have come to fall in love with the Lord through my congregation, the Dominican Family, and the myriad of people I have met along the journey. The image of marriage, though, just doesn’t capture the profundity of it.

The one part of the interview I really appreciated was the discussion on the important of silence and contemplation. Given the frenetic pace and onslaught of noise that comes at us each day, I believe one of the greatest witnesses of our lives (and a response to the signs of the times) is our willingness to enter the silence, to be contemplative, and to allow the Presence we encounter there to be the “animator” of our lives. It is something the world hungers for, and our witness of it might help lead others to a similar practice in their lives.

Teaching high school girls, I have an “Ask the Nun” day each semester. The students are encouraged to ask me any questions they want, and many of them are like the ones that were asked of the sisters on today’s show. My answers are similar to the ones they offered. If nothing else, this show reminded me that women in religious life – whether in conservative or more liberal congregations (though I am really beginning to hate such labeling) – are more alike than we are different. None of us has the market on “the right way” of being religious. We are all simply responding to the call of God in our lives; and with the witness of all of us, the Reign of God is being made more manifest.

Peggy February 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm

I haven’t watched the show yet–I recorded it today–but will comment when I have (I’m the “Margaret Susan Thompson” Julie referred to above). Alas, it may be Thursday before that happens as tomorrow is a PACKED day until well into the night. But I will watch it soon and see what I think. I’m not optimistic after what I’ve read here, alas….

Anthony February 9, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Being a 19 year old non catholic male who only saw small cuts from the show, my opinion may be of no use. But, I am so grateful that the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist got to appear on secular television and bring that powerful witness to the public.

You can live a authentic religious life with or without a habit, and not being cloistered! You are a perfect example of that. This website you have is a true blessing to people looking to learn more about the Faith. You connect the faithful from ALL over the world and share in meaningful dialect. This diverse community that is your website, is spreading our faith wonderfully.

Certainly, where would we be without all the many religious sisters in the world who live for others and not for theirselves. Not for recognition from this passing world, but for the love of doing God’s work. Surely the world knows that not all nuns live in cloistered communities and wear habits, and I don’t believe that this was the message at all.

Their order’s story is truly a work of God’s providence in the world, and especially in the Catholic Church where our Faith is not being taught to the fullest, and sometimes downright lied about. The Sisters of Mary along with many others are on the forefronts of renewal to fix this problem in the Catholic Church in America.

The Sisters of Mary Mother of The Eucharist teach in schools in Michigan, California, Florida, and South Carolina. They reach out to young women with Spiritual Retreats, and they also have a teaching series on EWTN called Truth in the Heart. The Dominican Sisters of Mary were founded in 1997 by four Dominican sisters responding to John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization. In the 13 years of their existence, they have grown to almost 100 members. Their newly constructed motherhouse is already filled to capacity. Today, Tuesday, February 9, 2010, happens to land on the congregation’s 13th anniversary. The coincidence is “amazing, as they did not know this when they chose the date — but God did!” exclaimed the vocations director.

Please let us not say hurtful things about the sisters community or complain about how different they live from the majority of religious sisters in America. Let us live our vocations, and let God take care of the rest. A opportunity like this comes every 100 years when our fellow Religious Sisters are on a secular television show like Oprah, where tons of women and men of all ages and religions can see the powerful message that these Sisters bring.

Please Sr. Julie- continue to do God’s and the Church’s work in bringing our true Faith to the multitudes. Serving a community with Joy.

“Young Religious ought to enter blogs and correct the opinions of the youth, showing them the true Jesus” – Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar for Rome

Cherylene February 10, 2010 at 1:00 am

Actually the comment abt the habit was that “It’s like a wedding ring, it shows that we are claimed by Christ” rather than it’s a wedding gown. And I agree.. Oprah kinda made a fool of herself with those comments and her trying to play or perhaps she is – ignorant. Very unfortunate that they didn’t do a slice of all types of congregations, but then again it’s that “wow” factor of extremes that tends to make ppl’s ears perk up.

KatieAbe February 10, 2010 at 1:02 am

I just finished watching the late night repeat and I thought this show was great. There is no denying the joy that radiated from the faces of the sisters on the show. They are a *powerful* witness to the secular world about the relevance of serving God in this way.

While not perfect, appearing on the number one talk show in America in this way is terrific exposure for Catholic nuns (Oprah didn’t feature any Anglican, Buddhist, or Lutheran sisters, for example.)

Up until I started reading this blog, I didn’t know anything about sisters, nuns and religious orders. (I probably was worse than Oprah! Nuns with blogs! lol…Thanks, Sister Julie!) I’m not a Catholic and I think Oprah speaks for her non-Catholic demographic with her simple, uneducated questions. I would suggest that Sisters that feel like there’s more Oprah could learn should write or email the show. She might do a longer, more educated show in the future!

(I will agree, though, that the Geisha juxtaposition was very unfortunate — but it was probably a ratings chaser. )

stephanie February 10, 2010 at 1:30 am

i recorded the show while i watched it at 4pm ET. while i agree that presenting the two topics together for ‘contrast’ was probably motivated solely for ratings via intrigue, neither the western geisha (a PhD in anthropology, i believe) nor the sisters interviewed (despite the odd ‘wedding dress’ references) allowed themselves to be dragged down to the level of being mere curiosities. the professor, who spent three years studying to become an ‘artist’ (the proper definition of ‘geisha’ we are told) spoke of how much she loved the japanese culture & traditions she had been raised in. of the women who entered the dominican congregation, many spoke about careers (one was a CFO) and one of a life of drugs and all of them about how sexuality is not repressed but rather a vital part of being whole/integrated. i agree that more emphasis should be placed on other styles of religious life as well, but oprah stated quite clearly at the beginning of the segment that the staff had contacted MANY (i’d have to replay for the exact number) congregations were completely unwilling to be a part of the production. of course, no mention is made as to which ones were called. besides, oprah’s programs from what i understand are quite often geared toward “spiritualized” topics. and as she herself admitted, neither she nor anyone she knew had ANY idea at all of a sister’s life outside the sound of music. attraction to wearing a habit does not a religious vocation make. but it was so refreshing to see young women (remember when it was US protesting and commiting ourselves to a cause?) embracing a way of life that is so radically different (as i’m sure it still is for us all, each in our own lives) from the sex-saturated ME culture of the world. and one of the incredible wonders of the roman catholic church is that it really IS universal – it is large enough to embrace ALL manner of lived vocation under its umbrella! whether a homemaker or the president, working among the poor and neglected or living one’s life in enclosure – we are so interconnected and interdependent. and that sensibility, that idea more than any other was what i took away from the show. that most likely will not be so for most secular viewers, but hey, you can’t ignore the enthusiasm. and isn’t that what (any) vocation is about?

Cody February 10, 2010 at 2:21 am

For the Sisters and lay persons that have posted, with all due respect, please get some perspective for the greater Church!

It’s a great and wonderful thing to see such a vibrant an amazing community! Please don’t get offended or see some sort of identity crisis just for the fact that your particular way of community life wasn’t highlighted. Do you really expect Oprah to be able to create a 20 minute segment that does a survey of all of the forms that consecrated women religious take on in the US? Absolutely NOT.

She was able, however, to point out a really good example of a vibrant group of women who are completely counter-cultural, and live our the common Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. That is what matters.

As a discerning man with the Dominican Friars, my heart only swells to see such a life highlighted. I’m not offended or disheartened because they only talked about Sisters and Nuns! They showed a group of Religious who are Catholic and proclaim Jesus to the world in a way that only Catholic Religious can!!

Be excited with your whole heart, not half-heartedly disappointed because it didn’t cover your particular way of life.

Harmony February 10, 2010 at 2:31 am

Hi! Like Alexis I saw the segment on Oprah and was very impressed. I too decided to do some research online and stumbled across your site. I realize that some of you feel that the show failed to accurately depict the diversity of nuns. It is important, however, to keep in mind that this is a very broad subject and she did a pretty good job with the time she had. I went from knowing absolutely NOTHING about nuns/convents to knowing a bit and wanting to learn more. I imagine most people, even the most ignorant, realize that not all nuns wear habits or live in convents. I do have to agree that the Madonna/Whore dichotomy is disturbing. I could have done without the juxtaposition. Either way, I am happy to have found this site and look forward to learning more about what it means to be a nun.

One other thing I wanted to mention is: the joy and peace evident in the Sister’s faces was unmistakable. In the end, this was what made me want to learn more.

Sister Julie February 10, 2010 at 7:40 am

Appreciate the many comments and various perspectives. Important to re-emphasize: my comments primarily have to do with the portrayal of the sisters, not of their community or the way they presented themselves. As mentioned, I think they did an awesome job at presenting themselves and, as many of you noted, the evident joy in their life was so heartening and inspiring. And, it is that experience that will move people to look into religious life — which happened to some of you here!

Cody, thank you for bringing your perspective however it is not necessary to chastise persons who comment here in order to make your point.

Yes, I do expect Oprah to have done better. The woman is a smart, saavy business person and, lest we forget, a media genius. Did she and Lisa Ling do a great job at profiling the Sisters of Mary? Absolutely! Very effective, so much so that people are searching for more information on Catholic sisters and nuns and on that order. Praise God! Nothing wrong with profiling one community. What is disturbing is that threaded throughout the profile was commentary from Oprah and Lisa about what religious life is. That is what I take issue with because it did not at all speak to what religious life is like, especially for the vast majority of women religious.

ChristineH February 10, 2010 at 7:52 am

As we in Australia will not see this episode of Oprah for at least 1 year, I could only look at the promos and comments on Ms Winfrey’s website.

There seemed to be very little thought or effort to illustrate anything but a monastic and traditional religious community – such a pity!!

I feel that a great opportunity to illustrate contemporary religious life in the USA has been missed.

Sister Gayle OSF February 10, 2010 at 10:46 am

Half a show was not enough to portray even this one congregation. A whole show on women religious would be a wonderful idea. The Sisters did well fielding the inevitable sex questions. The expressions on Oprah’s face (which at times looked exaggerated) seemed to say she really did not get it, which is not unusual. She does not have children either. But pointing out some orders don’t have pets may have hit home. Lisa Ling seemed to have grasped the concept a little better. The little snippets with “other” Sisters was disappointingly short, but there was not time for more. I think it would be something if a bunch of us women religous wrote in and asked for our own show. Could be fun. But I think the life I lead as a religious lacks the sensationalism needed for ratings. Watching TV, wearing a veil rather than full habit, and living in a normal house with one other Sister won’t get ratings. It would have been helpful to explain that it was a Motherhouse, not just a convent. So, I hope this is just one of episodes featuring religious not just an anomaly.

Lynne February 10, 2010 at 11:01 am

Thank you, Cherylne, for your post which mentioned the accurate quote regarding the habit, “. . .being claimed by Christ. . .” Certainly, this order and others like it, Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecelia, Sisters of Life, etc., are experiencing the joy of young people who seek them out in order to participate in their particular ministry. As an educator, I have come to know our youth who are seeking what we would call perhaps “more traditional” calls to religious life. These young men and women, with their zeal to give totally, have these congregations literally bursting at the seams. These traditional orders are certainly providing these young people with the “Something” that should not be easily dismissed. They will be the life and blood of our Church. What is it that these congregations offer which makes them so attractive? Religious communities as a whole need to recognize that many of our youth desire these traditions and way of life. As communities like these grow, John Paul’s desire for new evangelization will certainly be realized.

Annie February 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm

As Sr. Julie has pointed out, Oprah is a business woman. She had no interest in doing a documentary about nuns for daytime TV. She featured this particular order, because, like Geishas, most of her viewers would find their way of life exotic. Sisters, if you want to do a documentary on the passion you feel in your own way of life, do it, promote it, take it to film festivals–whatever. Given your strong feelings, I think it would be sad if you waited for Oprah or someone from the outside to pick up the beat.

Agnus February 10, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I just wanted to thank the Dominican Sisters Mary Mother of the Eucharist for being a great example for young women everywhere and being a true example of what it is like to be a religious sister. I am truly blessed to have met them and so honored to have found this order. Thank you for presenting the religious life with such passion and truth much like the great saints St. Faustina and St. Therese. For young women like myself we desperately need and want to see good sisters in habits and living in a mother house! Thank you for showing me that tradition in the Catholic Church is still alive and well we just need to search for it.

Donna February 10, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see the program. I did view a few snippets though. Does anyone know how we can find out when the show will be broadcast again?

From what I saw, the interview looked fine. I didn’t find it offensive. It does, admittedly, just profile this one very conservative group of sisters. I’m not sure whether or not this is a shortcoming. A lot of various groups are interviewed on TV that are not representative of their group as a whole. The advantage of interviewing this congregation, however, is indeed that they do have a lot of new, young recruits. This is positive I believe. Viewers unfamiliar with religious life will therefore see religious life as a viable option, one that still attracts a reasonable number of women, and younger ones at that. I know many on this thread will dislike my next comment, but if you focus on a congregation where a majority of its members are over 65, there might be less of an appeal. Now I’m just talking from a public relations kind of standpoint. Certainly congregations with mainly older women and fewer recruits are not “less” than the one depicted on Oprah.

For balance, should sisters living a life different than the one those sisters live up in Ann Arbor be given equal time on Oprah? That’d be great. I’d like to see some nun “trail blazers” on Oprah. Also some corporate executives, i.e., CEOs of hospitals, university presidents, lawyers, etc. A good lead-in story might be a way to get one’s foot in the door – Dorothy Stang, Katherine Drexel (especially since Oprah is into Black History), etc. Start off with the one story and then move out into religious life in general. I love Sr. Julie (other sister Julie’s) idea about having the audience peopled with nuns. I do believe tickets are free for the Oprah Show but you probably have to book way in advance.

Julia February 10, 2010 at 9:53 pm

What bothered me was when Oprah said she thought that Geisha’s were prostitutes, and that she thought you had to be a virgin to be a nun. It’s funny, because the juxtaposition of her two mistaken ideas showed where she was coming from, having the two vocations on the same show. I was surprised that she still held these old fashioned ideas. Doesn’t she do her homework to prepare herself to ask intelligent questions? I kind of felt sorry for her because she came off looking a bit ignorant and confused. Her facial expressions at times were embarrassed and embarrassing. She thinks of herself as helping people to live their best (spiritual) lives, perhaps she will review the tape, and wonder what these happy young women know, that she doesn’t.

Joan O P (Australia) February 10, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I have not seen the Oprah show of course as it is shown with some months delay in Australia and I would have to be alerted to the particular edition. However from the above comments I can see that it would be very desirable for other Sisters, especially other Dominicans, to be protrayed for a future edition. My understanding at my reception of the habit (traditional) when we changed from a wedding dress to the cream serge was certainly not that the habit was to be my wedding dress, but that it was the dress of the “ordinary” people of Dominic’s time. Since it no longer is I would now feel foolish wearing it, particularly as the life of a Dominican Sister today is so much less restricted by going beyond the cloister. (This does not address at all the cost of cream serge today.)

Kim February 10, 2010 at 11:32 pm

At the beginning of the sisters segment, Oprah said many monasteries and communities were asked to be featured but turned them down.

I found many of Oprah’s comments and questions condescending and just plain ignorant (i.e. “the best thing about it is wearing sensible shoes), but Ling has always seemed like a professional journalist to me.

As a married Catholic convert I was particularly impressed when she explained at the end that the sisters gain more than they sacrifice. In terms of the secular world, women who take vows are freed from the constant competition to be thinner and richer, to have the perfect children and go on the impressive vacations and entertain in the flawless trophy homes. So true, at least from my end.

kat February 11, 2010 at 4:05 am

As a lifelong Catholic and daytime TV Producer (Never worked at Oprah’s show) I was very psyched to see today’s show. As a Catholic school student, I spent 12 years in classrooms taught by nuns and never really fully understood the choice , lifestyle or meaning. I had a front row seat, but when I saw the promo I was thinking… ‘Oh, finally…’ And tuned in. I googled around to see what the church and other nuns had to say and found this page.

The thing is, when you produce a show like that one, from experience, you try your best to cover it as widely as possible and also catch all the intricacies of an issue or group. You anguish and research and make endless phonecalls trying to find the right interview that will express thousands of points of view. It is daunting, and I’ve offended groups before. Message boards just like this one claimed I produced shows that didn’t show every possible view of water birthing, vaccinations, cheerleading dangers, etc. I even had a white supremacy group say that I only showed one type of ‘weak’ neo natzi when covering Racism in America and that there are many more stronger racists out there that were’t represented. (Though, for obvious reasons that one didn’t bother me!) The thing to remember is daytime talk shows are really just conversations. Aside from the tape packages, the goal is to send out the best talkers you can book that will provide the host and viewer with insight in a natural way. It just flows. Have you ever walked away from a conversation and thought, ‘Gee… I should’ve said this… or that?” Aside from NPR, there are few outlets where conversations can go on for hours. Oprah provided a taste that honestly did more good than harm, from my standpoint. The tape piece that everyone felt glossed over independent/working/non-habit wearing nuns was the controlled-chance the show had to do a wider overview, where the on-set conversation could fall short. The show was inside one convent and focused on these women. That was clear enough to outsiders.

The MOST IMPORTANT part was at the very beginning when Oprah said her bookers and producers called every convent they could and only ONE said yes. If Oprah looked surprised it’s because with her clout she can get cameras in everywhere… interview anyone… the Catholic church’s closed door ‘feel’ cracked a bit today and that’s a GOOD thing. If more convents were willing to open up there may have been more views. But, we all know how much red tape most archdiocese have. I hope that this segment is the first of many that give young people a better view of the church and doesn’t send nuns and churches shying away from media. Trust that this was just a taste… and in 2010 many, many people will hit the internet to find out more to ‘the story.’ Just my opinion… thought my work experience could be somewhat helpful in your discussion.

Another Sister Julie, CSSF February 11, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I watched the snippets at Oprah’s website, whereas seeing the whole show was much better. I’m glad that they *did* acknowledge that religious women live in a variety of ways. Yeah, some of their facts were way off, but those were mostly regarding minor details. I feel better about this episode now. I especially like how the young sisters didn’t seem to give pat answers re: chastity but spoke passionately from their heart.

Laura February 11, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Thank you for posting this, Sister Julie. I saw the clips on Oprah.com earlier this week and just tuned in to see the full episode. Overall, I think the Dominican sisters did an excellent job answering all those questions (most of which were asked out of ignorance, as Oprah admitted herself) and were beautiful witnesses of the power of God working in each of their lives. I also loved how they did not sugarcoat why they were called into the religious life, and kept reaffirming that “God is good, Oprah!”, as well as answering the sex question in a very direct, straightforward way. The documentary was very well filmed and it was cool that their convent was the only one… out of the 100s that Oprah called, that said yes. It was also good for Lisa Ling to be able to spend the night in the convent and get an insider’s look into what life must be like.

I do agree with some of you who said that there was not enough variety and that most of the show was dictated by Oprah and Lisa as THEIR views, not the sisters. It would have been nice to expound on the fact that not all sisters live in community or wear the habit, and perhaps give people a historical overview of the Dominican order and how they differ from other orders, and perhaps address more misconceptions that the general public has about Sisters, the Catholic faith and religious life in general. And yes, the juxtaposing with the Geishas was indeed VERY strange, so I ignored that part. Period.

That being said, I studied abroad in Orvieto, Italy over 6 years ago and lived in a convent (as a part of my study abroad program) run by the Sisters of Mary our Lady, a Roman Catholic teaching order of nuns that live in community, wear ordinary clothes and are allowed to go to [say, Target] to buy stuff when they need it. The convent also housed a PreK – 1st grade program and serves as a bed & breakfast for the tourists and locals alike. Wine and beer are allowed, as well as watching TV, downing espresso and eating gelato (in moderation, of course). The Mother Superior also happened to be a big fan of soccer and car racing, so it was not uncommon to see her make the occasional trip to watch a Ferrari/Formula One race. On the flip side, there was also a “Rule of Life” the sisters adhered to and it was always beautiful to join their prayer services and work with them in the kitchen and around the convent. There was also a great respect to silence, and even night owl’s such as myself appreciated the 11pm nightly curfew. These Sisters truly believed in the value of each person to become all that God has created them to be, and that was made evident when I stayed there, went back to visit on numerous occasions and why our friendship remains, even to this day. If I hadn’t gone on this program, I doubt I would have such a deep respect for nuns and the religious life. Broke all my pre-conceived stereotypes for sure… =)

In any case, I was really thrilled to see the Dominican sisters featured on the Oprah show. I know certain Christian denominations have singled Oprah out due to her involvement with New Age practices, so it was very powerful to her invite and feature these Sisters on her show and have her talk about her own understanding of Christianity as well. Not sure if it was featured on the televised episode, but the final clip on their website showed Oprah interviewing some of the sisters after their visit. One of them said something along the lines of — “If you don’t acknowledge something greater than yourself, how can you do anything great?” which was definitely beautiful and well-spoken. May these women, and all Sisters in religious life, continue to live out these powerful testimonies and be a light unto our darkened world… this is the best way of bringing the Kingdom of God here on earth. 

rosebud February 11, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I thought the piece was very well done. The lack of knowledge on the part of Oprah and friends was acknowledged. The sisters appeared as real and intelligent individuals who joined the convent for a number of reasons, mainly to be a part of something bigger than themselves, they felt the calling, etc. It was clear that they didn’t join just because they didn’t have anything better to do or couldn’t find a man. That was good. I know the bridal gown and ring comments are certainly not true for all sisters. But they didn’t focus on that. Also, the comment made by Linda (the Asian interviewer) at the end was quite lovely and profound. She said something like she could see how the life of a religious could be very freeing. Not bad or ignorant …

KAT: Thank you for your comments from a professional producer’s point of view. I appreciated your input. I wonder why other orders didn’t respond. It could have something to do with the current climate and extra demands in some congregations due to the visitation … or Diocesan red tape as you mentioned.

Sister Julie February 12, 2010 at 6:54 am

Very good perspectives on this … and many thanks for the links. It’s been very helpful to me and many readers. I also appreciate your perspective, Kat. No easy task!

Rosebud, ditto Lisa’s comments at the end. I do think she was very open to the experience and even perhaps transformed.

Sister Gayle OSF February 12, 2010 at 9:41 am

I checked with my motherhouse and Oprah never called us. Too bad! 

Amparo February 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I havent read yet all the comments, but, now that I’ve seen the show, I would like to express one impression in particular. The show didnt leave me with a bad impression on nuns (but thats beacause I kind of know how it works) but it did left me with a bad impresison on Oprah (whom I had never seen before) Its true that some people might think that Oprah’s points of views on things are the most valid, but its not difficult to find out that she talks too much from a very banal and subjective place. And the questions she made to the nuns were absolutely superficial too. Also, I dont think the sisters were talking from a “theology of religious life” when they spoke about marriage or wedding dress, it didnt seem to me that they all live it precisely like that, in stead I think one of the nun mentioned it just in the air and Oprah was so delighted with it that she kept repeating it, and the nuns, who according to my opinion, fastly realised how ignorant in the topic was Oprah, just kept saying yes so that, at least on that metaphore Oprah could have a slight idea of what religious life is… I think the nuns were great!! Oprah, instead stood like an idiot showing them as if they were phenomena, which they left clear not to be….

rosebud February 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Sr. Julie: Yes, it did appear that Lisa was almost like transformed. Beautiful, really. I also sensed that she has a profound respect for the sisters and their lifestyle.

I personally don’t think Oprah appeared like an idiot. But she certainly didn’t seem knowledgable or particularly understanding. It seems she viewed it as just another show, another topic, nothing special. But I don’t feel she was negative or disrespectful. I too believe that someone, and maybe even Oprah, should do a program on “political” or trailblazer nuns. She should profile sisters that made a huge impact. How about, as I said before, Katharine Drexel, Dorothy Stang Helen Prejean, Joan Chittister, etc. And of course, throw in a few less famous names. Now it’s true that the Catholic press may not want to “touch these women with a 10 foot pole”, especially EWTN, but there is no reason the secular press can’t. They would all be great social justice/women’s study pieces. And it’s all a part of our history – American history, not just Catholic or women’s history.

Sister Julie February 13, 2010 at 7:28 am

Topics such as these are great for dialogue but they also tap into a dark side — the desire to pit various forms of religious life against one another, as if there are someone “sides” to religious. This is a very serious problem, one that has been going on for a very long time within the Church. We know this too well: habits vs. no habits, small community living vs. large convents, apostolates vs. ministries, tridentine theology vs. Vatican II theology, liberal vs. conservative, and so on. We also play the numbers game as if God can only be present where there are 20 or 30 are gathered — not where 2 or 3 are.

I am disheartened by this divisiveness and the utter lack of charity and reverence for one’s sisters and brothers. I see this in blogs, on Twitter and Facebook, in Catholic and secular media, in conversations, and in church. And I do not wish to act or react out of any of this, and I apologize for the times that I have.

We must be pro-active in changing this, in finding ways to agree and disagree in love, to not assume or mischaracterize no matter how satisfying that might feel, to dialogue and seek understanding, to remember that there are real people behind the stereotypes, persons who deserve first and foremost our respect and love, to find common ground and recognize that we have much in common with one another.

Sandy, csj February 16, 2010 at 11:49 am

Thanks…I’m encouraged to see the attempt to model true dialogue on this site. It’s quite normal and human to make unfair assumptions as we learn how communicate nonviolently. The key is being able to recognize one’s mistakes and commit to deepening the dialogue, even if we may not agree with each other.

Niky May 6, 2010 at 10:38 am

Hi I also thought the comparison with Geisha was odd. However, being a catholic myself I found the segment informative and enlightening, things I did not know about. Its nice to know that nuns too are just regular people but took a leap of faith to answer their calling. After watching this I’m wondering too whether I was deaf myself to a higher calling, well too late for me I have now two beautiful kids. The 1st and 2nd year nuns were so genuine in their comments and made be believe that they truly are fulfilled and feel that they are contributing to a greater cause. I’m hoping to sign up for a few charitable activities myself after watching the show after all life is too short and we have to give ourselves completely….God bless

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