In episodes four and five, we see the girls in their final convent, St. William’s, in Kentucky, and, then, at home again with their families. There are some developments I didn’t see coming, mainly that some actual discernment going on.
The producers stick with their satisfying contrast of the discerning girls and the vowed women. In these episodes, the sisters, who follow the Rule of St. Vincent de Paul and who work as teachers and nurses, continue their plain talk about communal life (and it’s not all “kicks and giggles,” to use Christie’s phrase) and the paths that brought them into religious life. (Though I doubt many viewers can picture Mother Christina from St. William Convent as a wanna-be rock star.)
They are each grateful for the time with the sisters and see it as life-changing.
And the girls? Well, they’re still girls and the producers are still milking their spats for all, and, frankly, more, than they are worth. Christie and Stacey are still upset about Eseni and Francesca (Bronx and Jersey) rolling their skirts up into minis. To add to their anger, both Christie and Stacey believe Eseni and Francesca lied about losing their cell phones when Mother Christina asked for them to be handed over. (Claire wisely opts out of the drama and the on-screen time and heads for the chapel.) The confrontation gets heated, as Eseni threatens to punch somebody in the face before walking off.
When Christie and Stacey go to Mother to discuss (tattle on) Eseni and Francesca, we learn that the cell phones have been handed over. Let the sisters do what they do, girls. Just watch and listen. As Sister Cecilia points out, “It’s hard living with other women.” She compares community life to the action of a rock polisher she was given as a child. She recalls that it might take as long as a month of daily knocking against the other rocks in the hopper for the sharp edges to be worn smooth. I figure a month in a rock polisher is years in human time.
Three of the girls surrendered their cell phones, but it’s clear all the girls struggle with sacred silence, which lasts from 9 PM until the women wake in the morning. There are shots of the girls making the “shush” sign and shaking their heads at the camera. A couple of whispers of the “I-can’t-talk” variety escape and one girl simply inks “sacred silence” on her hand and puts it in front of the camera. When the camera turns to the sisters, they all look peaceful and relaxed. They make sacred silence look pretty good, I say to myself as I am simultaneously watching TV and making notes on my laptop.
The girls, and the show, shine when they go with the sisters and we get to watch them doing the good work of the community. As Sister Patricia Jean tells them, the question at the end of each day is, “Did you love God today? Did you love God in your neighbor?” We watch them love God in their neighbor as they clean and do laundry and garden at the home of an elderly, ill woman.
And we watch Sr. Patricia Jean briskly put an end to any drama, as she keeps them working. When Eseni asks if there are snakes in the elderly woman’s yard, Sr. PJ says, “If there are, you can jump over them.” (Implied in her tone, “And you missed a spot.”)
Stacey observes, “This Sister Patricia Jean is no joke. If she ever left the convent, I’m sure the army would take her.” (Did I mention that I love Sr. PJ?)
In the midst of it all, it appears, as I said, that the girls really are doing some discerning. I don‘t want to spoil the ending, but at least two of the girls ask to begin the process of entering (different) convents. One girl is undecided, another is more or less decided, and the final one decides religious life is not for her. They are each grateful for the time with the sisters and see it as life-changing.
If we need another reason for loving the sisters, picture this: when one of the girls goes to the Mother Superior to state her intention to enter their community, the cameras are banished. In a world where we all want to be known and seen and heard and have our photos displayed and circulated, here is this sister, waving her arms at the camera and saying, “No. You will NOT film this.” It gives one hope for the cause of the holy and the too-deep-for-a-thirty-second-spot. Wondrously, the screen goes black. Go, sister!
At the end of the show, we get to meet the girls’ families. It’s refreshing to see how loving and supportive are these parents, who, with one exception, are long married and devout.
Wisely, a sister has the last word. She cautions that the girls who enter religious life will be asked, again and again, “Why?” She knows people see it as a giving up, as a series of losses with no discernible gain. And, though it doesn’t sound very pious (just true), she says, “I’ve had my bad days. Never three in a row. I’m still here.” And she smiles.
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