OROn one side was the patriarchal Vatican and an austere archbishop named Cardinal James McIntyre. On the other, a group of creative and courageous nuns determined to challenge the status quo and embrace the 20th century.
There was only going to be one winner.
The story of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, who assumed power of the Catholic Church in the 1960s, is told in the new documentary. Rebel hearts Directed by Pedro Kos with a surprising combination of graphics, music and archival interviews.
The film recounts how some women viewed the religious order as an expression of independence and a departure from their socially expected role as suburban housewives. But they discovered that the church came with some outdated and stifling conventions of its own.
“Many of us read a book called Nursing homes about psychiatric institutions, “says one interviewee,” and when we read it, we began to realize that the same kinds of restrictions that were placed on people in psychiatric institutions were also the kinds of rules that controlled our lives. “
Inspired by the Vatican Council II, a body designed to modernize the church, the sisters conducted a study of their own life and work and decided to pursue a more liberal path that included contemporary dress, flexible prayer times, and expanding their ministries beyond health and education. .
Unsurprisingly, they met resistance from the rigidly conservative McIntyre, who understood the threat to his control over women’s minds and bodies. The dispute reached the Vatican, which, unsurprisingly, sided with the cardinal.
More than 325 sisters renounced their vows, separated and formed the Immaculate Heart Community of California (still thriving after 51 years), while 65 kept their vows and remained obedient to the church in Los Angeles or were transferred to other orders. .
The story of Immaculate Heart is also the story of the 1960s: feminism, flower power, challenges to authority. The sisters took up causes such as civil rights and protesting the Vietnam War. One of them, Patrice Underwood, He marched with Martin Luther King across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
Another heroine of the movie is Corita Kent, who headed the art department at Immaculate Heart College. She was a pop artist and social justice activist whose work became increasingly political, addressing poverty, racism, and war; McIntyre described it as “strange and sinister.”
Lenore Dowling It was a sister who worked with Kent in the art department of the university, teaching film classes. “Corita was always attacked when she spoke out against the Vietnam War, she spoke on behalf of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy,” she recalls in a Zoom interview.
“The university was under the microscope of the chancellery and criticized, but the brave women somehow carried on and the work continued, the art continued, Mary’s Day [a joyful celebration deemed blasphemous by McIntyre] followed. There were vocal and public criticisms of the cardinal, but the university, the faculty and the students kept marching ”.
A lot of media coverage at the time focused on whether the sisters would be allowed to shed their nuns’ habits. But for Dowling this was kind of a red herring.
“I loved being a nun, I loved wearing the habit,” she says. “I think wearing the habit or not wearing the habit has to do with our choice of where to live, where to work, and the habit would be inappropriate elsewhere.
“We were just teachers and nurses, so it didn’t matter in schools or hospitals, but after we changed and became self-determining, many of our members went to study law, to medicine, to be in parishes. So it’s more of a question of what you wear to work. The Second Vatican Council claimed to be part of the modern world ”.
Dowling, who at 90 is still politically active – she participated in a women’s march in Los Angeles in 2018 – adds: “I respect the nuns who still wear the habit, and there are many in this country who still do, but their lives are the convent lives.
“When you leave the convent, you leave the trappings of a more walled existence. Jumping the wall or leaving the wall or breaking down the wall meant that some of the practices associated with being in the convent and wearing the habit changed for us.
“We decide for ourselves where to get further training, where to work, where to live, when to pray. The habit was a disciplinary problem that the cardinal did not agree with, but our problems were much bigger: will we be able to make decisions to fulfill our mission of serving the people in the world? ”.
The dress code controversy was a way to divert attention from a broader dehumanization. McIntyre had overseen a massive school building program in Southern California and used the sisters as staff. They were paid very little and could face classes of 70 or 80 children.
Rosa Manríquez, 68, an ordained Catholic priest and member of the Immaculate Heart Community, says: “In authoritarian groups, little things are introduced so that people start talking in order to protect the big problems.
“With Cardinal McIntyre’s complaints about the community, very little attention was paid to things like whether they will be able to choose what their job would be; what time were they going to pray; being able to be a professor or not be a professor during the same time they go to university withdrawing from a school that the archdiocese was not funding properly. “
When the sisters rebelled, McIntyre proved to be a ruthless enemy and many felt he mishandled the situation. Under pressure from the Vatican, resigned in 1970 at the age of 83.
Manríquez, who was raised by the Immaculate Heart sisters and blamed McIntyre’s revenge for the closure of a school she attended in downtown Los Angeles, reflects: “I would say it was necessary for me to personally forgive Cardinal McIntyre because my childhood was simply broken through his actions.
“It was necessary for me to do that because feeding resentment, anger, hatred, everything else hurt me more than him. Simply forgiving and realizing that he was not an angel, he was not a devil, he was not a saint, he was not a demon, he was a human being. And human beings can do beautiful and wonderful things and they can do very stupid things. He was simply a human being and he has his place in history and we have ours and I would dare to say that I think things turned out well ”.
Half a century later, what does Dowling think of McIntyre now? “Instead of feeling negative, and I know that some of our members still have negative feelings, I think it gave us the opportunity to follow what the Vatican Council had said was part of the modern world.
“At the same time we were following the spirit of being part of the modern world and having to resist the orders of the hierarchy. I see it as a way to get out of the limits of the past and seek a new path towards self-determination, in order to serve in the spirit. We were called to serve others, to work with the poor, to be compassionate people and to go into the world instead of withdrawing from the world ”.
It is surely no coincidence that this drama was set in Hollywood, a place where McIntyre, a stick in the mud reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s school principal in the movie Doubt, was always going to fight to stem the tides of change. Activists like Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden and Buckminster Fuller showed up on the university campus.
Dowling says, “I think the climate and culture of Los Angeles contributed to our faculty, our students, everyone’s willingness to grow in the sun. Physically, morally, educationally and intellectually, that was a time and still is a time of curiosity, of experimentation, of taking risks and warming ourselves in the sun and being welcomed and welcoming others to our western oasis. “
Manríquez, an activist for racial justice and LGBTQ + rights critical of the current Vatican, agrees that the location was key. “How are you going to keep this secret? An institution that thrives on secrecy was trying to do great spiritual violence to a group of women in a city where there are no secrets.
She adds: “I have heard it said that if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans, and I have the feeling that God has a very wicked sense of humor to have put Cardinal McIntyre in Hollywood at the time that He or She put Cardinal McIntyre here. “
Director Kos, who grew up as a gay man in Catholic Brazil, says that when he first heard the story of sisters Immaculate Heart from producers Shawnee Isaac-Smith and Kira Carstensen, it was like an arrow in his heart.
“The more I worked on this movie, the more current the story became,” he explains on Zoom. “I never felt like I was making a historical movie. I felt like I was making a movie about today and I was really exploring and doing deep meditation on change and what this change was like.
“The twists and turns and the ebbs and flows and the perseverance that it takes and the cost it can take and the sacrifices one has to make really speak to where we are now at this time when we have to question these authorities and these structures. that govern our lives ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism