Bren Murphy Lecture 2-18-10

Uploaded by gonzagau on 20.10.2010

[ Background music and sounds ]
[ Silence ]
>> John Caputo: I'm Dr. John Caputo,
Professor of Communication and Leadership Studies and Professor
of Communication Art Center at Gonzaga, and I'm here
to welcome everybody tonight, but before we get started I want
to actually introduce you to the Dean of the School
of Professional Studies, Dr. Mary McFarland.
[ Applause ]
>> Mary McFarland: Well, I just wanted
to add my welcome to everyone.
We know you have so many opportunities and choices
for how to spend the wonderful moments of this evening,
and we are so glad that you chose to be here
to hear Dr. Bren Murphy.
So, Dr. Murphy, we're so thrilled
to have you here with us.
As you might imagine, a lot of people are involved in putting
on an evening like this and just to mention a few.
Machi Kinzenski [phonetic] and his team with IT
as John just mentioned are helping us to stream this
to over probably a thousand students who are
in our online environment.
So, we are delighted to have them with us
over the virtual networks and then certainly all
of the faculty in the Communication
and Leadership Program many of who are here this evening.
I see Nobuya and Alexa and other colleagues
from the school and across campus.
So, thank you so much for being here.
This actually started as an idea a number of years ago
from Dr. Caputo, and it's his, he was the first person
in Communication and Leadership.
As his team grew, Dr. Heather Crandall,
Chairperson of the Department, joined us.
Then we were so lucky to get Dr. Mike Hazel.
And for this particular evening Mike and Heather
and John have been especially instrumental
in identifying Dr. Murphy and bringing her here.
So, again, we are just delighted to have you with us to listen to
and learn from Dr. Murphy.
And Mike and Heather and John especially
for being the brain child behind the visiting scholar,
we're so grateful.
We're just looking forward to this evening.
So, thank you and welcome everyone.
[ Applause ]
>> Although our talk tonight is on Women Religious
in Popular Culture, we're not in church so you're welcome
to come sit down here [laughter] in these seats that are closer
to the front; there will be no special attention given to you,
but if you're looking for a seat, we've got plenty
of seats right down here in front so come on down
if you're interested in doing that.
Again, I'm pleased to welcome you all
to this is our fifth annual visiting scholar
in residence lecture.
It's part of the Master's Program
in Communication Leadership Studies as we mentioned.
And this series is part of our vision
about bringing contemporary issues in Communication
of Leadership to the broader communities of our university
and into eastern Washington.
It's our attempt to make our scholarship public and speak
about things that need to be said.
With that as our goal the visiting lecture is sponsored
by the School of Professional Studies as Mary mentioned,
but also we share this with the Undergraduate Communication Arts
Department, the National Communication Honor's Society
Lambda Phi [inaudible] is here in the audience somewhere.
They're co-sponsors of this event.
Hopefully future graduate students coming
into our master's program
or some other program around the country.
As is our custom in opening this event,
I would like to start our meeting with a prayer.
This prayer happens to come from a small book that was given
to all faculty, oh, ten or fifteen years ago
from our president at that time, Father Bernard Coughlin.
It's called, Hearts on Fire, Praying with the Jesuits.
This particular prayer that I picked for tonight is pointed
and brief from Blessed Saint Peter Claver, Society of Jesus.
"Seek God in all things and we shall find God by our side."
[Applause] Good, good.
Nice prayer, huh?
Okay. Good.
With that being said I want to now turn to our speaker tonight.
I have the pleasure of introducing you
to my good friend and colleague of many years,
Professor Bren Murphy.
I first met Bren approximately 15 or so years ago
at the Association of Jesuit Colleges
and Universities Communication Conference.
That first year I attended was at Loyola College in Baltimore,
Maryland, and I've made many good friends
from that conference over the years and visited many
of the Jesuit Universities
because we hold these conferences every summer
particularly colleagues in the field of communication.
And so Bren was one of those people that I met
and that I've come to kind
of appreciate both her wit and her wisdom.
We've spent many long hours in sessions about topics
in communication, about our students, about what it means
to be working in a Jesuit University, how do we carry
out that mission in the classes that we teach,
but we also drank some wine, wrote some song lyrics,
danced at parties and generally had a good time of growing
and learning together with a group of communication scholars
from around the country.
Bren has earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. all
through Northwestern University.
She's a published scholar
and has won significant teaching awards
and chaired the Department of Communication and Women
in Gender Studies and also was the Assistant Dean
of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University
of Chicago where she continues in that role today.
Her research interests include communication components
of the glass ceiling, communication ethics, mass media
and gender socialization, popular culture and remediation
of history, rhetorical critical theory and rhetoric in the arts.
So, she has a long list of broad things that's part of the nature
of being in our kinds of places is that we're all sort
of generalists who care about all of it.
So, it's very hard to pin this
down to any one particular theme we're going to write
about that particular day.
If you had a chance to look at Bren's resume
or you ever had an interest in doing that, go to the University
of Loyola of Chicago and you'll see multiple kind of things
from the last 20 years or so
that she's been writing wonderful works.
Dr. Murphy is in the final stages
of completing a new documentary film.
From that work this public lecture emerges.
It's with great pleasure I welcome to you to our Thinking
Out Loud with Dr. Bren Murphy on her topic "Veiled Threats:
The Image of Women Religious in U.S. Popular Culture."
I give you Bren Murphy.
[ Applause ]
>> Bren Murphy: All right.
We're going to get setup here, yes?
I can make it up there.
That's fine.
Can you hear me?
Yes, all right.
A word, a little bit of a disclaimer,
explanation before I actually get into the presentation
and that is that we use, I use the term women religious
in the title of that because that is the correct name
for both nuns and sisters.
There is a distinction between nuns and sisters based
on the kind of work they do and the vows that they take,
but many women religious use them interchangeably so many
of the people that I interviewed used nun and sister
as though they were interchangeable.
That's what I'm going to do tonight,
but I know the difference so.
[Laughter] I don't want to get in trouble on those grounds.
I'll get in trouble for other things I'm sure.
All right.
So, let's put this up there.
Oh, display, okay.
There. I've already messed up.
Okay. Once I get started though I'm okay.
Okay, waiting, waiting.
I'm so glad you're up here.
>> The projector is coming.
>> Bren Murphy: It's coming?
>> Yes, it's warming up.
>> Bren Murphy: You know what while we're waiting
for the image to actually appear, yeah, okay.
Great. I can see my notes?
We're ready.
I want to tell you what interested me in this topic.
A number of years ago I was looking at, staring at a display
of greeting cards, and I noticed a greeting card with a drawing,
a nun on it in full habit.
And then I noticed another greeting card
with a picture of a nun.
It seemed to be from the archives of a convent someplace.
I thought that's interesting.
I wonder why, you know, they are doing this.
And then a couple of weeks later I went to another Hallmark store
and I saw three more different cards all showing pictures
of nuns on them and then I went to my local Target store
and there were eight completely different pictures
of greeting cards and because I am interested in popular culture
and I'm interested in the depiction
of women, I noticed that.
So, I bought them and was trying to figure out what,
if there was a theme or what was going on and then just
to show you how stupid I am, I said, hang on, I know nuns.
[Laughter] And it's not these are cards with Leprechauns
or Easter Bunnies on them I mean these were
in some cases photographs or drawings or actresses, you know,
dressed up like what they thought a nun was supposed
to look like, the cards were uniformly supposed to be funny,
poking fun at being clueless or poking fun at nuns for being,
wanting to dampen everybody's humor and routing out sin,
you know, so a typical one would say have fun on your birthday
and you would open it up and it would say you will roast
in hell tomorrow, you know, it was that kind of thing.
And I thought the women that I know I work
with many DVM's [phonetic] at Loyola University Chicago
and the women that trained me, who were the school sisters
of Notre Dame for eight years of my life, bore no resemblance
to these caricatures [phonetic] and
yet they seemed to be proliferating.
In other words, it's not like I had gone into some file
of the 50's and found these old cards.
These were things that were being made today and seemed
to be sort of taking on a life of their own.
And so I made it my business to start looking for images of nuns
and boy did I find them.
I found old artifacts, I found new artifacts, I found artifacts
across the board, the spectrum, of popular culture,
and I started to ask the question why?
I mean is this just [inaudible] nostalgia?
And, you know, when your generation, you know,
as we die off this whole thing is going to die off?
Or is there something else going on here?
So, I started literally collecting these things.
You walk into my office and, you know, it is a shrine
to caricatures of nuns.
What I'm going to do with all of this
after I finish I'm not sure, but I decided also in looking
at them that this was so visual that what I wanted
to do was make a documentary because one of the ways
if you're fighting against an image that is a caricature
that you think is flattened out and negative
in many ways the best way to fight against it is
to contrast it with other images, right?
So, it's not censorship, it's getting the other story out.
So I started because this was all
about the visuals I started making a documentary.
I interviewed a number of contemporary women religious,
I read a lot of books, and I came to care even more
than I had before very deeply about the representation of nuns
and sisters in popular culture.
So, I'm going to start by explaining some
of the categories that we went into, that I went into
and then talk about why these are not at all a reflection
of what these women were or are today.
A lot of the things that I looked at was stuff for lack
of a better term, academic term, stuff.
[Laughter] I mean it was just go on eBay and type in nun
and sometimes over a thousand items will show up
and a lot of it is stuff.
So, this happens to be a cookie jar in my,
one of my aunt's homes, but there are salt
and pepper shakers, there are squeaky toys, there are pencils
and pencil sharpeners, there's nuns in snow globes,
I mean every once in a while I just say, oh,
I wonder if they ever did a bobble-headed nun?
Type it into Google, boom, there's a bobble-headed nun.
I mean really you think about anything that you could make
with a picture with an image of a person
and they have made them.
Some are costumes that are appropriated by people.
Many I think are not Catholic because they want,
they serve a particular kind of function
in the work that they do.
The person in the pink costume up there is called the pink nun.
She is not a nun, she is not even Catholic,
but she has her own like one-woman abstinence campaign.
She decided that she would appropriate a nun's costume
in order to do that.
This is not a comment on abstinence campaigns,
it's just that it's interesting to me
that she decided this was the best way for her
to get out her message.
She has a website, check it out.
The people over on this side of the screen are actually men.
There is a group of gay men
in San Francisco called the daughters,
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
I think that's what it is.
And they have a very, have had a long-term, very sustained,
well-organized campaign for homosexual rights.
Again, I'm not making any comment either way in term
of homosexual rights, but it's interesting to me
that they decided that what they would do is create their own
order and call themselves the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.
For some reason they thought that that would be effective.
They have a website, you can check it out.
And below, of course, we have Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie,
who decided as part of their act they would get dressed
up as sisters.
So, again, something sort of interesting is going on here
that these people think that this is, that this is going
to be an effective way for them to communicate
and not only celebrities or people
with particular agendas dress up,
think it's good to dress up as nuns.
It's a very popular Halloween costume not only for people
but also for your dog.
[Laughter] So, you know, again why is this happening?
Is this just sort of a funny happenstance
or is something else deeper going on?
Of course in addition to stuff and in addition to costumes,
there are obviously, there are cartoons.
There's a lot of [inaudible] as I said greeting cards.
So, you've got a number
of different cartoons usually using some sort of pun
around the word habit, but also again making fun of nuns
for supposedly being either clueless
or just draining the fun out of everything.
There are films.
You've probably seen Sister Act?
Perhaps you saw Doubt?
They started in the 50's in the United States.
A very interesting cultural part of that because it came
after World War II when all of a sudden Catholicism became sort
of popular and so you had Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman
and you had a whole series
of very positive depictions of nuns and priests.
Had a little bit of hiatus and then you get this resurgence
in not only looking at sisters but looking at sisters
in full habit even though most don't wear the full
habit anymore.
So, again, this is interesting as well.
Sister Act is particularly interesting to me
because these are sisters who were supposed to live
in an urban environment who were going out in the schools and
yet it depicts them as afraid to go out into the schools and,
again, the whole part of the joke is
that Whoopee Goldberg is put into this habit.
So, again, something interesting is going on.
In addition to films, there are also plays;
Late Night Catechism started in Chicago.
A very unfortunate musical called Gun Sense,
in which the nuns again are just sort of daffy and dancing,
literally sing and dance around and then, again, of course,
nothing is funnier than to see a man dressed as a nun.
So, we've got that little variation going on as well.
So, you see, again, the spectrum, you know,
that people feel, that they feel free to appropriate the role
of the nun or what they think the role of the nun is
and the garb of the nun and use it to their advantage.
Nothing says this more clearly
than the advertising that has used nuns.
This is an ad for Glidden Paint from 2009.
The theme of this ad is, the overall theme
of the campaign is anyone can do this.
So, again, a reference to, well, you know, even nuns can do it.
How funny is that?
Again, they have appropriated the habit, but look at the shoes
on these women, right?
So, again, it sort of played for laughs.
First of all even nuns can paint and secondly,
I mean it's not particularly respectful of a habit.
They're just going to use it for their own ends.
So this gives you an idea of the range of things
that I am looking at and talking about.
So, I tried, this is what academics do,
is to try to start putting them into categories
and the most obvious category to me, 12 years of Catholic school,
was affectionate nostalgia, you know, that this is like,
you know, Rin Tin Tin thermoses, you know what I mean?
This is like something that reminds you of what you were
of you were growing up and you loved it and you felt comforted
by it and so we want to surround ourselves with images
and these images of these nuns having fun calendars and a lot
of the greeting cards are almost all taken from the era
of the 50's, but again, the sort of joke
of the nuns having fun is isn't it funny
to see somebody who's dressed like this doing whatever,
you know, skating or jumping rope or whatever.
Another possibility is that, is reverence.
This happens to be my statue.
So there is, there are artifacts mostly manufacture red
in the 40's and the 50's that I think are respectful of the role
that sisters play and you can understand somebody valuing that
and wanting an image like that in their home.
So, that's another possibility.
A third possibility and by far the most prevalent is humor.
The humor comes from juxtaposing who you think that the nun is
with something that she's not supposed to be doing.
So, there is an entire line, have you seen these?
An entire line of cocktail napkins.
So, it's Sister Mary Margarita, it's Sister Mary Merlot,
it's Sister Mary Manhattan.
My favorite one is Sister Mary Menopause.
It's like, what, you know?
So, [inaudible] this.
So, this whole notion again of taking a nun
and you notice here she's faceless and juxtaposing her
with something that she's not supposed to be doing.
On a more serious note is
or a slightly more serious note is the role of satire.
So, again, not uncommon in American culture
to take something and satirize it particularly something
that you know is not supposed to be satirized.
This is a scene from Late Night Catechism, which is set
in a classroom and the whole bit is that the sister comes in
and the audience are the students and she treats them
like she was treating a class taught in the 50's
and she remarks on people's attire
and she makes them recite saints names and that kind of thing
and the prevalent audience for this are people who grew
up in Catholic schools and, you know, think this is sort
of funny, but there's an edge to it.
Now on a more serious note is critique.
This is a depiction of a film called The Magdalene Sisters.
It is based on a compilation of true stories set
in convents in Ireland.
If you've listened to the news lately, you probably know
that the Irish Catholic Church is undergoing a great deal
of turmoil in terms of actually more for the actions
of the priests over there than the nuns,
but there has been a lot written about the schools,
the convent schools that some of these sisters setup
and apparently there is evidence that there was a great deal
of intolerance and cruelty in these schools.
I must say that I have encountered no stories
like this coming out of the United States, but you know,
you do have, you do have pieces of art that serve as critique.
In the United States, there was a particularly vicious play
called Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All,
which it portrays a nun as really sadistic and crazy
and at the end of the play someone kills her.
So, we do have that function in popular culture.
And finally the other category I found was erotica.
Believe me there were other images I could show,
but I decided you would not want to see them blown
up on a screen this big, but the reason
that I mention it is I found this notion I mean
and you see this sometimes with images of nurses,
you see it with images of flight attendants, you know,
it's part of erotica, important part frankly pornography is
to take something that is innocent and invert it.
So, there's a whole genre of erotica and pornography
out there that they have decided to use the image of the nun for.
So, I mean there you have the initial categories
that I was using, but my deeper question was,
why all this attention to nuns?
I mean we satirize lawyers, we satirize doctors, we do,
you know, we have jokes about different professions,
but you know, why are they, why is all this attention being paid
to nuns and what's the slippage between these categories
and who these women really are.
I love this picture because unlike the previous images
of women religious that you've seen before,
you can see for yourself here two things very clearly
without knowing their names or what they do.
One is that they don't all look alike.
There are many different orders with many different mannerisms.
There is no generic habit that you can just stick a person in
and say got it, there is a nun.
The second is these were leaders of very large congregations
who were together at an educational conference
in which they did very smart, very difficult,
very challenging work having to do with shaping the policies
of their congregations and how they would work together.
If you take a close-up look at these women's faces,
you can see for yourself that these are different women,
these are, to me they look quite intelligent,
they look quite strong, they don't look silly,
they don't look erotic, they don't look clueless,
and this is not atypical of bringing together a group
of women religious then or now.
So, let me tell you a little bit about just the history
of Catholic sisters in the United States.
Catholic sisters started coming to this country
in the late Eighteenth Century and they continued to arrive
in large numbers for the next several decades.
They came to meet the huge waves of immigrants that were coming
to the United States at the time
and they endured very challenging conditions.
They did not come over here
to find convents ready made for them.
The first sisters who came were the Ursulines who came
to New Orleans, and I want to read you a quotation
from contemporary [inaudible] to New Orleans.
I love this because I mean they have no vested interest
in the Catholic Church as far as I know or sisters;
they're just trying to describe what they thought
was interesting.
So this is [inaudible] guide to New Orleans.
"Forget tales of America being founded by brawny, brave,
tough guys in buckskin and beads.
The real pioneers in Louisiana at least were well-educated,
strong, French women clad in 40 pounds of black wool robes.
That's right.
You don't know tough until you know the Ursuline nuns
and this city would have been a very different place
without them.
The sisters of Ursula came to the mud hole
that was New Orleans in 1727 after a journey
that several times nearly saw them lost at sea
to pirates or disease.
Once in town they provided the first decent medical care saving
countless lives and later founded the first local school
and orphanage for girls."
One of the sisters that I interviewed
for this project was Sister Helen Prejean, whom you may know
from her book, Dead Man Walking, or the film,
and she is an New Orleanian, and she talked about the gratitude
that that city holds toward the first sisters,
the Ursuline Sisters and then the subsequent sisters that came
out and said, you know, often they were responsible
for the first culture in that city and made it possible for,
again, for New Orleans to develop the way it did
and that was not an unusual story.
As I said in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century,
waves of these women came.
They came from mostly from Ireland, from Germany,
from Italy and they came to serve the needs
of the immigrants who were coming over here
and they faced the same challenges
that the early immigrants faced.
Often they didn't know the language,
often they did not know anybody here,
they had left their families to come here, they went to cities
and to the pioneer towns with nothing pre-built for them,
but they came because they knew of the tremendous need
on the part of these immigrants.
I will show you that my research has indicated that part
of the reason that they were sent was
that the Vatican was afraid that all these immigrants coming
to the United States would become Protestants.
So, no, you know, keep them Catholic.
But when these women got here and there's story after story
after story, you know,
they didn't ask what religion you were before they worked
with you.
They, again, paid particular attention to the needs
of girls making sure that girls got education as well as boys
and they paid particular attention to the poor.
They worked with people, who in the case of the Irish,
for example, were desperately poor and discriminated
against when they came over here and the sisters worked
with people, again, regardless of their monetary status
and regardless of their religion.
So they did not come over here to convert.
They came over here to do God's work among the people
who needed them here at the time.
They lived where the people lived, they lived in poverty.
They took care of homeless children, they took care
of the dying, they did not, again,
do this work I mean these were, again,
it's hard to imagine silly, clueless, trivial people doing,
living in the kind of conditions that they had
and facing the kinds of challenges that they did.
They lived as I said before where the people lived and they,
this is a picture of Madonna House, which is now gone,
in the Lower East Side of New York.
They did whatever was needed.
If you needed a loaf of bread, they got you a loaf of bread;
if you needed to learn English, they taught you English;
if you needed to have in the big epidemics in the large cities
like New York and Philadelphia, if you died,
they would help you become buried.
I mean, again, they were doing serious, challenging work
and they were doing work based on the people who needed them.
People, of course, needed them not only in the tenements
on the east coast, but they needed them on the frontiers.
Here's one of the sisters of,
this is one of the sisters of Saint Joseph.
Is that one of the orders that's here?
>> [inaudible].
>> Bren Murphy: Mother Joseph is?
>> [inaudible]
>> Bren Murphy: [Inaudible], thank you, sisters [inaudible].
I knew somebody in this crowd would know this.
And I'm very pleased to see
on the scraper building you have here they have all the busts
of famous Washingtonians or Spokanians, Spokanites?
>> [Inaudible].
>> Bren Murphy: Okay.
If you look at that bust, I mean you see a picture
of a very strong person with a sense of purpose
and the first word that they put under her
and her statue is architect, right?
So they don't put, you know, nun.
The first thing that they say is she was an architect.
The second thing that they say is
that she founded a religious order and the third thing
that they say is that she was a hospital builder.
I mean this must have been one formidable woman
to help build this area and she was not,
I mean she was particular, but she was not,
you know, completely uncommon.
These women went to frontier towns,
often were the only women there besides prostitutes
and went there well ahead sometimes of the priests
who were going to come out later and form the parishes.
They were there to build schools, they were there
to tend the sick, they were there,
they were in logging and mining camps.
They setup one of the first systems of insurance.
Again, not Catholic insurance, just insurance in very,
very dangerous professions so that if you paid $5 a year
that would just guarantee you treatment whatever your
injury was.
They worked with families, again,
regardless of their religion paying attention,
I mean not to neglect boys, but making sure
that the girls got an education, too.
When the Civil War came, and I'm sorry for the blurriness
of this, but they didn't have the kinds
of cameras that we do now.
This is a group of the Daughters of Charity.
You can recognize them from their particular head gear.
They were not necessarily sent out to be nurses.
At the time that the Civil War happened in the United States,
there were no organized schools of nursing.
Most of the nursing on the battlefields was done by mothers
and sisters and sister [inaudible], biological sisters,
and wives who would go onto the battlefield after the battle was
over and tend the best they could to the wounds,
but because they also had family responsibility,
these women usually went home.
The Catholic sisters stayed, the Catholic sisters stayed
on the battlefield, they lived in towns,
they treated people regardless
of their rank they treated people both southern
and northern, both Yankee and Rebel.
They were with these men while they were dying and most
of the men who died died not from battle wounds
but from illness so they were also not only exposing
themselves to the obvious danger of being on the battlefield,
but to disease and many of the sisters did die.
They were so effective in what they did that even in the midst
of suspicion about who these sort
of strange looking women were, they were eventually welcomed
by the soldiers on both the Rebel and the Union side.
We know the names of some of these women.
Here's Mother Angela Gillespie [phonetic], again,
not a trained nurse, but learned how to do nursing.
Why? Because that was what was needed.
Here's a beautiful picture of Sister Verona,
Sister of Charity, and you can see I've put
on here photo by Matthew Brady.
I mean these women were recognized at the time
for the extraordinary work that they were doing.
They taught each other how to do nursing
and they held each other together by their community.
Their work was so awe-inspiring
to a largely non-Catholic country
that President Lincoln commissioned the only memorial
to Civil War nurses to the group of sisters.
I've got the numbers here, over 600 sisters served
in the Civil War 20 to 25 different communities served
in the Civil War and that's what you see this tribute to here.
As I said before, these women came over and Catholics came
over in not particularly a friendly environment
to Catholicism and, in fact,
right before the Civil War started to be the hype
of the anti-Catholic movement fostered a lot
by the popular press.
So this was a drawing by Thomas [inaudible].
A very influential editorial cartoonist, and it, you know,
depicts the fear on the part of non-Catholics
of Catholics coming over so you see that what looked
like alligators are actually fishes coming
in with the poor children who are afraid, which again makes it
so remarkable that there is this monument because the people
who had experienced the work of these sisters knew better
and there is some speculation
that although anti-Catholicism was to raise its head again
that there was about a 20-year period after the Civil War
in which that lessened dramatically
because so many people had experienced the extraordinary
courage and generosity and kindness of these women.
When the war was over, the sisters went back to the towns,
to the mining camps, they setup more schools,
they again asked themselves what is needed?
And, again, I mean this is again one of my favorite pictures
because it's easy to look at this quickly and think, oh,
it's a bunch of nuns, but if you look at their faces, again,
to me I see a group of really extraordinary women
who have vision and courage who are going to go out
and do what is necessary in a strange land.
What do they do?
They built some of the first orphanages and they,
and ran them so they literally built them
from scratch and ran them.
They worked with populations
that nobody else was interested in working with.
They clearly built hospitals.
The largest independent health care system
in the world was built by Catholic sisters.
Built by it, designed by it, run by it,
and we have that legacy today.
They also didn't just work in hospitals.
They worked in the huge epidemics
that often swept through the city.
So, New Orleans and San Francisco and Chicago
and Philadelphia and New York.
I had people dying in the streets
and especially the poor people had no one to take care of them
and no one to bury them when they were dead
and these sisters went in and answered the call
and took care of people.
Again, regardless of their station,
regardless of their religion and many of these sisters died
because of the disease to which they were exposed to.
Clearly they built schools and what I
like about these two pictures is, and I can tell you
from my experience that, yes, we learned about,
learned to be proud to be Catholic,
we learned about our faith, but we learned about being American
and we learned what it meant to be a citizen of this country.
And so one of my, one of the people that I interviewed,
Dr. Bob Orsi, who is a religious historian
at Northwestern University, said, "If you take it as a given
as you should take it as a given, that Catholics,
Roman Catholics, were foundational
in building this country into what it is today and you take it
as given as you should
that women religious were foundational
in building the Catholic Church then it's axiomatic
that women religious helped build our country."
They trained citizens not just Catholics.
Some of these women were not,
I mean not only did they train people who went on to, you know,
who never would have gone to college to go on
and get higher education,
but they also built institutions of higher learning.
This is Sister Madeleva Wolff, who built Saint Mary's,
which Saint Mary's of Notre Dame,
which is across from Notre Dame University.
I love this because there she is looking at the plans, right?
So these women didn't just sit in offices.
They actually worked literally
in the building of the institutions.
Another reason I love Sister Madeleva is
that at this time women were not allowed, women weren't allowed
to study many things, but women in particular were not allowed
to study theology, and she said, "Okay,
I'll build a school of theology."
And that became the first place that women could go and get,
study theology and get advanced degrees in theology.
Another person I'm very close
to in spirit is Sister Justitia Coffey.
She built Mundelein College, which has now been absorbed
by Loyola University, but there's pictures of her walking
on the girders making sure that the job was done right
and until ten years ago Mundelein College was the last
remaining women's college in Illinois and turned in,
was second in the State of Illinois in producing people
who went on to get their Ph.D's.
So these were women who were serious about would,
about providing education for other people
and they were also serious about becoming educated themselves.
Women religious started earning advanced degrees
in large numbers well before other women thought to do it
or were allowed to do it and they didn't just do it
in the usual sort of feminine subjects
such as history and English and art.
These women got Ph.Ds in chemistry
and the first woman astrophysicist
in the United States was a sister, a BVM system.
They wrote really amazing academic pieces
and pieces having to do with social justice.
In 1946, a Dominican sister by the name
of Sister Mary Ellen O'Hanlon, wrote this book, Racial Myths.
So, remember 1946.
I mean this was at the height of the time
that some people thought that whole groups of people based
on their ethnicity should be eliminated, in the case of Jews,
or should be quarantined somehow, [inaudible] somehow
and this sister who got her Ph.D.
in biology wrote this very scientific book
that says there is no, there is no racial,
there is no scientific evidence for the kinds
of racial stereotypes that we hold and it became the basis
for a number of other writings as well.
They, and you probably know this,
American sisters participated, were very active
in the Civil Rights movement.
What you may not know is that they were also very active
in the women's movement.
There were two American sisters who were on the founding board
of a national organization for women, you know, so again,
where is the need, where is the injustice,
what can we do to help it?
There are a number of women religious who became saints,
I'll go through this quickly, Sister Francis Cabrini
at Saint Francis Cabrini; Saint Elizabeth Seton;
Saint Theodore Guerin; and Saint Katharine Drexel,
who made it a special point to work with people marginalized
because of their color, but I think the really powerful story
as great as these women were are the people,
are the women whose names we don't know,
who did extraordinary things
without calling attention to themselves.
They did it with a sense of mission,
they did it with a sense of joy, and they didn't do it
for personal recognition.
They did it because it needed to be done.
We have a number of women like that with us today.
There is Sister Helen Prejean,
who I said before is a death penalty activist;
Sister Margaret Farley, holds an endowed chair of theology
at Yale, thank you very much;
Sister Jen Schuster [phonetic] is a world-renowned speaker
and writer; Mother Angelica, of course,
founded an entire television station herself.
I mean these women continue to lead and to inspire,
but as before, you know, there are a number of women out there
who are not calling attention to themselves, who aren't doing it,
you know, to make a name
for themselves they're simply doing work
that needs to be done.
So, why is it given this extraordinary history
that when you often talk to people about nuns,
they say, oh, nunzilla?
Or the flying nun?
You know, why is it that this, that we don't know enough
about what I just showed you that, you know,
this sort of becomes absorbed
into the [inaudible] of popular culture?
Well, I'll tell you one of the theories.
One is that they were largely ignored by historians;
they were ignored by American historians; they were ignored
by Catholic historians; and they were ignored
by feminist historians.
So, I've taken the big thick book, History of Women
in America or history of, this is my favorite, and you know,
you don't see them there.
American History still by and large is written about men.
So, in a way that's understandable,
but tell me how [inaudible] could have written a
three-volume depiction of the Civil War
and then Ken Burns turned it into, you know,
a 50-volume documentary and they are nowhere
in there given what I just told you about the Civil War?
So, why don't we know the story?
Well, because it wasn't taught to us in history class.
They were ignored by Catholic historians who by
and large talked about the role of the priests, which is fine,
but you know, talked about that as the primary path, of course,
in America even though sisters outnumbered priests greatly
and were the people that had the most contact
with the people on the streets.
They were ignored by feminist historians, and you know,
I'm American, I'm Catholic, and I'm a feminist, yes,
you can do all of those things at the same time,
and it's shocking to me, it's shocking to me to pick
up a volume called History of Women in America
and there is no mention of these women
who were the first women CEO's in this country
and the first people to break educational barriers
and the explanation that I've been given is
that when second-wave feminism started
to gear more towards sexual liberation the split happened
and some feminists got it into their head
that you couldn't possibly be a woman religious
and be a feminist at the same time
because you weren't participating
in the sexual revolution.
Another reason is that they stereotyped women religious
as subservient to a male hierarchy and that
because they did that they couldn't possibly be, again,
independent and strong, which we know,
of course, is not the case.
I'm going to pause at one more idea and this is,
I mean another reason is
that women religious didn't call attention to themselves.
This is actually the first page
of the Mundelein College year book
and although all other lay teachers
and male teachers are named, the BVM's just said, no,
we don't want any [inaudible].
We're not going to call attention to ourselves,
we're not in this for us, just draw a blank box around us
and call us, you know, the sisters
and that's how they wanted to be remembered.
I'm going to pause at one more theory and that is
that women religious were and are today counter-cultural.
They go against what we think women should be.
First of all they're not defined, but I'm off?
Okay. Ignore the [inaudible].
They're not defined by traditional female roles
so they are not moms, they are not wives, they are fully women
but they are not, usually what popular culture doesn't know
really had to deal with them.
They're not evaluated by their beauty or their domestic skills
or their ability to [inaudible] themselves to anybody else.
They're there to do a job
and they don't play often traditional female roles.
They were early figures of authority
in essentially male domains.
And, you know, by and large have been hidden
from some people's view.
The early history of, the history of the nuns
where they moved into the Twentieth Century
but particularly but the time of the 50's was
that they left whatever, you know,
they worked in the hospital, they worked in the school
and then they went back to the convent.
Sister Jen Schuster [phonetic] tells the story working
in a school all day long and then having to say goodbye
to these students she's had fun working with
and crossing the tarmac, you know, in her habit to go
into the convent and the door is closed and nobody went
into the convent, right?
Whereas the priest is walking across the same tarmac and sort
of like Bing Crosby and pulling off his collar and putting
on a cardigan and saying let's go have a [inaudible].
So, you saw the men as human,
but the women were hidden behind this convent.
I mean we had serious discussions in fourth grade
about whether nuns ate.
[Laughter] We never saw them.
Right? So, they lived a life apart from most of the people
that they were working with and now we don't pay
as much attention to them because they are in lay,
most of them are in lay clothing.
Of course, not all of them are.
So, you could be sitting beside a nun
and some of you are right now.
[Laughter] When something is difficult for a culture
to handle, the culture usually replies
in a number of different ways.
You don't know how to handle this, you ignore it;
you trivialize it; you make fun of it; you romanticize it so,
you know, you don't have to deal with it; you demonize it;
or you use it to your own ends
and you certainly see the fact I've already talked
about the fact that these stories that I just told you
about what real women religious did [inaudible] ignored.
In the late 60's, early 70's when many sisters started
to change from the traditional habit to a modified habit
or lay clothing, you saw that happen dramatically.
The most dramatic example I can give you is the story
of the singing nun.
Who here has even heard of the singing nun?
Okay. All right.
So this was a real woman with real talent
who issued this album anonymously, you know,
not [inaudible] it was made, she's a Belgian,
it was made for the sisters who were working
in the Belgian Congo in her congregation.
Phenomenal success.
Number one on the billboard charts.
It was knocked off by the Beatles.
I mean that's how important this album was and
yet she had some questions about her vocation,
she took a few years off, but she decided, well, you know,
I've been a world-renowned talent,
I can sing so she started to release albums on her own
and no one was interested.
Same voice, same talent, but because she wasn't,
couldn't be put in this pigeon-hole of what a nun was,
the record company dropped her.
She later committed suicide; it was not a good story.
There's a new film out now that's a Belgian film
so I hope it comes to the United States and you should see it.
Ironically enough for those of you who speak French, of course,
you know that the name of that album is Sister Smile, right?
So, we liked her when she was smiling as long as she was
in a habit [inaudible].
So, the decision of sisters to change, you know,
many of them change out of traditional habit to something
that isn't widely understood, and it bears a little bit
of discussion because what popular culture has done,
thank you very much, by and large is concentrated
on the sister in the habit.
I think to the point of lifting her out of any kind
of historical context.
And so you rarely see, again, any kind of depiction of a nun
without a habit, but you have,
there are two films I can tell you about that deal with that
and one, yes, stars Elvis Presley.
Not a great film, but an interesting film
because it deals with how difficult the decision this was
and why people are still debating it.
So Mary Tyler Moore plays, again,
this impossibly beautiful nun, who decides she wants to work
with the poor and she decides that the way to be closest
to the people is to take off, is to change into lay clothing.
So there's always this strip-tease opening of this film
in which she and two fellow nuns walk into, they're in New York,
of course, and they go into whatever Bloomingdales
or something, and as they're crossing the street
in their full habit, cars stop,
buses won't charge them anything blah, blah, blah so they go
into the store and then you see their habits falling
from the ground, [inaudible], and then they come
out dressed as, you know, women are supposed to look
and they're hassled, people yell at them,
a bus almost runs them down, right?
And so it's this whole notion of what was the tradeoff?
What happened when you changed into lay clothing?
And she, Elvis plays a doctor, he gets to sing,
he's a singing doctor, [laughter]
and he's seeing Mary Tyler Moore at the bottom, you know,
working with patients, but she
and these other sisters have these serious conversations
about what would be best in terms of the work that I do?
And this was a very serious conversation
that women religious have.
The only other film I know that shows a film,
there's some television shows, that shows a sister
in lay clothing is Dead Man Walking and when Prejean,
who I interviewed for this project,
was telling me the story she said that Tim Robbins,
who was the director, had first wanted Susan Sarandon
to wear a habit because he said well how can you tell she's a
nun if she doesn't wear a habit?
And Prejean said, "Absolutely not.
That's not part of the story.
You're not doing my life story and dressing me
in a way that I didn't dress."
And so the way Prejean tells it is that Sarandon was sort
of shocked, too, because she said,
"How am I going to do this?"
And then Prejean said to her, "You're just going to have
to have another way of showing that you are a woman religious,"
and of course, Sarandon won best actress that year
so apparently she found a way to do that.
So, you know, but by and large again, you know,
we ignore the women religious without the habit
because with don't know how to deal with that.
We meaning sort of popular culture
so that's the first way we deal with counter culture.
We just ignore it because we don't know how
to tell the story.
Another thing that we do is we trivialize it.
This line of statues just sends me to the moon.
They're all the same, there's about 20 of them,
they're absolutely contemporary, they're being cranked
out as we speak and they invariably show sisters as sort
of giggly, domestic children, right?
So, you can't imagine this woman running a hospital, you know,
or running a university.
So, this is what is called Sister Giggle, right?
A very popular motif as I said so here's another one
of those images that from the 40's was, you know,
sisters as [inaudible] girls with full makeup on.
That's the other thing.
You look at some of these things and they're rosy cheeks.
Again, a way that you can control something culturally
speaking is to diminish it,
to make it something non-threatening.
I can assure you that the women who, you know,
landed in New Orleans, who were in the mining camps,
who were in the tenement house were not clueless,
helpless little children.
Another popular motif is nuns as eccentric so this is a variation
on the trivialization the most popular of these, of course,
is the flying nun, who is literally,
some of you will understand this cultural reference,
Giget in a habit, you know?
I mean there's nothing really serious
or substantial about this person.
Another way that we do this as I mentioned before is
to romanticize sisters and in the early 50's,
you had this array of films starring these just impossibly
beautiful, but that's movie stars then of the day,
so you've got Ingrid Bergman, you've got Loretta Young,
you've got Audrey Hepburn, you've got Debra Carr,
you've got, who played Jennifer Jones, right.
So, again, nothing against beautiful [inaudible],
but it was sort of like they weren't real,
I mean they were [inaudible], you know, they were transcendent
and that became a way that we could deal with them, you know,
they weren't really fully human.
As I said, by far one of the most popular motifs is
to demonize, and so you take something that's threatening
and you turn it something evil.
So the nun [inaudible] is all over the place really.
I mean she's just, she's on squeaky toys, she's in cartoons,
she's all over the greeting cards, she's in,
if you remember Blues Brothers,
the opening of the Blues Brothers,
"We've got to go see the penguin."
This nun doesn't just have a ruler, she has a yard stick
and she breaks it over the Blues Brothers and sends them tumbling
down the stairs and then she's never seen from again.
So, she exists only to do this caricature and then she leaves.
And as I said before, you see this all over the place.
Here's a rubber ducky dressed as a nun, you know,
holding her ruler; the Catholic school girl salt
and pepper shakers; the terrified school girl
and the nun with the ruler.
And again, let me say 12 years
of Catholic schooling never hit by a nun.
I never saw a nun holding a ruler, never hit by one.
Now, that was because I was really good.
[Laughter] But, and again,
[inaudible] I believe those stories,
but it wasn't anywhere, [inaudible] anywhere.
So you put them in snow globes, you [inaudible] them down,
you make them into salt and pepper shakers,
you dress Richard Nixon up as a nun,
the greeting card [inaudible] it's just a collection
of random things and somebody said put a nun
in there and why not?
Right? Because they're just symbols.
They're like, you know, the Leprechauns
or Easter Bunnies or something.
Now there have been efforts on the part of popular culture
to deal seriously with these women
and there have been some really wonderful films.
Probably a number of you have seen The Bells of Saint Mary's,
in which, yes, the impossibly beautiful Ingrid Bergman,
but she goes toe-to-toe with Bing.
I mean she argues with him, she has values, she's strong,
she runs the school, even something as sort
of unsubstantial as The Trouble With Angels,
if you haven't seen this Hayley Mills film, you really should.
It's just this fabulous Mother Superior
and there's this wonderful speech at the end
about what it means to be culture religious [inaudible]
and that they don't want people who are silly
or who are overly sanctimonious.
They want people like Hayley Mills who has a will of her own
and is smart and is going to take, play a leadership role.
So, it really is a wonderful tribute I think to nuns
in that era even though it's, you know, [inaudible].
And then, of course, you have Doubt.
What's interesting to me about Doubt is that although many
of the critics thought that the Meryl Streep character
in it was, you know, goes back to that notion as a harsh,
mean nun, it's easier when you see the play.
I mean this is a play about two very strong-willed people
and to me one of the most interesting scenes
in the film is the juxtaposition between the two meal times.
So, you had the priests eating and [inaudible] and [inaudible]
and you had the nuns eating in silence and eating, you know,
[inaudible], but holding together as a community.
I really thought that film did a nice job
of showing sisters caring for one another.
Some of the most successful images of women,
contemporary women religious have been on television.
There's a wonderful documentary, not documentary,
a serial called Brides of Christ,
that shows the difficulty the transition periods.
In the 60's, some of the sisters stay in the convent,
some change into lay clothing,
some leave the content altogether, but they all respect
and love one another and that's not a message
that gets out very often.
Sister, Rita Moreno in the HBO series Oz about a brutal,
brutal maximum security prison is often described as the center
of the moral center of this entire series.
I mean, again, very strong person.
So, if we know that there are stories to tell and we know
that we can tell them in some ways, you know, why, again,
are we left with this?
That's my question and I answer it by saying because I think
that we still don't know how to tell these stories.
That women don't, these women don't fit the mold
that we have set out for women in popular culture
and so you see this management of their images.
Even and it's not just a middle ground thing, even something
like the New Yorker, this is from last year,
I don't even know what this means,
but [inaudible] appropriate this image and we're going to put it
on the cover and where there's some sort of relationship,
I mean it's a very clever picture in some ways.
You notice that the two religious women
on either side are covering up most of their bodies
and the woman in the middle is all
out there except for her eyes.
She's going to put big sunglasses on there.
The title of this magazine is, "Girls Will Be Girls."
It's an interesting comment to think about.
I'm going to close by saying that you can tell
that I'm very impassioned about this topic that, again,
I'm not trying to censor any of these things.
I'm not going to stop you from buying the boxing nun
or the cocktail napkins, but I do invite you to consider
that these are real people.
They were real people.
They are real people.
As with any group besides women religious in the United States,
yes, there are going to be some [inaudible] people,
there are going to be some mean people, there's going
to be some crazy people, there's something
to be some lazy people.
I mean that's just true of large groups of people.
But what we don't hit enough attention to is
that there were many, many, many women who were kind and strong
and intelligent and courageous and visionary and even heroic,
and I believe that these stories need to be told.
Thank you.
Are you all asleep or you want questions?
>> John Caputo: Let's take some questions.
We maybe can spend about 10 or 15 minutes.
It depends on your own interest.
Question here, one, and we have another question after that?
A second question?
All right.
Let's start right here with the first question.
>> Okay, so you mentioned in the second wave kind
of how the feminist community shunned nuns.
Do you think this has changed post second wave?
>> Bren Murphy: No.
No, I don't, unfortunately.
I think they just, they, I mean in fact,
I was sort of making a joke about this before, I once,
I was going to, I had, there are a number of feminist colleagues
who say you can't possibly be religious and a feminist
at the same time, but those are mutually exclusive categories
because the world's major religious are dominated by male
by them and so that's a non- [inaudible] and my last year
as the Director of Women Studies,
I brought in an Islamic feminist, a Catholic feminist,
and a Jewish feminist and said here you are, this can happen,
but there's still a great deal of resistance
to it although some of that is beginning to change,
but they're still not showing up in the feminist histories,
which is just shocking to me given what these women did.
Did I answer your question?
>> John Caputo: You have two and three.
Let's start with the second person over there.
>> How do you think we can create more conversation
between religious women and feminists and sort
of make it synonymous?
Like that you can be the Catholic,
the Muslim, Jewish and feminist?
And also I guess do you think it's more the fault
of the religious communities or the feminist people?
>> Bren Murphy: Yeah, it's hard
to really pinpoint although I mean I would say that most
of the women religious that I talk
to today would clearly identify with feminist goals of equality.
I mean they may not use that term, but any people who fought
for women to get equal, you know,
fair chance at education I think would, you know,
embrace their feminist goals.
How do I think we can improve the dialogue?
Well, I'm hoping that I mean part of the reason I wanted
to do a documentary was I wanted this not to be the academics
and [inaudible] book that was only read by other academics.
I think we need to get the story out there.
I think part of it is just ignorance.
I'll tell you my real dream is to have, you know,
those wonderful, lush documentaries
on American Experience on PBS?
I want somebody to do one of those.
I want somebody with a lot of money
with great technical skills to do the American Experience
to show a live audience what the foundations
that these women built, and I think the more we can get
out there, and I think part of that story is what they did,
you know, as women and for women, and I'm hoping there's,
there are number of different projects out,
books that are starting to coalesce.
There's a wonderful traveling exhibit called,
have many of you seen this about the contributions that,
I don't know, this may be [inaudible] to the west coast.
>> [Inaudible].
>> Bren Murphy: It's not coming out here?
All right that shows you scope and the range
of historical contributions that were made.
I just think we need to get those stories out there
and then it will be more difficult
for all historians including feminists to ignore
so you can be part of that discussion.
>> John Caputo: Is there a question here?
>> Oh, yeah.
This is similarly and you personally answered it,
but how would you reconcile, you know, second-wave feminism with,
you know, the ideal of Catholicism
against abortion and, you know, the sexual revolution?
How do you reconcile?
>> Bren Murphy: I think feminism,
and I know you're not saying this, but I think feminism is
about a lot more than sexual freedom.
>> So, they just identify with the rest
of the feminism and then.
>> Bren Murphy: There's a lot of different approaches
to feminism just as there are different approaches
to Catholicism and so I think we need to have those kinds
of discussion, and I don't think it's good for either group
to write the other group off and say we have nothing in common
because that simply isn't, that simply isn't true.
So, I mean, yes, I agree that the church policies
on reproductive rights is a big, it's a big chasm,
but I don't define myself as a feminist based on my position
on reproductive rights so, and I don't think, I don't think
that should be the sticking point.
So that's how I reconcile it anyway.
>> John Caputo: We have question four and five, another?
We'll come over to four and then we'll go over.
>> Bren Murphy: Oh, yes?
>> Going along with that point, I mean isn't it,
wasn't it required women from non-religious and religious men
and women feminists to, I mean because I think another issue
that feminists have with the Catholic Church is the
[inaudible] idea of kind of disparity
between [inaudible] and their power?
>> Bren Murphy: Absolutely.
>> So, I think the, I mean the dichotomy between them
and the movement for equality in, you know, women being able
to have the same abilities, do you think
that would help feminists kind of be more okay?
>> Bren Murphy: I just think they need
to understand more what these women did and do,
I mean it's true, you want to talk about a glass ceiling,
this is like a marble ceiling, right?
So, but that was true in the Eighteenth and Ninth Century
as well and one of these I really admire about the history
of women religious in the United States is they just got things
done, you know?
They figured out a way within the system.
They didn't like leave the system, they figured
out these people need education, these people need health care,
the poor need to be tended to, the immigrants [inaudible],
you know, HIV-AIDS with the homeless, and yes,
this is unfair in their eyes, but that's not going
to stop them from doing what it is
that they think should be done
and so I just think that's a lesson in leadership for a lot.
You may not disagree, I mean you may disagree with that,
but that's my take on this is
that their faith is strong enough
to endure what they consider an unfair situation in some cases.
>> John Caputo: Number five and six over here?
>> Hi.
>> Bren Murphy: Hi.
>> Where to start.
I was thinking actually about the,
was it in the year book they had the sisters of.
>> Bren Murphy: Yes, with no pictures, right.
>> Right. I was wondering if you had any experience talking
to nuns who thought it was almost like a triumph
that they were doing all this good?
I mean I think it's very important history be told
and be studied and people be aware of it,
but I'm wondering how they actually felt about their, well,
it's unanimous, but very, very important role like and the idea
that we're doing the service and we're not getting paid for it?
Like we're actually doing a service with no money,
no glory, and isn't that great?
Like I wonder how they would have thought about that?
>> Bren Murphy: Right, right.
I mean they were, I'll answer your question coming at it
in a little bit different way, but almost every sister
that I've talked to and some are okay with Sister Act
and some are okay with the funny cocktail napkins,
but what really ticks off almost everyone that I've talked
to are the greeting cards that use actual archival images
of sisters to sell a greeting card
that invariably makes fun of nuns, right?
So, these aren't drawings, these aren't actresses,
these are actual pictures from someone's archive
that are now being used to make money, you know, for somebody
on the basis of isn't it funny to see a nun on a beer bottle
in your hand sort of thing?
And I asked one of them one time I said, "Well,
do you ever fight against that?"
And she said, "We're too busy doing our work.
You know? I mean, yes, it bothers us but that's,
we don't have the time and energy to go after that."
So I think that was probably, I don't know if they were proud
of doing it anonymously but they didn't, they weren't going
to spend any energy on calling attention to themselves.
Somebody like Prejean wants to call attention to her work
because she believes so strongly in it, you know, and the fact
that she wrote a best-seller book, she felt was a vehicle
for her to get her message out.
So, it's not like all of them shun that,
but it's not the reason they are doing it.
Does that sort of address your question?
>> I got it.
>> John Caputo: This gentleman right here in front.
>> Bren Murphy: Hi.
>> Along that line it strikes me as a bunch
of very intelligent people, very self-[inaudible] and talked
about architects and, you know,
people that taught themselves medicine, [inaudible] PR expert.
>> Bren Murphy: They didn't, they don't measure their success
in personal attention.
>> There's got to be a connection there
in their beliefs.
>> Bren Murphy: Right.
>> How they are just, there's no voice.
>> Bren Murphy: Somebody
like [inaudible] believed it was important to have a voice,
and I mean that's, I think that's a wonderful thing is you
use contemporary media, you know, so she really pioneered
that in terms of the eternal word [inaudible] but by
and large they're not doing it for their own glory.
So, but I don't think that gets us off the hook.
I think we need to recognize what it is
that they were doing and [inaudible].
Yeah, I agree.
>> Thinking about the PR angle now that I heard that,
the recruitment for people, for women to go into the nuns,
to go to convents, has really fallen.
So how does that, how do the images relate to that
versus everything else?
>> Bren Murphy: Well,
[inaudible] some orders are increasing in numbers.
So people, there are certain orders that are increasing,
and I think, you know, there's a debate
about why some orders are gaining members
and some orders are not, and I think it's pretty complicated,
but I think, it isn't the only thing that struck me
about the women that I interviewed for the project.
They understand that the average age in many of the congregations
and orders is rising; they understand that they,
people don't understand their story.
I'm not met one angry, bitter person, you know,
and the attitudes of some
of them were it's the work that's important
and if our congregation falls apart, you know,
it literally dies off, other people will step in
and take our place and the fact
that they're not women religious doesn't mean
that they're not women of faith.
And so that's what our focus is, right?
So it's not, oh, woe, is me,
[inaudible] not what they used to be.
There was none of that [inaudible] at all.
They all believed that work would go on.
So, I don't know if that really answered your question,
but that's what struck me about this whole issue
of declining members plus this is what I love about talking
to Catholic historians, they take sort
of the 500-year model of history.
[Laughter] So, I was talking to this one woman who said, "Well,
you know, in 800 the population of women really just went down,
but then it came back up in 1,100."
So she's not worried at all.
[Laughter] [Inaudible]
>> John Caputo: Time for a few more questions?
Okay, one, two, anybody else have a question?
Okay. Go ahead.
>> So just say it one more time it seems
as if [inaudible] working counter to what it is
that women religious are,
which they're not really promoting themselves
in doing work.
So, are you getting support from them?
Do they say [inaudible]?
[Laughter] You know this is not a big deal,
you can do it if you want to.
>> Bren Murphy: No.
They're not going to take time off from the work they're doing
to do their own PR, but I'll say one
of the most gratifying things about this is that,
and I certainly did interview, go to every archives
in the United States, but I went to a fair number,
is that they realize now that, you know,
it's not calling attention to them personally to the people
that went before them to the shoulders that they stand on,
to the sisters that they work with and so they,
everyone I talked to [inaudible],
is everyone I talked to said thank you so much.
This is a story that needs to be told, and it's not,
you're not taking a political position,
you're not taking a religious, you're telling a story
that is an important and in some ways a unique story
and so I mean nothing has been more rewarding than working
with Catholic nun [inaudible].
It's like, whoa, you're interesting.
And they have just been, I call people out of the blue
and they have no idea who I am, I'm just a voice
on the other end of the phone claiming to be
from Loyola University of Chicago
and they've just been completely [inaudible] and so
and one woman came up to me at a conference and said,
"I've been waiting for you all my life."
I mean how sweet is that?
So, I have met [inaudible] from them, but it's my job
to tell this story, you know?
So they're not going to do it for themselves
but that's what I do so.
>> John Caputo: Mary?
>> [Inaudible] your story of staring of the cards
and getting this curiosity about why is this happening is
so pertinent to emerging researchers and as which many
of us audience would fall into that.
Any words about the role of the curiosity of leading
to a question to sustain people that might think, you know,
I'm curious, but that's not enough for a research?
I mean you've had curiosity for a question to research
to [inaudible] documentary.
So, any thoughts on that so that people who might have something
in their mind about it may wonder about this and where
that could take people?
>> Bren Murphy: Well, I mean you said it very well.
I mean I think the best research comes from a drive
about the subject matter.
I mean you can [inaudible]
and to sustain something for this long.
Some of you have written Ph.D's, you know this, dissertations,
you have to pretty much love what you're doing.
You have to believe that there's worth in it, and I was excited
or more excited now than I was four years ago
when I started this.
So, I think passion, and you can find this in science,
you find this in social sciences and the arts, you find people
who are passionate about what they're doing and often
that comes from a personal curiosity.
I was in the middle of this and all
of a sudden I mean I remembered that I had gone
to Catholic School, but I remembered I had year books,
you know, and I'd pull those yearbooks out, and I'm looking
at these old pictures and thinking, wow, I wonder,
you know, I didn't really get to know them as people,
and I wish I could have done that now.
So, it is an interesting mix of personal and [inaudible],
but that's what sustains my work anyway,
and I think it sustains the work of the [inaudible] scholars,
you know, there's, is it E.0.
Wilson who studies ants?
The guy is crazy about ants, you know, he just loves ants.
So, he's built a lifetime career of studying ants.
So, follow, follow your bliss.
>> John Caputo: We've got a question way in the back.
>> [Inaudible].
[Laughter] Do you think that the tradition
of women religious particularly nuns in habit
as being demonized [inaudible] on one end,
flightily on the other end
where they are essentially virtuous has anything to do
with potentially the effects of long-term cultural effects
of a masculine oriented paradigm of the culture?
>> Bren Murphy: Well, I remember.
>> Not in a blaming situation.
>> Bren Murphy: No, no.
>> Have an influence
in the factor maybe incur cultural thoughts too.
>> Bren Murphy: Right.
>> Essential equality.
>> Bren Murphy: That whole ignored, trivialized,
romanticized, demonized is a way that a dominant culture deals
with people that they can't put into a category
that suits their interest.
And so I think its.
>> So they dumb it down.
>> Bren Murphy: Yeah.
>> [Inaudible].
>> Bren Murphy: And you see the same pattern
and characterizations in African Americans.
There's a wonderful documentary called Ethnic Notions,
which traces the changing image of African Americans
as the socio-political steam [phonetic] changes
because we're going to do everything we can not to admit
that there's parity there, you know, we don't know how to deal
with it so we're going to manage this, they're going to be silly,
they're going to be enemies, they're going to be vicious,
you know, but we're not going to see them first as people
and secondly in terms of their race,
and I think it's a difficulty still in dealing with women
as people first and not just as women.
So, I don't know what the long-term repercussions are,
I hope it's changing so.
>> John Caputo: Any other questions at this point?
One, these will be the last couple.
Last chance if you have a question.
Okay. So, we're start over here, one and two
and then we'll wrap up.
>> Bren Murphy: Yes, [inaudible].
[Laughter] We could be here a long time.
>> [ Inaudible audience question ]
>> Bren Murphy: Great question because I [inaudible].
This is a uniquely American phenomenon,
and I try because I try, you know,
learning how do you say sister in French
and how do you say sister in German on eBay, right?
And most I get is the British eBay system that shows a lot
of sexy nun Halloween costumes.
That's really in terms of popular culture,
and I think the reason is twofold.
One is that our American experience
with sisters was much more directed in the streets
than the European model was
because that's why the nuns were sent.
They were sent to be out in the people
and so more Americans had this face-to-face encounter
with nuns, you know, living among them
and working among them.
And so they just played a different role in our history
and in our life and the other is American pop culture, you know,
is a pretty massive [inaudible] and we, you know,
it makes money whatever way it can
and the American popular culture tends to do that, you know,
not that there isn't [inaudible] in other countries,
but that they were used to just grabbing
up whatever we think will sell
and so I think that's my explanation for why it is.
It just seems to be happening in the United States.
>> John Caputo: The last question is up here.
>> Don't at least some of the sisters know that some
of us adore them and honor them?
>> Bren Murphy: Yes.
>> And, you know, couldn't have survived without them?
>> Bren Murphy: Yes, of course.
>> Well, good.
>> Bren Murphy: And, yeah, that's part of what [inaudible]
so they have not just the recognition
but it's their mission that they are literally doing good
and they are doing what should be needed.
So, yes, like I said I did not run across angry, bitter people.
I ran into people that just went, you know,
enough with the napkins, you know?
I mean their lives could be reduced to a caricature
and so they're disappointed in that, but I, you know, I didn't,
yeah, I think they do get that message.
Thank you so much.
>> John Caputo: Also part of our tradition is
to honor our visiting scholar and make her a Zag for life.
[Laughter] Although I looked far and wide
for a bobble-headed nun,
[laughter] I settled instead for a Gonzaga.
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