Critipeg: Soul Sisters

Playing at Cinematheque Feb. 3 to 11

Cultural depictions of nunhood and Catholic sisterhood are a rarity. The few that gain popular attention (The Sound of Music, Doubt) present an image of the practice rooted more in the past than the present.

Perhaps that cultural void is what makes writer-director Danielle Sturk’s Soul Sisters feel so refreshing. This new documentary examines the personal lives of the Catholic Sisters of Manitoba, presenting an earnest portrait of women spirituality. It’s a topic so thematically rich that it’s hard to believe it’s been so thoroughly ignored by film.

The picture follows various Manitoban nuns and sisters, chronicling their humanitarian work with children, people with disabilities, incarcerated individuals, at-risk youth, recent immigrants and the terminally ill. 

While films examining Catholic men’s spirituality (Mean Streets and Raging Bull) are stories fraught with guilt and pain, Soul Sisters presents a view of spirituality untethered from dogma. Instead, the women onscreen dedicate themselves to serving those in need, regardless of religious or ethnic background.

The film’s most moving portions explore the difficulty in reconciling the sisters’ humanitarian present with their damaging historical role in residential schools. Some of the sisters actually taught in the schools, and we see them participating in reconciliation workshops with survivors and their children. 

One nun, who has worked as a teacher in multiple settings, speaks openly about the conflict between the love she felt for her students and the knowledge that what she was engaging in was actually abuse. Thankfully, the film doesn’t try to offer up easy answers to these complex problems.

Published in Volume 71, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 2, 2017)

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