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The Sermons of Sister Jane: Believing the Unbelievable

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Allie Light, Irving Saraf, and Carol Monpere
Directed by Allie Light, Irving Saraf, and Carol Monpere
DVD, color, 53 min.
Jr. High - Adult
American Studies, Gender Studies, Labor Relations, Religious Studies, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Kayo Denda, Rutgers University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 1/22/2008

The Oscar and Emmy award winning filmmakers Allie Light and Irving Saraf with Carol Monpere, also an Emmy recipient, created this provocative documentary focusing on Sister Jane Kelly, an inspiring Catholic nun who combines deep spirituality, devotion, and commitment to humanitarian services for the needy and the poor. The film also points to the hypocrisy of the Catholic leadership who spared no efforts to cover up the priests’ sexual and financial scandals around the country.

In 1999, Sister Jane Kelly challenged the church leaders’ efforts to shield the sexual and fiscal misconducts of the priests affiliated with the Santa Rosa Diocese in California. She shares with the camera the process in which she resisted collusion with the church and decided to go to the press to unveil the abuses, especially the objectionable actions of Bishop Patrick Ziemann, regardless of the inevitable scandal and negative perceptions of her it generated. While emphasizing her faith, Sister Jane speaks candidly about her progressive views on issues of birth control, marriage of priests, homosexuality, and ordination of women. She articulates that opposition to these issues developed over the course of history as a mechanism to exercise and maintain the church’s power structure in the hands of the male hierarchy. Superfluous rituals and ostentatious pageantry that glorify the church as an institution unfortunately differ from its original and fundamental goal of providing assistance to ones in need.

Sister Jane demonstrates commitment to justice by her own actions. She is a co-founder and a member of the board of directors of Plowshares: Peace and Justice Center, an organization that serves hot meals and provides other services to the needy and homeless in Northern California. As the author of the book Taught to Believe the Unbelievable (2003), she discusses the limitations of catechism teaching that promotes indoctrination through fear and punishment resulting only in blind obedience. Sister Jane addresses concrete ways in which Catholic Church challenges could be met. Ordaining women and allowing priests to marry are some initiatives that would embrace change and would address issues germane to contemporary society.

The documentary alternates witty interviews with Sister Jane and others, including her family members and friends, with archival footages and still photos from various sources. Despite scenes of church worship and glimpses of the Vatican accompanied by Gregorian chants in the background, Sister Jane’s activism gives the viewer hope that change to this long established institution might one day become a reality. Highly recommended for discussions on Catholicism, gender studies, religion and spirituality, and women’s studies.