“A movement is a movement and by definition it keeps moving,” says Sister Lenore Dowling in the documentary Rebel Hearts, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival a few days ago.
The religious of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary or IHM) of Los Angeles, California, walked with Martin Luther King in Selma in 1965 and walked alongside the thousands of women who mobilized in the march after Trump’s appointment in 2017. Today marks 50 years of what they call their “faith in action.”
In 1970 these nuns hung up their habits literally, figuratively and in a forced way, forced by an intransigent, antiquated and macho Church that did not want its devout religious more than to honor their three vows, obedience, poverty and chastity, and, above all, led by Sister Anita (or Sister Humiliata), Sister Helen Kelley, Sister Pat Reif and Sister Corita, the most famous of all because she ended up being a pioneer of pop art, today vindicated, the IHM nuns fought for social justice, equality and for abandoning medieval customs and rites that were nothing more than an impediment between his true vocation, his work with the community and his faith.
“Being a nun was a way out of not being a wife or a housewife,” says Sister Anita at the beginning of Rebel Hearts. In the boom of the middle class in America after World War II, when the American dream was reduced to husband, children and house with appliances, many women did not fit those standards and could not simply be single and independent women, their The exit was the convent, ordained nuns and thus be able to continue studying and dedicate themselves to teaching, for example.
This is how the number of novices in those decades is explained. They arrived animated, hoping for a freer life, and they found themselves in the convents of that time with the same rules that governed psychiatric institutions.
To all this, in Los Angeles was added the authoritarian Cardinal McIntyre, a former Wall Street man who saw his community with a business and began to build non-stop colleges to which he sent newly ordained nuns, who had just left high school, to teach kids almost his age crammed into classes of 70 or 80 students. And we were in the 60s.
Very isolated from life, the nuns had to be closed, so as not to breathe the airs of freedom that invaded the United States, the marches against Vietnam, the hippie community ,
The IHM nuns, the only ones who They owned their university and institute immediately joined all these movements and turned their biggest holiday, Mary’s Day, the day of the Virgin, into a festival of wreaths, art and folk music. “The students:
McIntyre was quick to call them to order and with direct threat: “You will suffer,” he told them. But these sisters, convinced of their principles, encouraged by their community, continued to go to demonstrations where many times they were arrested. Corita drew from her art department, from her plates, serigraphs that read phrases such as “Mary Mother is the juiciest tomato of them all.”
They began to complain about labor exploitation at the same time as “The Virgin Mary is the juiciest tomato of all.” that they were subdued. Many were already highly educated women who touched absolute freedom with their fingers and were ignored. Corita and her apparently political pop art at heart was born in that breeding ground.
After the Second Vatican Council, Sister Anita and company felt reinforced to promote the change or abandonment of many rites that no longer made sense in the 20th century, starting with the most visual of all: the habit. The nuns of the IHM voted for the one who wished to hang it up forever, without ceasing to be a nun, and break that barrier with the world that distanced them from real life.
The Cardinal and the Vatican himself threatened to expel them from the Church. They went ahead and left and in 1970 they became a secular group that suddenly had to learn to live. They were left on the street, with nothing, no home, no job, no money. “As divorced,” they say. But they maintained their community, the university during the early years and the institute until today.
They have not left the Church, they are still women of faith, some of them celebrate Mass against what the Vatican commands and defend an egalitarian movement, marching in the Black Lives Matters demonstrations or feminist marches.
“The history of these women is the stories of who we are now and how we are now,” says Pedro Kos, the director of the documentary that has shaped, from a lot of archive images and animations inspired by Corita’s art, to the interviews that the producer Shawnee Isaac-Smith collected for 20 years with all the religious women, “heroines”, they say, who fought in the 60s for the same things that continue to take to the streets today. Only no longer habit.