I grew up in a very insular Protestant environment.
My images of nuns were formed almost entirely by the media, and even those were scant: Sidney Poitier building a chapel for the German-speaking nuns in Lilies of the Field, and Julie Andrews waltzing around the Austrian hills in The Sound of Music.
Both movies were memorable for their music. Julie Andrews (rightly) gets a lot of play, but have you heard Poitier sing Amen? It blew my mind, this mix of cultures singing a song that spoke to my heart.
Then there was the absolutely ridiculousÂ TV show The Flying Nun.Â Sally Field flew about the countryside at least once an episode, thanks to the winged hat of her habit. But to my 9-year-old self, she was beautiful and inspiring. Look at that face.
(Did I miss any good “nun movies”?)
I can’t remember having any friends who were Catholic until I was 20.
I spent the summer of 1978 in Yellowstone National Park, working in a kitchen. I chopped vegetables and washed dishes next to Caroline, a Catholic girl from the Bronx. She was tougher than I, acquainted with the rough-and-tumble of New York City.
So I was surprised that she wept when Pope Paul VI died that August. I wondered why the Pope mattered to her.
“Why are you crying?”
Caroline was surprised that I was surprised. Then she was angry.
“You don’t know, and you call yourself a Christian?” she said, with real bitterness.
She had a point.
But in truth, I knew nothing about the Pope and his death had no meaning at all to me.
(to be continued)