TV journalist profiles future, current, ex-nuns on 'Brides of Christ'
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Television journalist Lisa Ling profiled two new postulants, a former nun and an active sister she called "the one person in whom I truly see God" for an upcoming episode of her documentary series "Our America With Lisa Ling."
The active sister in the segment, called "Brides of Christ," is Sister Margaret Farrell, an Irish-born Religious Sister of Charity who works for Covenant House California in Los Angeles.
Ling met Sister Margaret when, during a previous reporting assignment, she met a teenage prostitute in Las Vegas and sought help for her.
"I was really challenged to find a place (for her) to stay," Ling told Catholic News Service. "Someone told me about Covenant House. And I told Sister Margaret. And she said she can come anytime. I just fell in love with her.
Pictured: Television journalist Lisa Ling, host of the cable TV documentary series "Our America With Lisa Ling," is pictured with Carmelite Sister Thien of Terre Haute, Ind., in a scene at the convent. The interview is part of "Brides of Christ," an episode of the series, which is being shown on the Oprah Winfrey Network. (CNS photo/courtesy Oprah Winfrey Network)
"People like prostitutes are the most condemned members of society, but you know and I know that Jesus had a very strong relationship with prostitutes in the Bible and some of the strongest characters in the Bible are prostitutes," added Ling.
In "Brides of Christ," which will be shown Sunday, June 17, 10-11 p.m. EDT on cable's Oprah Winfrey Network, Ling says Sister Margaret is "the one person in whom I truly see God because she loves the people society rejected." In the documentary the nun is seen working with transgendered prostitutes to try to convince them to get off the street.
Sister Margaret, in a separate telephone interview with CNS, said she joined religious life in 1982.
"I was looking for an order that served the poor. We took a fourth vow, to serve the poor. One of the areas (of ministry) was serving in prisons," she said. "When I was a novice in '86 or '85, I was sent here to work in an assignment in juvenile hall. I loved it."
She added, "It was my passion to work with people who were incarcerated. I went back to Ireland, took my vows, worked in London in prisons and with the poor."
On her work with the transgendered, Sister Margaret said, "We don't question them on what their sexual orientation is, we take them for who they are and we let them be. They feel comfortable with us. They have horrendous stories. They are rejected by everyone in society and they are very sad -- very, very sad.
"One of the first youths who died that I had known, he was a transgendered prostitute who had left our program, who was shot in the street. His mom didn't even want to pick up his cremains from the morgue."
"Brides of Christ" also looks at the lives of two young women, Thien and Marilis -- last names of whom were not used in the episode, and neither of whom could be reached for an interview. Both were entering religious life as postulants.
Thien entered a cloistered Carmelite community in Terre Haute, Ind. "I wanted to do this for God," she said. Asked on the program what she was going to miss most upon leaving for convent life, she replied, "Everything."
"Our America," though, gives viewers a rare look at the cloister, including not only the sisters' prayer life but also the Friday evening card games they play.
Marilis, 22, who majored in psychology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, told "Our America," "I really want to wear the habit." So before joining the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Ill., she had a yard sale in the parking lot of her parish church to sell the personal effects she knew she would not need in convent life.
In order to join the community, she must be debt-free -- but Marilis carried $80,000 in college loans. Her mother, a nurse who raised Marilis as a single parent, agreed to assume the debt to allow her daughter to go to the convent. Marilis told "Our America," "I'm doing God's will, so how can I be throwing my life away?"
Even former nun Linda Testana had no crisis of faith in wrestling with her decision of whether to stay with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon, France, or to leave after 25 years in religious life.
"God was there for me" even after leaving religious life, Testana told "Our America." She ultimately married the widower of a woman to whom she had once ministered on her deathbed, and now works as a bereavement counselor.
"I look at those 25 years of my life as a real blessing, and I feel so honored in spirit," Testana told CNS. "I'm going to die a Sister of St. Joseph, because there's such a love that I've always had for the Sisters of St. Joseph." In her case, she added, "I reached a point in my own journey that I knew I had to make a decision, from a place of justice for myself as well as for the community."
She thought back to the sisters she saw leave religious life during her own years in the convent.
"A lot of the sisters that I had as teachers were leaving religious life, and that was really hard for me," Testana said. "I came in as a woman wanting to change the world. I loved their zest for life. I loved their quest for laughter and service, and these people were leaving and it was hard."
However, because of religious life, "I am a stronger person today," Testana said. "We're all called to be great. That's what I try to share every day with people. It's not what we do, it's who we are. That's what I so want to share. ... I have been so, so blessed."
— Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service