I was born and raised in a Catholic family, with an aunt and an uncle on my mother’s side who both answered the call to a life in the cloth. Growing up, it seemed only natural that my family – at least somewhere within the tree – would include a priest or a nun; at that time it was not uncommon for Catholic families like mine to have that kind of makeup.
Although in and of itself this situation was not strange, I recall knowing that my Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe weren’t like my other aunts and uncles. I remember one time when I was 12 or 13, Aunt Mary called our house and I picked up the phone. She said, “Hello, dear. Is your mother there?” “No,” I replied. Then she said, “Please tell her Sister John Mary called.” I told her I would, but what I really wanted to say was: “You know you are my aunt, not just a nun.” I didn’t get to see her too often, but we did see her as much as was allowed. At times our meetings were carefree. At other times, they were a bit formal. But always the habit she donned demanded reverence, and sometimes it created a distance between us.
As I continue my time on this planet – and because I have an endless fascination with the human spirit – I often reflect on my Aunt Mary’s life and marvel at how often she reinvented herself to serve others. In August 2005 I paid a visit to the Mother House of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters in Monroe, Michigan, where my Aunt Mary currently resides. I had never been there, and my aunt, who resides in the Senior Living Center, was very eager to give me the grand tour. As we walked around the grounds and looked at the splendid facilities, I was struck more by the people than the place. That is to say, the human architecture was much more staggering than the wood, bricks and stones surrounding us. All of these sharp sisters were still living not only their lives but also their vows to serve others.
At that moment I wondered to myself, who shares these women’s stories? Who tells the tale of these nuns and the lifelong commitment they have made to the church and society? The answer: Me. I do. I had received the call; the job was mine.
After jumping into this project head first, seeing the story through has been an adventure. I have been blessed to have friends, family, colleagues and advisors to guide my way. It was a gift to have Greg Murphy, my understanding cameraman, on location in Michigan for the shoot. Back in New York, visionary editor Joseph Arbo brought such sensitivity and respect to the film. The icing on the cake was applied by Mat Eisenstein, who composed such thoughtful and inspiring music for the score.
The storytelling process has been illuminating and challenging, and often has led me into uncharted waters. Appropriate, I think, as it mirrors the journeys of women in the religious life.
This is the story of my aunt, Sister John Mary Baker, and Sister Stephanie Mueller. Two sisters, two women, two friends who have taken vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience. This is their story, living in the present, reflecting on the past, and looking toward the future as they continue to serve.
As Atticus Finch says in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, “You really never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” At the end of this walk, you will know these sisters, and you will be inspired to reflect on your own life’s journey.
-- Anne Marie Offer