Australian
Screen

an NFSA website

God’s Girls: Stories from an Australian Convent (1992)

A video which normally appears on this page did not load because the Flash plug-in was not found on your computer. You can download and install the free Flash plug-in then view the video. Or you can view the same video as a downloadable MP4 file without installing the Flash plug-in.

Email a link to this page
To:
CC:
Subject:
Body:
clip Today's nuns education content clip 3

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

By the early 1990s it was likely that the Roman Catholic order of nuns, the Sisters of Mercy, was going to die out. Women who have chosen to stay in the order explain their reasons for staying, and talk about the new role of nuns in society today.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows women from a Sisters of Mercy convent in country New South Wales, talking about their reasons for taking their vows and why, despite the challenges they face in today’s society, they remain true to their vocation. In an interview intercut with archival film footage of a nun in the 1950s working in a professional setting and another graduating, a sister reflects on the freedom and opportunities the Mercy sisters have had compared with other women in the Church and within the broader community. Another sister talks positively about the ways the Mercy sisters are working to meet contemporary needs.

Educational value points

  • The clip features some of the issues facing women who have chosen a religious vocation. During the 1950s and 1960s, the number of people taking up a religious vocation was strong, but by the 1970s, large numbers were leaving religious life and new memberships continued to drop throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
  • In charting their own history, the Sisters of Mercy acknowledge that the social, political and economic changes occurring at all levels of society during the 1960s, especially in the educational and employment opportunities available to young women, made their semi-monastic lifestyle with its tight structures and formal customs unappealing to many women.
  • The clip features Mercy sisters in a range of modern ministries, including a prison and an AIDS clinic, revealing that their work has changed. The sisters’ traditional focus on women and children in health and education has expanded to embrace a wide range of poor and marginalised people in any area of need.
  • Working primarily within the community services and educational sectors, the sisters use new technologies such as digital storytelling to create works that value diverse cultures and promote tolerance and understanding.
  • The clip offers insight into the history of the Sisters of Mercy and their vision for the future. The Sisters of Mercy was founded in Dublin in 1831 by Catherine McAuley, based on a vision she had of serving Christ by meeting the needs of the poor. In 1846, the Sisters of Mercy came to Australia and the organisation spread rapidly, in response to the needs of a pioneering society. By 1981, to overcome declining numbers, the surviving foundations formed broader networks nationally and globally while retaining local autonomy. The Sisters of Mercy expanded their mission statement to embrace an outward and global approach towards 'reconciling and embracing difference’.
  • Music is an integral element of the clip. The organ- and piano-based music of David Bridie and John Phillips fades in and out of the interviews, archival footage and stylised contemporary imagery. As a stained glass image of Catherine McAuley is revealed, the music builds and evokes a sense of hopefulness, reinforcing the respect the women feel for their founder and the hope they express for their future.
  • David Bridie and John Phillips, both members of the band Not Drowning, Waving, have collaborated on many film projects including the documentaries Body Work, Whitlam, Labor in Power and Koiki, Eddie Mabo and the feature films Greenkeeping, That Eye the Sky, Idiot Box and River Street.

This clip starts approximately 42 minutes into the documentary.

We see a group photograph of nuns from the Sisters of Mercy. Cut to a head shot of Sister 1 in civilian dress as she is being interviewed in an office setting. Interwoven with the interview is footage of the grounds of the convent.
Sister 1 As each school holiday came along I waited for someone to come and tell me they were leaving, and sometimes they came in twos and that went on for a couple of years. It was quite devastating really, um, because you found your peers going and you found people who you saw as the hope of the future, young leaders deciding to go, and I suppose every time somebody left, you had to go right through this whole thing, ‘Why am I staying? What’s this thing all about?’. I suppose the reason I stayed is because I can’t go, and even though I can see all sorts of reasons why people don’t stay and I can see the difficulties of living in the church at the moment and living a religious life at the moment, that’s where God wants me to be and that’s where I have to stay until it’s very different from that.

Sister 2 is interviewed casually in a lounge. We see shots of her at work and participating in a fun run.
Sister 2 Certainly when people leave I’ve asked the question why I stay and that question remains with me. I wouldn’t pretend for one minute that I um, don’t ask that question of why I stay. It certainly is a challenge to stay.

Sister 1 interviewed in her office. We see photos of different sisters in the convent working in a busy office and accepting graduation at a formal ceremony. Inspirational keyboard music is heard.
Sister 1 In women’s congregations, we had a lot of freedom that other women in the church didn’t have. We were running schools and hospitals at times when women didn’t do those things, even in the secular world and um, I think that might be something that attracted me into it a little bit because I saw women who were professional women doing their job extremely well and getting recognition for it. We are a pretty highly educated group of people now and many of our sisters have quite significant positions. The effects of that certainly have a lot to do with our opinion of ourselves as women, I’m sure. We’re not second-class citizens and we know we’re not.

The camera pans up a stained glass window inside a church with piano music playing, the camera pauses on the detail of a nun. Sister 3 is interviewed indoors.
Sister 3 We’re sort of going back to where it all began. Catherine wanted and had a vision of young women who would come and be with her for a while and then maybe go away again, but the structures of the church and the restrictions of canon law made that impossible and now we are beginning to see ways that that might become possible.

Sister 1 in her office, followed by photographs of other women from the Sisters of Mercy. We see a nun walking into a prison, and a nun administering communion to a man in a retirement hospice.
Sister 1 We find sisters in a variety of ministries now, many of them working alone in that ministry in terms of other mercy sisters. So you have people like Pat Whitten at the AIDS clinic in Newcastle and Julie Rhys in Long Bay, in the education area there, and um, lots of our own sisters working as parish assistants here in the diocese.

Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer Today's nuns from the documentary God's Girls: Stories from an Australian Convent as a high quality video download.

To play the downloadable video, you need QuickTime 7.0, VLC, or similar.

You must read and agree to the following terms and conditions before downloading the clip:

australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

This clip is available in the following configurations:

File nameSizeQualitySuitability
godsgirl3_pr.mp4 Large: 27.4MB High Optimised for full-screen display on a fast computer.
godsgirl3_bb.mp4 Medium: 12.9MB Medium Can be displayed full screen. Also suitable for video iPods.

Right-click on the links above to download video files to your computer.

Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer this clip in an embeddable format for personal or non-commercial educational use in full form on your own website or your own blog.

You must read and agree to the following terms and conditions before embedding the clip:

australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

Copy and paste the following code into your own web page to embed this clip: