US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Catholic women in pop culture

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Roman Catholics, particularly women, don’t always get depicted fairly or accurately in pop culture.  We know the stereotypes: They are usually morally questionable Catholic school girls (or women who went to Catholic school) or generally meek and green nuns in habits. Saturday Night Live alum, Molly Shannon, who played the former as Mary Katherine Gallagher, will now take a stab at portraying a sister in a comedy she’s working on for HBO:

The untitled comedy would star the Saturday Night Live alumna as a nun who makes the difficult decision to leave the convent and confront life in the outside world. Shannon's character became a nun after getting her heart broken at 18. Now she is an utterly innocent woman in her early 40s who has never had sex and has to discover the modern world in all of its tawdriness.

Essentially, Catholic women in pop culture are seen as either saturated with sexuality or completely deprived of it. And in this equation, celibacy means total naivety.  

"It's James Joyce meets Judd Apatow -- a female 40-Year-Old Virgin with a huge dollop of Catholic weirdness thrown in," Long said…It "will be outrageously funny…but it'll also be a serious look at a woman who's 40 but emotionally still in her teens and who needs to get wise very quickly," Long said.

 Hmmm. Raise your hand if the sisters you know and love have are emotionally still in their teens. No one? Didn’t think so. If anything, the women religious I know have a maturity and deep understanding of the world. They are women who possess an awareness of the “tawdriness” of the world, and also of its injustice and suffering. Likewise, they know of its love, its community, and its beauty. Our readers seem to agree.

I like Molly Shannon. Her Sally O’Malley makes me laugh so hard I cry. And I understand that there’s a formula to writing and creating television and film: the simpler and more identifiable the characters, the better. It’s just unfortunate that what is most identifiable about women religious—their commitment to the real work of the church—rarely makes it to the screen.