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Behind Doubt
In bringing Doubt to the screen, John Patrick Shanley moves well beyond the stereotype of the parochial school nun and reveals these remarkable women as rich human characters who have chosen to lead spiritual lives devoted to love, prayer, compassion and service.

To do so, he had a lot of help from the Sisters of Charity who had taught him as a child at St. Anthony's, several of whom shared their own recollections of what moved them to embrace vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and what life was like in the convent and parochial school.

Then, as now, the lives of the nuns moved to a deep, devotional rhythm focused on finding God in the midst of serving the poor and needy. For these sisters, the very choice to become a nun in a cloister was so radically different from what most of the girls around them were doing that it was sometimes clearly questioned by friends and family. "I felt I was answering a direct call. I just knew this was something God wanted,” says Sister Irene Fugazi, who has been a Sister of Charity for 71 years. "But it was very hard to explain that to other people. My father eventually agreed, but very reluctantly. And he gave me three weeks before quitting . . . of course, he was wrong and many years later, he admitted that.”

The nuns' lives back then were simpler, stricter and more isolated than they are today. They adhered to a rigid schedule, the horarium, which began at the break of dawn when the women were awakened by a bell for morning prayers, followed by time for silent, personal meditation. After mass at 7 a.m., the nuns would have a small, silent breakfast before the teaching day would begin. Sister Peggy recalls that, after the workday was done, the women looked forward to dinner. "Afterwards we took turns washing the dishes and then we would go in for our night prayers,” she says. "They would ring a night silence bell at 8:10 and by 9 p.m. it was supposed to be lights out, although I remember I kept a secret flashlight for reading.”

In those days, the nuns were often kept apart from the rest of the world, including their families. When they did have to leave the cloister for a doctor or dentist appointment, they always had a companion. "It was rather austere,” Sister Peggy notes. "We couldn't have wine or go to parties. We were allowed to go funerals but not weddings. They were very strict about that. I couldn't even go to my brother's wedding, which was sad, but you accepted that this was the life to which you committed.”

Outside of the classroom, silence was way of life, a way of staying closer to God. "We were pretty much in silence unless the sister in charge had mercy on you or had something good to chat to you about,” recalls Sister Fugazi.

Inside the classroom these women were dedicated to their young charges, even as they struggled with the rigors of teaching classes of 42 children or more. Notes Sister Fugazi, "I love teaching and I love children. But if you really wanted them to learn, you had to have order. And you learned to keep order. But my students also knew that I really loved them, even the scamps. I would go out at lunchtime and teach them to play basketball or hockey.”

In 1964, when the film takes place, the sisters were acutely aware that changes were coming to the church, changes that did not always appeal to the older nuns but were welcomed by the ones just beginning. The liberalizations that followed Vatican II allowed them more freedom and contact with the world. The strictness of their life inside the convent was gradually relaxed. They were allowed to get drivers licenses, to vote, and they became as Father Flynn says, "friendlier.” "I think Vatican 2 has helped us in our relationship with the laity. Now I can really get to know the families of my students,” continues Sister Peggy.

Still, many of the nuns ap


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