Blog Post

Reality TV Enters the Convent

SisterhoodCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

A new reality TV show about the discernment process of five young women who are thinking about entering a convent will air tonight at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.

Fox News is reporting on the docuseries is entitled, The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, and delves into the intense process of discernment young women go through before deciding whether or not to enter a religious order.

"Camera crews were granted access to film inside three convents over six weeks and viewers will see each woman live alongside real nuns to determine whether they have what it takes to become a bride of Christ," Fox reports.

The series was filmed at The Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, New York; The Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Chicago, Illinois; and The Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker in Walton, Kentucky.

"I was a little bit surprised to find out that they were going to be filming in the convents and the nuns are OK with that," said 28-year-old Christie Young, who appears on the show. "We kind of think of nuns to be very private and very quiet, though they are not that way… we think of them that way."

Young admitted she had doubts about participating in the show and allowing the world to view what is a very personal and private process. "[It] was a concern of mine," she told FOX411. "My faith and reality [TV]? Ah! But you know, everything was very professional and respectful."

The show " is produced by Hot Snakes Media, the same producers who have angered the Amish population in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with their series Breaking Amish: LA and Breaking Amish which details the lives of Amish youth who break away from the community. Both Amish and non-Amish residents of Lancaster have started their own campaign, known as The Respect Amish movement to stop the shows which they claim are presenting the Amish lifestyle in negative and inaccurate ways.

It remains to be seen how the same producers will handle the delicate subject of vocation discernment, but some people in the media are already scorning the shows' characters.

For example, Hank Stuever of the Washington Post uses disparaging language to describe the women.

"Claire, a 26-year-old goody-two-shoes from Joliet, Ill., is well-versed in discernment and takes a hard line on the faith (she’s so retro she even uses the term “bride of Christ” without a trace of irony)," Stuever writes.

"Eseni is a 23-year-old fashionista from the Bronx who seeks the simplicity of convent life (and shows up in platform heels and with a Louis Vuitton handbag dangling from her arm); Christie, 27, from Glendale, Calif., is a charismatic believer who speaks eagerly of ecstatic visions in which she and her boyfriend Jesus have slow-danced together and almost made out; Stacey, 26, from Huntington, N.Y., is well-adjusted and open-minded and therefore entirely unsuited to reality TV — except for the fact that she recently gave up on the dream of becoming a Broadway actress."

He continues: "Finally, from Harrison Park, N.J., there’s emotionally fragile Francesca, who has a meltdown on the first afternoon when Mother Mark, the superior general at the St. Teresa convent of the Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm order in Germantown, N.Y., tells the young women they can’t wear makeup during their stay. Francesca makes a tearful case to the camera that God would never want her acne to be seen on TV like this. (It gets worse: Mother Mark also confiscates their smartphones.)"

Stuever insists the show is conducted with reverence and curiosity and without the stereotypes he uses so liberally in his own descriptions.

"I hope that [viewers] walk away understanding what an intense and profound journey [becoming a nun is]," said Mary Donahue, who co-produces the show. "It's a brave thing to take that step…. I hope that they have a further understanding of what it means to be committed in that way as a sister, and I hope they have a profound respect for the work these women do."

We shall see.

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