George P. Matysek Jr. is the assistant managing editor of The Catholic Review in Baltimore.

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The Narthex

Obama picks outspoken sister for advisory council

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck (National Catholic Reporter Photo)

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, a critic of the Vatican's apostolic visitation of American religious sisters, has been picked by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The appointment was announced today.

According to a Feb. 4 White House release, the advisory council "brings together religious and secular leaders as well as scholars and experts in fields related to the work of faith-based and neighborhood organizations in order to make recommendations to the government on how to improve partnerships."

Sister Marlene, past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, made waves in September when she appeared on CNN and raised concerns about the apostolic visitation, which was announced in 2009 to look at the quality of life of U.S. congregations of women religious.

"We weren't quite expecting to walk into this kind of process that would test our authenticity and our integrity," she told CNN of the visitation.

Concerned that Rome may expect American sisters to return to a more traditional form of religious life, the Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration said "there is no turning back."

"I don't think that happens in any living organism," she said. "God doesn't turn the creation in opposite directions."

Here's a blurb on Sister Marlene's appointment from the White House release:

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, Appointee for Member, President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Sister Marlene Weisenbeck is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Sister Weisenbeck is an officer and past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a canonically approved membership organization which exists as a support system and corporate voice for leaders of religious institutes of Catholic Sisters in the United States. She also serves as Chairperson of the Catholic Health Association’s Sponsorship/Canon Law Committee and is a consultant in religious law. Sister Weisenbeck was president of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from 2002-2010. She is also past president of the National Conference of Vicars for Religious and Chancellor for the Diocese of La Crosse. Sister Weisenbeck holds a B.M. Ed. degree from Viterbo University, an M.M. from George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, a J.C.L. in Canon Law from Saint Paul University-Ottawa, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Click here for bios of the other appointees.

February 04, 2011 08:33
By George Matysek


All shook up

Mary Tyler Moore stars with Elvis Presley in the 1969 movie, 'Change of Habit.'

Ursuline Sister Anne Michelle Mudd has devoted more than 50 years serving the King of Kings as a religious sister. At the same time, it seems the now-retired Catholic school teacher has also been a fan of another king: he of rhinestone jumpsuit fame.

The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer in Kentucky recently reported on Sister Anne Michelle's love for Elvis Presley, expressed in an impressive collection of Elvis memorabilia that includes miniature Elvis cutouts, pillows and a thermometer.

A snip:

Sister Anne Michelle is a soft-spoken woman. She said people are sometimes surprised that she is such a devoted collector of Elvis memorabilia.Over the years, she has accumulated hundreds of items. Many of them were given to her by friends, family and students.

"The students call my house the Elvis Museum," she said.

Elvis is even in the bathroom. The shower curtain is Jailhouse Rock Elvis in his striped shirt.

Elvis' last movie, Change of Habit, was released in 1969. He falls in love with a nun named Sister Michelle. But the nun, played by Mary Tyler Moore, chooses her vocation over Elvis.

"I would have done the same," Sister Anne Michelle said when asked.

Check out more here.

January 16, 2011 01:21
By George Matysek


Nuns share spotlight with Lady Gaga

Benedictine Nuns of Notre-Dame

Looks like Lady Gaga has some competition.

An order of French nuns has climbed the U.S. and U.K. classical charts with a new album, "Voices: Chant from Avignon."

Bloomberg has the story here.  A snip:

The Benedictine Nuns of Notre-Dame topped U.S. and U.K. classical charts with their album “Voices: Chant From Avignon” on Universal Music Group’s Decca Records after a search for female Gregorian chanters. Forbidden from leaving the convent, the women shot the album cover and TV commercial and signed the record deal by passing papers under a grill that divides them from the outside world.

The nuns now share a record company with artists such as Lady Gaga, who was educated at New York’s Convent of the Sacred Heart, Elton John, Eminem and Amy Winehouse. The sisters are part of a wave of singing fishermen, soldiers and painters that record companies are courting to appeal to an older, often- ignored audience that’s accustomed to paying for music and not downloading it illegally.

“This is part of the reality of selling music in the 21st century,” said Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst at Forrester Research. “You go after every little niche you can get. There’s also a genuine recognition that labels can’t afford not to pay attention to this segment anymore.”

Record companies are cashing in on such acts with a flurry of releases this Christmas season, including the nuns and music from The Chelsea Pensioners and The Great British Barbershop Boys. About 25 percent of all albums are sold in December, according to the British Recorded Music Industry trade organization.

December 16, 2010 01:45
By George Matysek


John Philip Sousa couldn't say no

A tapestry at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore commemorates a performance by John Philip Sousa benefiting a new Baltimore hospital built by the Sisters of Mercy. (Mercy Medical Center Photo/Kevin Parks)

A tapestry at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore commemorates a performance by John Philip Sousa in the 1880s. The concert benefitted a new Baltimore hospital built by the Sisters of Mercy. (Mercy Medical Center Photo/Kevin Parks)

Nuns with a good cause are generally unstoppable.

Consider this fascinating story I learned Dec. 9 while on a media tour of Mercy Medical Center’s new $400 million Mary Catherine Bunting Center in Baltimore.

Back in the 1880s, when the Sisters of Mercy were building a new hospital in Baltimore, someone suggested they book John Philip Sousa and his U.S. Marine Band for a fundraising fair. The famed composer and “master of the march” was the Bono of his day, drawing huge crowds across the country for concerts.

The nuns hatched a plan to travel to Washington, D.C., where they intended to meet President Grover Cleveland and ask his permission for Sousa and his band to appear at the fair.

Sister Mary Borgia Leonard, one of the nuns who traveled to the capital, wrote in a letter that the sisters departed from Calvert Station in Baltimore without a clue as to how they would secure a meeting with the president.

The sisters somehow managed to get into the White House, where Sister Mary Borgia reported that a “liveried brass-buttoned official” informed them that the president was “out riding” and that it would be impossible to see him. Another official later suggested they consult the Secretary of the Navy, helping them set up the meeting.

Sister Mary Borgia wrote that the secretary “listened attentively to our story and responded to our request without the least hesitation."

Sousa performed on the opening night of the Baltimore fair, helping the sisters raise an astounding sum of $20,000 – the equivalent of about $440,000 in today’s dollars.

Sousa once said that “sincere composers believe in God.” Sounds like they also believe in God’s nuns.

December 10, 2010 03:23
By George Matysek