by Alison Faubert
“I never would have guessed when I entered religious life that I would be doing this,” smiles Nancy Murray, OP, about her 12-years-and-counting run in a one-woman show, “Catherine of Siena: A Woman for Our Times.” While on the surface it may seem somewhat unusual for a nun to be an actress, it actually makes a lot of sense when you consider the family she comes from. Four of her siblings also act—most famously her brother Bill, the Oscar-nominated star of “Lost in Translation” and dozens of other movies. “He said one day: ‘People have been sending me all these articles about you,’ and I said: “Great! All these years they’ve been sending them to me about you’.”
Sister Nancy will perform the two-hour show as a fundraiser for the Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center in Ossining, New York, on Sunday, Oct. 14 at 12:30 p.m. She wrote the show at the behest of a panel for the Dominican Leadership Conference (DLC) in 2000. Based on recent translations of 400 letters in which the 14th century Italian saint debated political and church issues of the day with princes, cardinals and popes, it shows Catherine as a precocious but rebellious child in a large Tuscan family who grew up to be a “radical feminist” with lots of spunk and humor, says Sister Nancy.
Catherine wielded extraordinary influence for a woman of her time, and is credited with helping to influence Pope Gregory XI to bring the Papacy back from Avignon to Rome and to reform the clergy. Catherine, who died at 33, is a Doctor of the Church and, with St. Dominic, considered a co-founder of the Dominican Order. “She was strong and feisty,” Sister Nancy says, “but her affection was irresistible.”
And why does Sister Nancy call her “a woman for our times”? Parallels abound, says Sister Nancy, between St. Catherine’s 14th century world and ours—including a health scourge (the plague then, AIDS now), wars, a failure to take care of the poor and, of course, troubles within the church.
Catherine, in Sister Nancy’s words, “will ever be the voice of the humble, the one who speaks truth to power.” And playing her onstage so many times has inevitably affected Sister Nancy: “I can’t keep doing her lines without saying ‘I’ve got to write to the government’” to protest or to plead for something she believes in—such as helping the poor. When she is not onstage, Sister Nancy works in a shelter in Chicago, doing the women’s laundry, or with migrant children.
While she isn’t planning to doff St. Catherine’s habit just yet, Sister Nancy is starting to branch out a bit. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have asked her to tell the story of Sister Dorothy Stang—an advocate of the rural poor in the Brazilian rainforest who was murdered by two ranchers for her convictions—and she is working on a script for a play about Karen Klimczak, the Sister of St. Joseph who worked tirelessly on behalf of ex-prisoners—and who was murdered on Good Friday, 2006, by a parolee.
“People love stories,” observes Sister Nancy, “and these are stories they need to hear.”
“St. Catherine of Siena: A Woman for Our Times” will be performed at Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center, a sponsored ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, in Ossining, New York, on Sunday, Oct. 14. Tickets are $35 for a matinee and lunch. There will be two seatings, first seating 11:30 lunch and 12:30 matinee, second seating 12:30 matinee and 2:30 lunch. Call (914) 941-4455 for more information or reservations or visit www.mariandale.org.
Alison Faubert is communications director for the Dominican Sisters of Hope