‘Band of Sisters’ video shows nuns as agents of change

By Rachel Cywinski

LOGOS Staff Writer

Sister Yolanda Tarango remembers well when becoming a nun was the last thing on her mind.

“When I was in grade school and people are asking you, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ — my usual response was, ‘Anything but a nun.’

“And so I don’t know if it’s that I felt some kind of a pull and I was trying to resist it. But in those days the way one thought about vocation was the idea that God calls you and you can’t say ‘no’ to God. And if you do there will be consequences.”

That’s the way Tarango, now completing her six-year term as congregation coordinator for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word based in San Antonio, is introduced at the beginning of the video, “Band of Sisters.”

Tarango is one of the nuns featured in the film highlighting women in Catholic religious orders as agents of change, following the orders given in Vatican II.

During the film, Tarango also commented on the interface of the 1960s Chicano movement and the work of nuns to claim their ethnic identities, and she described the three phases of report and visitation of Catholic women’s religious orders in the United States throughout 2010 and 2011 by the Vatican.

Mary Fishman, executive producer of the film, said, “I hope that people see nuns as a model of how to combine a life of activism with reflection and contemplation. By being grounded in prayer and contemplation, they are able to speak out and act against injustice in a way that’s strong, but nonviolent.

“I hope that it will put to rest the stereotypes people have about sisters — that they’re stern disciplinarians or that they’re naive and out of touch with the world. What Catholic sisters have done should be thought of as a central part in the American story. It’s women’s history. It’s Catholic history. It’s American history.

“I also hope that people can enter into the film at whatever point they are at, and get inspired by something in the film. They might decide to become involved directly with sisters in some work of theirs, or to create their own work for justice in their community or somewhere in the world.   My deepest hope is that people who see the film will begin to change their perception of what it is to be human — that we are not separate from other persons and from the earth, but that we share a common point of origin with every person and every animal, with the earth itself — that we are really connected, and that this is how God intended life to be. If this were part of what we all believed, we would have a much more reverential attitude toward other people, toward all of creation. And we might start to see more creative solutions for the enormous problems we have created for ourselves on earth.”

A Dominican organization, Santuario Sisterfarm in Boerne, Texas, is also featured in the film.  The facility closed in June 2011. Santuario Sisterfarm was a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 by Latinas of the Texas-Mexico Borderlands and Dominican Sisters, and “dedicated to cultivating biodiversity and cultural diversity — and living in right relationship with the whole Earth community.” The organization’s leaders included Adrian Dominican Sisters Carol Coston  and Elise D. García. María Antonietta Berriozábal was founding president of the board of directors. Janie Barrera was the founding vice president and treasurer.

Coston, who now works in her order’s Office of Permaculture in Adrian, Michigan, said, “It was raining, Texas-style, when Mary Fishman and her crew first arrived in San Antonio. My little Prius got flooded when it tried to push through a torrent of water that knocked the front fender into the wheels.

“Mary and her crew came to Santuario Sisterfarm and filmed much of our daily activities, such as bringing buckets of vegetable and fruit peeling from local stores and mixing them with horse manure, leaves, cuttings from bushes, shredded cardboard, etc., for our compost piles. They also filmed for several hours on our tower in the hopes of getting good footage of the Persiad showers.

“Both Elise and I have great respect for Mary Fishman and her desire to tell more of the real story about U.S. Catholic Sisters and the numerous ways they have served the common good.  She captures the views of Sisters about the changes we embraced flowing from the Second Vatican Council: new ministries such as NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Mercy Housing, immigration reform, peace and justice centers (such as 8th Day Center in Chicago), legal services for the poor, contemplative spirituality, permaculture, etc.

“Many congregations of women religious, recognizing the responsibilities and opportunities on our precious Motherhouse lands, established centers dedicated to (take) care of Earth, respect for all life forms, and the creation of small farms using organic methods of food production (not using dangerous pesticides, herbicides, and soil-depleting fertilizers, etc.). These centers also teach the story of evolution now available to us from science.

“Elise García and I, in collaboration with our board, chose to close the nonprofit because fund raising for our programs was becoming more and more difficult. We lived and worked on Sisterfarm for 19 years and we both felt we might be more helpful to this emerging ecological consciousness by working in our Adrian Dominican Motherhouse in (Michigan). In 2011 we sold Sisterfarm to Vangie Bazan and Susan Klein who had helped in every project of land clearing, garden preparation, deck building, tower construction, orchard planting, etc., since 1992.  They established Sister Creek Studios (in) 2002 to develop websites such as www.sisterfarm.org, www.adriandominicans.org and http://www.headwaterscoalition.org.

Fishman said the DVD is now available exclusively for educational use in universities, colleges and high schools.

“I have a theatrical booker who arranges for the film to be screened in independent movie theaters, art museums, and film festivals around the country, and I also get requests directly from universities, convents, parishes, retreat centers, groups, and individuals who wish to set up a screening,” Fishman said. “The home viewing DVD (which will have extra scenes, including one with Tarango and Visitation House – another Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word ministry) will be released sometime in early 2014.”



“Band of Sisters” will be shown at noon Thursday, March 6, in J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library Auditorium.

Dr. Gilberto Hinojosa, a history professor at the University of the Incarnate Word, will moderate a discussion following the showing.

The library has purchased the educational version of the documentary, which entitles the university to “the right to classroom and library use, and the right to screen the film to its students, faculty and staff, on campus and satellite campus grounds, where no admission is charged and where there is no off-campus advertising,” according to Band of Sisters Ltd.

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