Share story

Soldiers had their “Band of Brothers.” Now there’s a documentary, “Band of Sisters,” that offers a group portrait of Catholic nuns who have become more activist since Pope John XXIII liberated them from the restrictions of the past.

Half a century after the Second Vatican Council convened, nuns feel free to discuss what’s changed — and what hasn’t. They still run up against sexism, paternalism and delusions about self-sufficiency, though they now stand a better chance of being heard.

Although it was produced over several years, the movie often seems as fresh as the photos of the new 21st-century pope washing the feet of young criminals. The emphasis on empathy and a return to the priorities of scripture is especially striking.

Two nuns offer prayers and sympathy outside an Illinois deportation center. One woman remembers being inspired by the dedication of nuns who gave their lives in El Salvador — a debacle that can now be discussed in harshly political terms.

“We are the risk-takers in the church,” says one. Another admits to being “excited and scared at the same time.”

Black-and-white archival footage is used to suggest the ego-threatening nature of the church before Vatican II. One nun remembers wanting to be “anything but a nun.”

The producer-director, Mary Fishman, can be overly fond of folksy declarations (“I got nothin’ on God”) and cosmic moments (the Big Bang Theory is dragged in toward the end), but she’s alert to even small victories over the years. The result is a revealing account of a work in progress.

John Hartl: