The cast of The Sisterhood, courtesy of A&E Networks.

The cast of The Sisterhood, courtesy of A&E Networks.

As all of my followers will remember (and by followers, I mean my mom and like, two other people in Nebraska), I wrote a skeptical blog post about a new reality show coming to Lifetime T.V.

When I first heard about The Sisterhood, a reality show about five 20-somethings considering the convent, I had my doubts. It is a rare thing for secular media, especially reality T.V., to mix well with religion.

My own experience with discernment had me questioning how this could even be a show. The process involves a lot of prayer, spiritual direction and silence in the chapel – not exactly a recipe for riveting television.

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Furthermore, most media seems to get religion wrong in one way or another. It’s either painted as something lofty and disconnected with the human experience, or frought with scandal and controversy. In my previous post, I wrote: “…considering the secular media’s track record with understanding (read: completely botching) Catholicism, I’m staying skeptical until proven wrong.”

Well, I’m here to say: I’ve been proven wrong. I can’t wait for this show to start.

One of the first signs of hope came when I was investigating the featured religious orders.

They all seemed to be like the sisters I’m used to in my own experience: they wear habits, they are faithful to the Church, they aren’t campaigning for women priests, etc.

And it turns out, they also had some healthy doubts about the show.

Mother Mark, Mother Superior of The Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, New York, said she hesitated for a long time before agreeing to the project.

“Believe me, we don’t need to be on TV,” she said, “we’d just rather chug along and serve the Lord in our own quiet way.”

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Eventually, she said she came to see the show as a chance for evangelization, albeit an unusual one.

“It’s not going to be the usual, and there will be criticisms on both sides,” she said. “But I think it’s worth putting religious life out there, and having young people say, ‘Oh, maybe this something I should think about’, or at least think about serving the Church in some way, or even just think about God for five minutes.”

Several of the higher-ups involved in the project were brought up in the Catholic Church, and Mother Mark said she was impressed with their respect and genuine interest in portraying the reality of religious life.

Mary Donahue, Senior Vice President of Lifetime’s unscripted department and one of the Executive Producers of The Sisterhood, said she and the other Executive Producer are both products of Catholic schools and have experienced sisters in their lives; something that not many people have anymore.

“We work to show our viewers worlds that are unfamiliar to them,” she said, “and Colleen believed the world of discernment, of being inside a convent, fit that overall strand so she pitched this idea.”

But, I argued, prayer and chapel time are quiet, boring activities! Who wants to watch the spiritual grass grow on T.V.?

“Well I believe deciding to become a sister is a dramatic story,” Donahue said. “Think about it in terms of what you are temporarily leaving, or permanently leaving should you be called by God to join a convent. You are leaving your family, you are leaving your friends. You are coming to a really important life decision which is inherently dramatic, you are choosing that you will not be a wife and mother, and you are choosing to be a bride of Christ.”

“Those are really big decisions, and they come with a lot of inherent drama,” she added, “and I think you can make visible those internal decisions.”

Good point, fair enough. Hmmmmm….

But how do we know these girl’s aren’t just vying for their 15 minutes of fame?

Donahue said dozens of girls were interviewed and screened for the project.

“We definitely needed girls that truly believed that they could have a vocation, because it’s very clear if you’ve looked at episode one, the communities would not have allowed them in if they didn’t feel that they could have a true calling,” she said.

“And we’ve been in the television business for a long time, so all of us kind of have a radar for when someone is telling us the truth, and we picked the people who felt truthful to us.”

Part two: Screening the episode

My first reaction was to be critical of everything.

My cousin is a religious sister, and I’ve been on discernment retreats, so I watched with the narrowed eyes of someone with an obviously superior perspective on religious life. (kidding…sort of…)

I will admit, the show was a bit overly dramatic.  When it got to those moments, I tried to remember Mother Mark’s words: This isn’t a Catholic program produced by Catholic T.V.

One scene in particular that is rather over-the-top is where one of the girls doesn’t feel well and has to sit down during Mass. (This happens all. the. time. If I had a nickel for every time me or my siblings felt faint at Mass…I would put in in the collection basket, obviously.)

But in T.V. Land, people don’t sit down during Mass just because they feel faint –  it’s obviously because they are having some sort of an existential crisis. Seriously, this girl sat down and: que the dramatic bells began gonging in the background! Que the vocational questions swirling in her mind at that very moment!

So…that was a bit much.

But other than that, if you can get past some of the over-dramatic bits, the show was very true to my own experiences of sisters.

No, I was never made to wear a pencil skirt and a headband just to go on a come-and-see. No, I was never told to take off my makeup (although, I never wore much, if any, because convent). But these smaller things don’t detract from the bigger picture of the reality of life in the convent that the show does a decent job of portraying.

My favorite part was hearing the sage advice and hilarious comments from the sisters.

At one point, a Carmelite sister is commenting on all of the luggage the girls brought to the convent.

“And I’m thinking, do they really have that many clothes?” she said. “Where do they think they’re going to go, I mean….they’re in a convent!”

These sisters are seriously pure gold.

After watching the whole episode, the intentions of the network seemed pure. The warmth and humanity of the sisters showed through, the genuine soul-searching in the young women was apparent. I was hooked – definitely enough to want to see what happened next and to watch the women grow and mature throughout the process.

But what was it like to actually be on the show?

Christie Young is a native Californian who has been considering the religious life off and on for about nine years now. When a friend told her she should get involved in the project, she balked at first.

“I was like: T.V., and my faith…I don’t know,” she said. But the idea wouldn’t leave her.

“Each step of the way I thought, ‘Ok God, if you want me to do this, then that’s up to you, I’m just going to keep doing my part and keep stepping forward if you keep opening this door,’” she said.

A Catholic school kid since elementary and a graduate of Franciscan University in Stuebenville, Ohio, Young said she had interacted with sisters before, but was nervous about actually considering a life inside the convent.

“What’s really great about this show is that it gave me the opportunity to go inside, and to share it with others and hopefully demystify some (stereotypes) and make it a real option for young Catholics to discern and consider a religious vocation.”

“I think we think of sisters as, ‘Oh they pray all day long and that’s all they do’ or they teach kids and then they go home and pray some more, like they’re these aliens among us,” she said. “And this experience that I’ve had really just shows so much the contrary, that they are real people and that they’re striving, just like we all should be, to follow God’s will for their lives.”

Amen, sister. I mean, maybe a future sister. (I wasn’t allowed to know if anyone officially joined…I have to watch along with everyone else).

So, coming from the perspective of someone who’s fairly familiar with convents, I’d say this show is definitely worth the watch.

There’s enough drama to keep it interesting, but plenty of respect given to the subject that it didn’t me uncomfortable as a faithful Catholic and cousin of a nun.

Lifetime is hoping it appeals to a broader audience than just Catholics, which I say it definitely could. It doesn’t treat anything about religious life as a given or something obvious, so the average person on the street can discover the ins and outs of religious life with this show.

If you’d like to watch along with me, the show is premiering on Lifetime on Tuesday, November 25 at 10 pm ET/PT.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!