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The Singing Nun

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 24, 2014

Ah, Phil, Phil, curmudgeonly Phil. Did you really have to say, “An Italian nun is a singing sensation, and I don't care”? When the whole world is brimming with hope that Sister Cristina Scuccia will make people love nuns again, as well as stimulating vocations, did Phil really have to say, “I have my doubts”?

Surely Phil is not so young as to have forgotten the even more famous singing nun, the Belgian Jeanne Paule Deckers, who took religion as a Dominican under the name Sister Luc-Gabrielle? Surely he recalls how this talented young woman was encouraged by her superiors to make an album that could be sold to visitors and retreatants. Surely he remembers how Sr. Luc-Gabrielle topped the charts with one of the songs in that album, selling over two million copies of the hit single “Dominique” in 1962?

I turned fourteen that year, though Phil is a little younger. Hint: “Dominique-a-nique-nique-nique”—I can still hear it in my head. Heck, in 1965, Debbie Reynolds starred in a movie based on Sister Luc-Gabrielle, called The Singing Nun. Anyway, can Phil have forgotten that the income from her recordings went to the Dominicans?

I would despair of Phil, except that I know he remembers. I am sure he does. He probably also remembers how Sister Luc-Gabrielle was later sent off to study theology at the University of Louvain in 1963, only to reconnect and desire a closer relationship with a childhood friend, Anne Pécher. And how she began increasingly to question the doctrines of the Catholic Church. And how she tried to pursue a career in music, but nothing worked after that first hit.

I suppose he also recalls how she continued down the path of dissent, becoming such an advocate of contraception that she sought relevance by recording a song entitled “Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill”. And how she left the convent and decided to live with her good friend Anne. And how she was given another opportunity in 1973 when Leo Cardinal Suenens (who was never known to lay much stress on Catholic doctrine) asked her to compose music for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

But it just never worked out for the Singing Nun. I guess Phil also remembers how, after another decade of career failure, depression and counseling, Jeanne Paule Deckers and her friend Anne engaged in a suicide pact, in which both women took their own lives on March 29, 1985.

I do not say this with glee; it is a tragedy. Nor can anyone assert that all these problems arose from a brush with secular fame. But perhaps Phil was right after all when he asked a cautionary question about the new Italian sensation: “Is she learning to act more like a pop star, or are the pop stars learning to act more like Christians?”

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Mar. 25, 2014 9:17 PM ET USA

    I'm with you, Phil. The sight of a habited nun gyrating is rather incongruent. I suggest we pray that she is able to withstand the pressures of the pop singing world and that she truly is a witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Mar. 25, 2014 9:13 PM ET USA

    That is quite a story. I never heard of her, but I was born in 1978.

  • Posted by: tasha1996 - Mar. 25, 2014 9:06 PM ET USA

    When I saw Sr. Cristina singing, my thought was whether she'd be like an angel to inspire the judges and audience or she'd be the one overpowered by the music and environment which are not tasteful by Catholic standard or shall I say, by my own standard. One of the judges looked like Faust in the opera by Gounod or Massenet.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 25, 2014 11:45 AM ET USA

    A lot of religious shook the ecclesiastical dust from their feet in the 1960s in search of increasing relevance within the world while seeing the decreasing relevance of the mystical life--Thomas Merton also comes to mind. Sex was often in the mix. Few, however, had the panache to bite the dust in a suicide pact. Sic transit gloria mundi.

  • Posted by: jgmiller - Mar. 24, 2014 10:20 PM ET USA

    I thought of the Singing Nun, also. I didn't know about her alternative lifestyle, though! I always believed the original attraction was that she was a nun singing religious songs. When she abandoned her habit and original religious themes, she lost her popularity...but I don't think she understood that! What's more impressive is the current chart topping nuns from Missouri, The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, singing like nuns with traditional Catholic music.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 24, 2014 10:06 PM ET USA

    Oh, the human condition. Phil has sounded more somber of late in his writings, musings etc. But he's been right on target. And this is a big part of finding true happiness. The media will make of the Church in the time of Pope Francis something that might not be all that we might hope. The Church is so much more than her personalities and her "rock-stars." It's Lent, and it's a good time to focus our gaze on those things that transcend "failure, depression, and counseling." Even death.

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