New documentary airs for first time

April 21, 2009 by

Before the first-ever screening of “Interrupted Lives” Monday evening, Sister Mary Savoie asked her audience to watch the so-called rough cut of the one-hour documentary with a couple of thoughts in mind:

“There’s a lot of information in this one hour,” she told the 60 or so sisters gathered in the auditorium of the Motherhouse, “but what we want you to focus on is what inspires you… Not just information but inspiration.”

The question she urged her fellow Sisters of St. Joseph to consider was this: “What seed allowed these women to persevere?”

Sister Mary Savoie talks to the crowd gathered Monday evening at the Motherhouse to watch the first-ever showing of a rough cut of Interrupted Lives, a one-hour documentary on the lives of religious women in Eastern Europe under communism.

Sister Mary Savoie talks to the crowd gathered Monday evening at the Motherhouse to watch the first-ever showing of a "rough cut" of "Interrupted Lives," a one-hour documentary on the lives of religious women in Eastern Europe under communism.

It’s clearly a question that has driven Sister Mary and her partner, Sister Margaret Nacke, in the early six years they have devoted to meeting sisters in eight countries in Eastern Europe and researching the impact of Eastern European communism on those women as individuals and on their religious orders. Ultimately, it has been the question that led to the collaboration with NewGroup Media and the development of the documentary, which was aired for the first time Monday night.

The next step will be to send a version of the film, produced by NewGroup Media of South Bend, Ind., to the Catholic Communication Campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for its OK. The USCCB donated $185,000 of the $350,000 Sisters Mary and Margaret said they needed to raise for the documentary.

After that, they will work to finalize a tentative agreement they have with ABC Television to air the documentary this fall. Their hope is to also produce a study guide to accompany the film, and a web site to complement is already in the works.

The sisters at Monday night’s screening clearly found the work worthwhile as they struggled with the answer to Sister Mary’s question.

The film covers the era from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and spans Eastern Europe from Lithuania to Slovakia and the Ukraine. The story is told in relatively straightforward historical terms, interspersed with the horrific personal stories of religious women who survived it.

Through their stories, with explanation from the narrator, viewers learn there was not a single universal experience for religious women in that time and place; while all sisters were oppressed under the governmental atheism of the Soviet Union, the degrees of that oppression varied from country to country. Some orders were disbanded and the sisters displaced or assigned to what became known as “concentration convents,” while other sisters were imprisoned, tortured and even killed for refusing to forsake their beliefs.

“I am ashamed of every complaint I’ve ever had,” said one of the older Sisters of St. Joseph at the end of Monday night’s showing. “We are asked to give so little,” said another, “and they were asked to give so much.”

For more on the work of Sisters Mary Savoie and Margaret Nacke, go to

To meet some of the Eastern European sisters, go to


8 Responses to “New documentary airs for first time”

  1. Gina Peltier on May 20th, 2009 6:47 pm

    Congratulations Mary and Margaret for this great work. We will be in Concordia this summer and hope to see you. I know women who live in the DC area that were amazed and happy that the sisters in these Eastern European countries were being interviewed and thus remembered in this way!!

  2. Jean Ann Walton, Agregee Candidate on May 12th, 2009 7:30 am

    The documentary, INTERRUPTED LIVES, is an incredible film. We here in the USA have no concept of what it is like to be tortured or live with that kind of hardships.Thank you Mary and Margaret for bringing our attention to these Sisters’ lives. I can hardly wait till it is aired on ABC so the rest of the world can see what has happen to these courages Sisters.

  3. Jodi Creten, CSJ on May 12th, 2009 5:56 am

    The documentary was all that I hoped it would be, and more! The hardships those women religious endured only served to strengthen their faith, and kudos to both of you, Mary and Margaret for interviewing them and seeing that their story be told.

  4. Faye Huelsmann on May 10th, 2009 8:06 pm

    I, too, am eager to see the documentary of M&M’s Congratulations, you two, for your perserverance in organizing, fundraising and interviewing the Sisters for this documentary. Raising that much money was monumental and you did it!!

  5. Jeanette on May 2nd, 2009 6:42 am

    Thanks much, Jeanette. We think NewGroup Media did a good job. We should have the final copy of INTERRUPTED LIVE – CATHOLIC SISTERS UNDER EUROPEAN COMMUNISM by our June gathering.

    margaret & mary

  6. Jeanette Wasinger on April 30th, 2009 5:28 pm

    I have heard from several Sisters that this is a very moving presentation. I, too, am eager to see it during our Community Assembly. Congratulations, Mary and Margaret, for your faithful and laborious work to put this inspirational and educational story together over the years. It is a work of art!

  7. Mary Jo Thummel on April 28th, 2009 8:38 pm

    Yes, Pat. We left a slot open for it on one of the evenings. I just don’t remember which one right now. We’re in your state…Littleton, Colorado for a meeting. We’ll be leaving tomorrow. Have been thinking of you and Faye.
    Mary Jo

  8. Pat Lewter on April 26th, 2009 1:35 pm

    I can hardly wait until we can see this documentary. Will it be shown some evening during community meetings?

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