“Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism,” the award-winning documentary based on the research of two Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, will be broadcast on EWTN beginning this weekend. (To go the the “Interrupted Lives” web site, CLICK HERE.)
The one-hour documentary that received a 2010 Gabriel Award will be aired Sunday and Monday (May 16 and 17) in Europe, and then June 17 and 19 in England. American viewers will be able to see it on EWTN in August.
John Elson, director of program acquisitions and co-productions for EWTN, said “the history and heroism” of the stories told in “Interrupted Lives” make it significant for EWTN viewers.
“Documentaries like ‘Interrupted Lives’ that present the story of individuals who have made great sacrifices for the Faith — even to the point of death — force each viewer to ask the question, ‘Why did they die?’” Elson said. “The consideration of that question and these examples of heroic witness” may lead people to a deeper appreciation of the people who suffered, and to the Church.
Elson noted that EWTN — the world’s largest religious media network, airing 24 hours a day to more than 148 million homes in 144 countries and territories — has broadened its programming in the past three or four years. “We’re trying to tell different stories,” he said, “that present the truth about the Faith in different historical periods and that recount the lives, spirituality and sacrifices of various Catholic individuals.”
To that end, potential programming is reviewed by a group of theologians — all of whom saw the “power and importance” of the story told in “Interrupted Lives,” Elson said.
The documentary was written and produced by Judy Zielinski, a Sister of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, was aired nationally as part of ABC’s “Vision and Values” series in September 2009.
It is based on more than 10 years of work by Sisters Mary Savoie and Margaret Nacke, both members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, who first went to Romania in 1993 as volunteers to help the Church in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. Over the next decade in many visits, they branched out to other Eastern European countries and built relationships with many of the sisters who had survived behind
In 2003, Sisters Mary and Margaret, who live in Belleville, Kan., began serious research into the plight of those Catholic Sisters, eventually covering eight countries and the years spanning the rise of Stalin in Russia to the fall of the Berlin Wall. That included numerous trips to Eastern Europe, interviews with the women they came to call “Sister Survivors” and extensive academic study into the local and Church history.
In July 2006, they planned and facilitated a conference in Lviv, Ukraine, bringing together sisters from eight former communist countries. The goal was to examine fundamental values guiding those sisters who survived under communism and to explore ways those values can be integrated into the lives of American sisters.
As a result of the work done by Sisters Mary and Margaret, hundreds of testimonies, photographs, books and other documents have been collected and archived at Catholic Theological Union’s Bechtold Library in Chicago.
It was also in 2006 that Sisters Mary and Margaret hired NewGroup Media of South Bend, Ind. — which is where Sister Judy Zielinksi works as a writer and producer — to create a documentary of the story of the Sister Survivors.
A team from NewGroup, including Sister Judy and photographer Lynn King, and Sisters Mary and Margaret traveled together to Eastern Europe. During that first trip, they interviewed and videotaped 42 Sister Survivors, and would eventually return for more interviews and taping.
Since the documentary’s release last September, Sisters Mary and Margaret have continued showing it around the country and have scheduled other educational programs to tell the stories of the Eastern European sisters.
In the United States, EWTN will air “Interrupted Lives” (all times listed as Eastern Standard Time) on Aug. 15 at 2 a.m., Aug. 18 at 1 p.m. and Aug. 21 at 2 p.m.