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SISTERS

The Nun Quiz

By Bill Dodds
Quiz yourself on the many roles nuns have played in U.S. society from Hollywood to the Civil War.


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Catholic nuns have served in an almost infinite variety of ways—and have had an undeniable impact on the formation of worldwide, and U.S. culture. Take this light-hearted quiz, and find out just how much you know about these "sisters," who have been "serving Christ by serving others" for some 1,500 years.

Women Religious have played a key role in the Church and in society for centuries. How much do you know about the nuns of history … and of Hollywood? Begin with No. 1, and then just follow the directions.

1. It’s easy to understand why women Religious are called “sisters,” but what’s the origin of “nun”?

a) It comes from the 14th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (Go to 27.)

b) It was a way of greeting an old woman. (Head for 40.)

2. The traditional progression in an order was postulancy, novitiate, simple (or temporary) vows, and solemn (or permanent) vows. A postulant or novice has not made vows, and may easily leave at any time. Now move to 17.

3. Let’s make the last questions another “first.” In 17th-century France, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac began the first society of sisters to live “outside” a convent or cloister. What group did they found?

a) The Visitation Sisters. (Go to 41.)

b) The Daughters of Charity. (Move to 11.)

4. Both! It was Lincoln who called them “veritable angels of mercy.” Now head for 36.

5. St. Benedict (c.480-547) is called the founder of monasticism in Western Europe. His sister is regarded as the first nun of the Benedictine Order. What’s this saint’s name?

a) Monica. (Go to 35.)

b) Scholastica. (Move to 37.)

6. About how many sisters were there in the United States in 1997?

a) Around 112,000. (Head for 16.)

b) Around 87,000. (Go to 26.)

7. No, although it was reported that Andrews really wanted another role awarded to Hepburn: Eliza Doolittle in the film My Fair Lady. Return to 34.

8. What was the first “American” order?

a) The Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, begun by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. (Head for 15.)

b) The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, founded by St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. (Go to 33.)

9. As the number of women Religious in the United States continued to decline and their average age continued to grow, the American bishops began a nationwide collection for aging Religious sisters, priests, and brothers. When did they do that?

a) In 1988. (Head for 14.)

b) In 1996. (Go to 32.)

10. And the critics weren’t kind. Now head for 31.

11. Yes. The Sisters of Charity were not under the then standard requirement of “enclosure.” Now head for 43.

12. During the Civil War, nursing sisters became known for their care of wounded and dying soldiers. What prominent leader praised their selfless compassion?

a) Jefferson Davis. (Go to 4.)

b) Abraham Lincoln. (Move to 21.)

13. Yes, although the figures come from different years. “Statistical Yearbook of the Church, 1995,” the latest edition, says there were some 834,000 sisters. Europe had the most (almost half), followed by North America, Asia, South America, Africa, and Oceania. Now head for 24.

14. Yes. (In a recent collection, Catholics donated more than $26 million.) Now move to 12.

15. That’s right. Mother Seton began the order in 1808 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Now move to your last question, 3.

16. Not in recent years. Return to 6.

17. Feeling pretty confident that you know all the “nun movies”? Let’s try one that wasn’t such a commercial success. Change of Habit released in 1970, paired what duo?

a) Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore. (Go to 10.)

b) Clint Eastwood and Shirley McLaine. (Move to 39.)

18. The percentage isn’t that small. Return to 24.

19. No. Return to 30.

20. No, Debbie Reynolds starred in the 1966 movie The Singing Nun. It was loosely based on the true story of a French sister who startled the public by strumming a guitar while crooning her hit song “Dominique.” Return to 31.

21.  Both! It was Lincoln who called them “veritable angels of mercy.” Now head for 36.

22. Yes. The film was released in 1959. Now go to 30.

23. Right. And that’s enough questions about pretend sisters. Now go to 6.

24. At one time, a large percentage of sisters in the United States taught in Catholic schools. About how many do now?

a) One in 50 sisters. (Move to 18.)

b) One in eight sisters. (Head for 29.)

25. Ursuline Sisters began serving in Louisiana in 1727, but it’s not a contemplative order. (They had founded a house in Quebec in 1634!) Return to 36.

26. Yes. The higher figure was the number 10 years earlier. Now move to 38.

27. You know your Hebrew! Nun—pronounced “noon”—is a Hebrew letter. But that isn’t where we get the term for sisters. Return to 1.

28. Yes, in 1790 at Fort Tobacco, Maryland. There were three American-born Carmelites who had been trained in an English convent in Belgium. Now go to 8.

29. Correct. About 11,000 are teachers. (Of the 161,000 teachers in Catholic schools in the United States, 147,000 are laypersons.) Now, go to 9.

30. We’ll stay in Tinsel Town a little longer. In the 1965 blockbuster “The Sound of Music,” Julie Andrews played a character who leaves the convent, becomes a governess, and gets married. How was that done so easily if nuns are under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience?

a) She never took those vows. (Head for 2.)

b) She was released from her vows. (Go to 19.)

31. Just one more entertainment question: Actress Sally Field played a sister in a television series known as:

a) The Singing Nun. (Move to 20.)

b) The Flying Nun. (Head for 23.)

32. Sorry. Return to 9.

33. No. Mother Cabrini, who became a U.S. citizen, began the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1877 in her native Italy. Return to 8.

34. Let’s jump from the sixth century to the 20th, and move from history to Hollywood. Who starred in the movie The Nun Story?

a) Julie Andrews. (Move to 7.)

b) Audrey Hepburn (Head for 22.)

35. No. St. Monica (332-387) was the mother of St. Augustine. Return to 5.

36. Let’s go back even further. What was the first contemplative order of sisters to establish a convent in what was to become the United States?

a) The Ursulines. (Move to 25.)

b) The Carmelites. (Head for 28.)

37. That’s right. Now head for 34.

38. Worldwide, how many sisters are there?

a) About 10 times as many as in the United States. (Go to 13.)

b) About three times as many as in the United States. (Move to 42.)

39. Right year, wrong movie. That was Two Mules for Sister Sarah. Shirley McLaine’s character only pretended to be a nun. Return to 17.

40. “Nonna” was a respectful greeting in medieval Latin. It was the feminine form of a nonnus—“old man.” Now head for 5.

41. Right era, right country, but no, that would be St. Jane de Chantal under the guidance of St. Francis de Sales. Return to 3.

42.  No, there are more than three times as many in Europe alone. Return to 38.

43. Let’s end with a quote from St. Vincent de Paul, describing the life these sisters were to lead. “Your convent will be the house of the sick; your cell, a rented room; your chapel, the parish church; your cloister, the streets of the city or the wards of the hospital; your enclosure, obedience; your grille, the fear of God; your veil, holy modesty.”

While each religious order has its own particular charism, and each sister finds her own particular ministry within it, in many ways the life of a nun has remained unchanged in some 1,500 years: Grounded in prayer, it is serving Christ by serving others.

Copyright © 2000 Bill Dodds




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