The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Curated Collections: The Cinematic Catholic School Experience

A glimpse into the highs and lows of Catholic education through a cinematic lens.

Depending on the individual, religion can be an integral part of identity. Considering that a chunk of us are placed into educational institutions early on, we are planted into these systems by our caregivers–some of which may be constructed around faith. Whether you’re the student who appreciates the religious experience, or the student who would have chosen a different setting for their learning environment, here are four pieces of cinema that exemplify the Catholic school experience.

“Lady Bird” (2019)

Photo Courtesy / YouTube A24

Sporadic skirt checks, abortion assemblies in the auditorium and unironically finding the unconsecrated Communion wafers appetizing are all experiences that can be gained from attending an all-girls Catholic school. This A24 film directed by Greta Gerwig brings to the foreground a young woman who goes by the name “Lady Bird,”a name given “to her, by her,” unlike her educational setting which was selected for her. 

In a coming of age sequence of events, the film highlights the balance between the frustration of limitations that results from attending a small Catholic high school and the unintended admiration that stems from its familiarity. Saorise Ronan’s Lady Bird portrays a character whose religion doesn’t define her identity, and yet,  still achieves a sense of fulfillment following her education by valuing the essence it brought to her life. 

“Derry Girls” (2018-2022)

Photo Courtesy / YouTube Channel 4 Entertainment 

This true life inspired television show impressively combines feel-good nostalgia and historical turmoil through the average adventures of five teenagers living during the Troubles of Northern Ireland. Crystal clear comedic relief is showcased in the everyday occurrences that take place inside Our Lady Immaculate College — a small convent school run by the towering personality of Sister George Michael.

The group, who refer to themselves as “Derry Girls,” capture the reality of what it’s like to attend an all-girl’s school in the prime of teenage youth — enchanted by an eye-catching Catholic priest, brainstorming ways to flirt with Protestant boys and averting the headmistress at all costs yet still finding themselves in her office on occasion. 

In a heartfelt adaptation, the show flawlessly executes a satirical portrait of coming-of-age individuals who try their hardest to flourish in a faith-based institution despite the setbacks that arise from its all-consuming presence in their lives.

“Yes, God, Yes” (2020)

 Photo Courtesy / YouTube ONE Media 

Sexuality. It’s an intrinsic part of our identities and yet, a great deal of us are shamed when we set out to explore it. Narrated in the style of a dramedy, “Yes, God, Yes”  follows the journey of 16 year-old Alice, a young woman who is at the peak of her sexual awakening, and is struggling to accept its presence in her life. She decides to embark on a religious retreat as a way to seek haven from what she believes to be immoral when in reality, her feelings stem from a natural rite of passage as she matures from adolescence to adulthood. 

The film depicts a raw representation of the harsh truths that many teens face in their faith-based educational systems — feelings of guilt and abnormalcy which stem from a failure to meet the expectations of religious beliefs and practices. It pokes fun at the very real struggles faced by teens that feel that they are sinning if they don’t succumb to the temptations of sexual abstinence while simultaneously encouraging audience members to consider that even those who are practicing Catholics should not feel abnormal for wanting to explore and embrace their sexuality. 

“Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” (1993)

Photo Courtesy / YouTube Movie Trailer Locker 

Whoopie Goldberg’s portrayal of Sister Mary Clarence was attention-grabbing, as “Sister Act” does not convey a traditional depiction of convent life. The follow-up film, “Sister Act: Back in the Habit,” builds on the character’s dynamic by challenging her to repair the reputation of a high school that has fallen short. The film doesn’t necessarily paint a realistic picture of religious lifestyle, but it does a good job of presenting it in an uplifting light by having Sister Mary Clarence teach a rather rebellious group of students about community through the art of music. 

Having faith does not come easy in adversity, but the students of St. Francis High School persevere as they work alongside each other to craft a soulful array of musical numbers. While not entirely accurate, the film brings good feeling to the faith-based genre of choir music, proving Sister Mary Clarence to be an unconventional miracle worker, and the students to be her own personal prodigies. 

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