December 28, 2007


The Goodbye Girl





by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp

Now playing at Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

December 27, 2007—March 2, 2008  630-530-0111


"The Goodbye Girl" was first a 1977 film by Neil Simon, then a 1993 musical. The ambience of the musical (costumes and references such as Whitney Houston and cabbage patch dolls) are 1993. The title refers to a single-Mom dancer--with a twelve-year-old daughter--who is frequently abandoned by her actor boyfriends.

The story centers on three characters: Mom Paula (the spunky, ageless, pixie-like Susan Moniz), her tenant Elliot (the ebullient, endlessly entertaining Bernie Yvon), and daughter Lucy (a perfect, talented-beyond-her-years, Theresa Moen). Paula falls in love too easily, and she and her daughter suffer the consequences—too frequently. Paula determines to close her heart, but she is unprepared for the impact of her new boarder: Elliot, also an actor.

"The Goodbye Girl" is a comedy about love, acting and confidence in oneself. Even for Elliot, who looks like he has his "act" together, the truth is otherwise. Although light fare, "The Goodbye Girl" confronts us with ourselves. Aren't we all acting, changing, trying to find and play ourselves? Don't we all romanticize love and want it to be "like the movies"? The song: "How Can I Win When I'm Not on My Side?" is a pointed self-interrogation. We cringe as we watch Paula giving in to her weakness (men with "charisma"), and think of our friends who unfailingly do the same. The play skillfully keeps us guessing: Can we trust Elliot? Can Paula? Can Paula trust herself? Can Elliot trust himself? Why are we humans so self-defeating, setting ourselves up to fail?


Told at first from Paula's perspective, it isn't until Elliot bursts on the scene that we fully commit to this tale. And burst he does, with almost Robin Williams-esque antics that will have you doubled over in no time (and keep you there). The diminutive Susan Moniz has a complementary foil to play off (Bernie Yvon is quite a bit larger). They convincingly turn off and on their chemistry at the appropriate times. Bernie Yvon—who makes his craft look so darn easy--fills the entire theatre with his presence and we find ourselves laughing whenever we so much as see his expressive face. The cast is obviously having a good time up there, so good in fact—especially when hilariously ad-libbing--that they teeter close to bleeding out of character. Much of this is due to Yvon's unrestrainable audience rapport. But after all, isn't it all about us? Would we rather he ignored us?

He borders on upstaging, but he has us eating out of his hand, and we know we'd watch anything in the future with him in it. Why haven't we seen this guy on the big (or little) screen?


The snappy banter and rapid-fire quips feel natural, not snarky. The lyrics (David Zippel) are extremely clever, with rather original insights into human nature. They say so much so well, and the rhyming totally clicks.




The most memorable numbers are: "Beat Behind," the "aging" Paula at a dance audition;

"Good News, Bad News," Paula and Elliot's shifting relationship; "Footsteps," a tender mother-daughter moment; "Paula—An Improvised Love Song," Paula and Elliot dance and romance on the roof; and "I Can Play This Part," the musical's true leitmotif. Not to be passed over is Elliot's side-splitting "Richard Interred," as he reluctantly does an avant-garde portrayal of Richard the Third. (Too hard to explain!) There's also an incredibly touching "father-daughter" moment when Moen is actually crying. Moen is proof that the acting bug/gift starts young. I wish I could tell you more about the unique concept this moment evokes in today's world of "broken families," but I'd be giving too much away….


Susan Moniz seems most relaxed in the comedic and romantic. She seems almost to be trying too hard when conjuring anger or distress.


The jam-packed on-stage activity buzzes and pops without being too busy. The choreography is alive, with a spirited ensemble and supporting cast. The pace is so energetic that "The Goodbye Girl" could definitely be seen again to catch more. The creative "automated" set—like a big Lazy Susan—makes transitions seamless, and is a truly fun feature of this production. It also serves to give different seats in the house an alternating birds-eye view. The live innovative balcony band was tight, unobtrusive and kept the mood right.


The story is actually quite small, taking place mostly in a cramped (revolving) apartment. But when it needs to, suddenly we're on the set of a PBS food show! The story-line never reaches beyond the humble parameters it sets for itself, and never takes itself too seriously. This is part of the reason "The Goodbye Girl" succeeds in being about the everyday magic we can all relate to. I would only fault the story in that the characters are supposed to trust each other without actual promises always being explicit. Character's expectations of each other are often a bit impressionistic, which further complicates the elusive nature of trust.


An offstage sexual encounter occurs (and is treated as a prelude to a hoped-for marriage), and Lucy makes clear references to former live-in boyfriends. There's a surprising bit of Godtalk—in the form of fervid actor's prayers to the Director Himself.


The piped-in music in the theatre before the curtain went up--all from the 1960's—sets the wrong tone, and makes us take a while to place exactly what decade we're in. (Perhaps it was just a background oldies' station, but it felt like it was getting us ready for the musical.) Brief stumbles over dialogue were minor. Paula's and Lucy's mics needed to be turned up a bit at the beginning of the show (especially in contrast to Yvon's booming voice), but it was rectified.


Do yourself a favor and see this joyful, heart-tickling treat!

December 24, 2007


O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When HOPE shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away!

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the DAWN OF GRACE.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When HOPE shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away!


December 19, 2007


The Great Debaters



by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp


On the heels of "Freedom Writers" comes "The Great Debaters," spotlighting one of the most basic forms of communication: speech. I couldn't wait to see this film for this very reason (what has happened to oratory in our hi-tech media culture?) It didn't hurt, either, that the mighty, easy-on-the-eyes Denzel Washington acts/directs. (This is his second directing stint: "Antwone Fisher" was his first.) The depth that Denzel's stage career adds to everything he does is abundantly evident in "Debaters."


I knew this was going to be a good movie, simply because of the electrifying use of the English language by African-American artists of whatever discipline. Langston Hughes is my favorite poet because in his very short, pulsating works he makes me instantly experience the Harlem Renaissance—something otherwise far removed from me. Rap artist, DMX, in his song, "Who We Be," virtually uses only pounding nouns to tell a complete story. Enough said.


The movie opens on a typical scene in 1935 Black Texas: a jukejoint where God, the blues, love and liquor freely intermingle. Intercut and voice-overed are the words of an affable, distinguished preacher (Forest Whitaker) urging education of the young as "the most important job in America," segueing into Mr. Tolson's (Denzel Washington) classroom at Wiley College (a "Negro" college). Mr. Tolson organizes a debate team which will include the talented but angry Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), pioneering female Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett—her debate-speeches are some of the most rousing), and the preacher's boy-genius son, James Farmer, Jr. (Forest Whitaker's son, Denzel Whitaker!)


A movie about debating could have been way boring, but it's not—ever. And there is no false pumping-up of events to keep our attention. Statistics, factoids, and historical references—the mainstay of debating—are brought to life, and we actually want more! "Debaters" is chockfull of teasers that will propel you to Wikipedia for further curiosity-quenching. Only after I left the theater did I realize how many historical nuggets were organically presented (either as part of the character's lives: FDR and the New Deal; communism; Southern tenant farmers' unions; lynchings; or as topics of debate: World War I, Gandhi, etc.). And the arguments—for both sides—are presented so lucidly that I find myself able to repeat them. Although many topics are presented in "Debaters," it's not just hot air blowing in every direction. Everything revolves around a central theme: the characters' handling of success and defeat, hope and despair. This was no ordinary debate team. They had a lot to prove. Mostly to themselves. One reason the meaty content doesn't feel crammed into "Debaters" is the way Mr. Tolson constantly but delightfully cuts off his students' speech and talks through them. He knows the mind can work more quickly than we normally challenge it to.


"Debaters" has more substance than any movie I've seen in a great while. Would that public discourse and presidential campaigns looked like this today!



The racial issues are still very much with us: think "The Jena 6" and the reappearance of the noose, and as evidenced by the spontaneous reactions and comments from the overwhelmingly African-American audience in my theater.


There's a wonderfully small scene at a houseparty where preacher and debate coach have met their match--each other—and the heated exchange is diplomatically broken up by their wives. Little human moments—in the midst of tumultuous social strife--is what makes "Debaters" "Great."


"The Great Debaters" has assembled a true dream team. The acting is superb, fresh, in-the-moment. The directing and editing is tight, and the creative use of pauses is spot-on. The dialogue is intricate, believable and never throwaway. The cinematography is fluid, agile, sophisticated and integral to the story, with some refreshing comedic and dramatic surprises. The soundtrack is lockstep with the action, often exuberant and never emotion-plying. Silence is (gratefully) well used. The humor is sharp and abundant, while never letting us forget that the debaters are engaged in a very real war for social justice. The suspense is gut-swirling. The humor flows deliciously from the personality quirks of the characters. Hideous women's fashions of the 1930's have been given a tasteful spin by costume designer, Sharen Davis. This would be a flawless film except for one tiny, forgivable scene where Mr. Tolson plops himself down in the classroom and simply blurts out a stream of information to carry the plot forward. Unforgivable is Denzel's ugly, frumpy haircut.


There are incredible audial touches (listen for them!): opera playing in the preacher's home, a dog's barking building the tension as we await the outcome of a car accident, an unseen "God bless you!" before a road trip.


The religious undercurrents ring as true as they are in present-day African-American culture: inspiration, strength and goal all in one. This is most evident in a mantra that Mr. Tolson makes his team chant: "Who is my judge? God is my judge…." No relegation of God and the social gospel to the private sector here.


"The Great Debaters" is not an "intelligent" film nor a tear-jerker. It is a showcase for the truth to attract and shimmer all on its own. See this movie, debate it, and don't miss the amazing epilogue.

December 17, 2007


Thanks for the impressions, Sr. Helena!
Just for the you think the USCCB was right-on with their review? You mentioned the problematic nuances of the film (the "magisterium," the depiction of the witches as those who are "truly human", etc.), and it's very consoling to hear that the supposed "deep theological/philosophical questions" raised in the movie are so rudimentary as to be easily remedied by some basic catechesis. Is there some real danger here, though? Beyond the prudential judgment all Catholics make ("will this movie constitute temptation for me?"), should this movie just be avoided in its entirety?
--Andy Kirchoff
Hi Andy!
Because I espouse the "media literacy approach,"  I'm all for seeing/reading/listening to media and diving into the dialogue. I have to say that I disagree with any easy dismissal of "Golden Compass'" correlation to God and the Church because "this is not the real world Church or God that we know." True, it's not. It's an even more powerful--in some ways--fantasy/metaphor, and by Pullman's own admission and language, there is definitely a correlation. Even "Entertainment Weekly" (Dec. 14 volume), an a-religious source, purports to understand why some Catholics are disturbed. (To dismiss any media as being without influence is like a media concern itself feigning to have no influence while spending millions of dollars in order to influence people.) I have to say that the more I ponder this whole GC phenomenon, the more I appreciate Pullman's intellectual honesty in explaining what he was doing when writing the "His Dark Materials" trilogy. He's not out to hide anything. He basically says he wanted to work out his own spiritual journey toward lack of belief in these books. (That's what makes GC good fodder for serious discussion!) "Temptation"? (Spoken with a true pastoral heart!) Perhaps, if someone's faith is already shaky, but again, these are not new ruminations. I don't believe that faith, ultimately, is a shaky thing. I believe it's like love: as strong as death. Most media doesn't ask the "atheism" question this boldly. It's really a great opportunity. If God is "important," so is atheism. It's strange that it's directed at children/adolescents (who aren't usually asking these questions in the adult way that GC presents them), but the cat is out of the bag now. I'm a child of the 70's, and we were taught to "question authority." For me, that includes the "authority" that the media is. Jesus dialogued with everyone that came to him. Everyone. Even those that were trying to trap him and kill him. Hope this is a clear as mud.
Merry Advent!
Sr. Helena

December 16, 2007

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December 12, 2007


The Golden Compass




by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp


I haven't read the book(s) yet, but I have read much about the trilogy, the beliefs and intentions of author Philip Pullman, and the fine points of the controversy.


A little backstory is in order here. First, I would like to say that when I heard that Philip Pullman's intention for writing the trilogy: "His Dark Materials" (of which "Golden Compass" is the first) was "to kill God in the hearts of children," I was horrified. There is a difference between an author holding certain beliefs (or lack thereof), and an author clearly stating their intent to spread those beliefs through their art. Of course, the question remains: "What God?"

Second, I read that the movie had been purged of most of its religious content (for fear of controversy). This makes the "Golden Compass" situation more complicated than, say, the "Harry Potter" novel-to-film adaptations which were most faithful (so faithful that critics said they should have been adapted more to the craft of film).

Third, I learned that in the books (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT IF THEY DO THE SEQUELS WHICH ARE AS YET UNWRITTEN!) God--who is really an evil angel because there is no God--does get killed.

Fourth, I read about a book-commentary on "GC" called "Killing the Impostor God," and it got me thinking: "Hey, if some evil angel dude is pretending to be God—yeah, let's kill him!" No, wait. I'm into nonviolent action. Let us expose him.

Fifth, I watched the movie.


The movie opened like much of the now-familiar kids' fantasy genre, which we are getting used to, but are not tired of yet. It didn't feel hackneyed, because each fantasy world has its own logic and rules, and I had to keep up learning about this one. The narrator states that we are watching a parallel world where people have their "souls on the outside of their bodies" in the form of daemons, who are in animal shapes. Aside from the co-opting of language that would normally refer to something sinister, this is a great cinematic expository device to hear what someone is thinking, as people chat quite naturally back and forth with their daemons.

I was keenly on the lookout for any and all religious references, and they were few, except for the repeated use of the word "Magisterium," which refers to a controlling and threatening KGB-like empire. "Magisterium" does not even appear in my 1968 Funk and Wagnalls (I always keep an old dictionary handy to trace the evolution of words). Neither does it appear in my current electronic Merriam-Webster. This does not bode well for my skewing of Mr. Pullman's intentions. The (currently disputed) Wikipedia entry says that "'Magisterium' is a technical ecclesiastical term in the Roman Catholic Church referring to the teaching authority of the church." The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as "the living teaching office of the Church." Or, as a Catholic friend simply put it: "We're the only ones that use it." There are officials in the "Magisterium" called "Fra," a title for a Catholic religious brother. These were the only religious references I could find. How they're going to work God into future movies (if at all) and attempt to kill him, remains to be seen.


Thirteen-year-old Dakota Blue Richards, who plays the lead character, Lyra, is an astounding talent. She portrays Lyra's pluck and fearlessness with such ease, that either Lyra is Dakota, or vice-versa. Her reaction shots—many of them done in front of a green screen—are so dead-on that I think Dakota would do well to give acting lessons to half of the adults in Hollywood. It's also great to see a feminine-child-heroine.


Lyra is a free spirit who, like her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), rebels against the Magisterium. She doesn't like "to be told what to do," and the Magisterium wants to control everyone and everything, because "not everyone knows what is good for them." Lyra comes into possession of the last "alethiometer," or golden compass, in existence (the Magisterium destroyed the rest). It tells the truth, shows things as they are, and shows what others hide. (Definitely on my Christmas wishlist!) She heads off to the North Pole in search of children and classmates who have disappeared (been gobbled).


Witches (check out the "co-opting" of  a witch's name: "Serafina") are also portrayed as good. They seem to be primordial keepers of what it means to be truly human. Some kind of absolute freedom appears to be the ultimate good and goal of the whole tale. A song began sauntering through my brain: Bob Dylan's "You Gotta Serve Somebody." We are contingent beings, are we not?


The movie bogged down at Lyra's meeting with Byrnison, a disenfranchised ice bear (polar bears with armor). "Tell, don't show" seemed to be the order of the day here, as the whisky-gulping Byrnison growls his long, sad story to Lyra. The audience in my cinema actually began talking aloud, and I couldn't imagine children following this dialogue, or caring about it. During all the chattiness, another song began in my brain's iPod shuffle: Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation." From this point on, the movie is pretty much literally dark, with dim, outdoor North Pole lighting, except for some exciting indoor scenes when Lyra finds the missing children, and Mrs. Coulson (a key part of the Magisterium, played by Nicole Kidman) enigmatically saves Lyra from the fate of these children (being surgically separated from their daemons). An ice bear battle ensues, the outcome of which will determine Lyra's very fate, and thus that of the missing children. The movie ends with an assembling and aligning of forces for a future apocalyptic battle: good (everyone but the Magisterium) versus evil (the Magisterium). If the Magisterium learns how to travel to other worlds (a project Lord Asriel is working on), they will control the whole universe. We are left with some intriguing questions: What is this mysterious "dust" that the Magisterium doesn't want anyone to know about? What happens when one is separated from one's "soul"? Can the children get their daemons back? Who is Mrs. Coulson, really?


Since I adopt the "media literacy" (see or "media mindfulness" approach to media, I believe that "The Golden Compass," like any other movie, brings up pertinent topics for discussion. I may not like the way they're brought up, I may even object to what I see as a misrepresentation of what I hold dear, but nevertheless, Hollywood has spent $180 million dollars to help me broach various theological topics. They've done all the work for me! Am I going to let them spend their money in vain?


The theological questions raised in "Golden Compass" are perennial. There is nothing new here. However, they are not raised at a mature level, but only at an uncatechized child's or uncatechized adult's level, which leads to uninformed attempts to lay faulty foundations and the questioning goes on from there.  It's similar to the forays of Oxford's Richard Dawkins, brilliant in his field of evolutionary biology, but a preschooler in his theological stabs.


There seems to be some yearning—on the part of the critics of the Church of today—for the Church of yesterday. Stamping out "heresy," "silencing," urging others to "never question," "telling people what to do in a kindly way to keep them out of danger," being against "free inquiry," are some of what the "Magisterium" is accused of in "Golden Compass," but, oops, I forgot, the "Magisterium" is not the Catholic Church!


I am told that the books use much more Catholic terminology, and that "priests" molest children in the book. This, most tragically, is not a misrepresentation, but if the golden compass can really see things as they are, can it not also see the good that the Church does? That the Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ because He has identified Himself with it? That the wheat grows with the weeds? The movie, "Golden Compass," has not "humanized the antagonist"--a "must" for truly believable villains. I am all for digging up and exposing evil wherever it may be found, and I particularly want the Church to be thus continuously purified, but let's show the light also. Do we want the Church to continue in evil so we have something to take potshots at?


For those who wish to "defend" the Church, humility is also due. We may not have even seen the full extent of the corruption and darkness of the "anti-church" dwelling in the true Church, yet. Are we prepared for that?


Having had a very harmonious secular and religious upbringing, and life, for that matter, I know that faith and reason are not at all opposed. To pit one against the other (from whatever "side") is a false dichotomy and fundamentalism at its worst.


One burning question I would love to ask Pullman and writer-director, Chris Weitz, is this: "Isn't killing 'God' an authoritative, neutralizing, violent act?" How is it different from the present "Magisterium"? The rallying cry for war at the end of "GC" sounded suspiciously like those utopian regimes of the twentieth century that turned victims into victimizers until replaced by another "victim's revolution."


There is ample food for thought here. Yes, let's dialogue with this modern-day  mythology out of the glorious riches of our Judaeo-Christian story! Bring it on! If we're afraid to dialogue because we feel like we "don't know our faith well enough"—how long are we going to stay in this sorry and impoverished state? How do we answer our own existential questions and those of our family and friends? What's there to keep us from being sucked into someone else's fancy narrative if we don't know our own? May I recommend the "Great Adventure Bible Study" DVDs from


Will I go see the sequels? Yes, in order to be part of this important conversation. This is the most blatantly daring and provocative childrens' fare ever.









December 11, 2007



The ultimate "feel good" movie! You will be ashamed of every last drop of cynicism in your blood by the end of this spoofalicious gem. "Enchanted" is a far cry from "yeah, wouldn't it be nice if life were like that, but it's impossible" dark parodies like "The Brady Movies." Instead, it asks with utterly unjaded sincerity and simplicity: "Why not?" And we are hard pressed to find an answer to the contrary.


Giselle (the perfectly-cast Amy Adams) is a soon-to-be princess in the old-fashioned animated Disney-esque land of "Andalasia." The wicked stepmother (Susan Sarandon) of her hubby-to-be prince—afraid for her throne--exiles Giselle to a place where there are "no happily ever afters"—the real New York City. Amy Adams seamlessly transitions from animation to real-life in an almost preternatural way. (You won't be able to take your eyes off her.) A "rational," reasonable, no-nonsense single Dad, Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey*), also engaged, finds Giselle wandering about the city and takes her in. The contrast of the super positive-thinking Giselle with Robert, the hardened New York divorce lawyer is not only hilarious, but a downright indictment. (After all, wasn't this Adam and Eve's first sin, suspicion of Goodness? "Negative thinking," if you will?) Giselle delights all she comes in contact with, especially Morgan (Rachel Covey), Robert's princess-obsessed daughter, and most adults can't get enough of her, even though they think she's nuts.


The "Happy Working Song" will surely be the most talked-about musical number from "Enchanted" far into the future, but the core-spectacle of the movie is when Giselle characteristically breaks into gleeful song and dance in Central Park—and half of the Big Apple with her. The song "That's How You Know" by the always-phenomenal team of Mencken and Schwartz, reminds that love is about the little things. (The actors are also the real singers.)


"Irony" is mentioned twice by characters, but nothing in the script smacks of the least hint of it. There is only a contrast, and we feel obliged to choose sides (stacked heavily in favor of Giselle). The one-dimensional Giselle (people are either "kind" or "not very kind," her expletives consist of "Oh!" and "Oh, no!"), who only knew her prince for one day before getting engaged (because she "knew his heart"), learns about concepts like  "dating," and emotions like "anger" from Robert. Love-weary Robert receives much more from Giselle: a complete romantic makeover, much to the pleasant surprise of his fiancée.


The also-one-dimensional Prince Edward of course comes looking for Giselle, who never doubts for a minute that he will find her. His archaic speech and swashbuckling are sparkling features of "Enchanted." Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), emanating green lightning from her fingertips in the middle of Times Square, is a novel image of imaginary evil breaking through into real-dom. It reminded me of what C. S. Lewis said in "Abolition of Man" about why rational-scientific moderns no longer believe in fantasy: "Because an evil warlock has enchanted them!" The costume design, down to the Prince's embroidered leather gauntlets, is Oscar-worthy.


Giselle's sees the world through a child's eyes, really. To a child, the world is magical. And isn't it? I find this world pretty magical. Things "are as they are," but do we really grasp their essence? Their "deep down freshness," as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say? Do we consistently try? Of course, to the believer, it is God who gives hope, who makes all things possible, the reason we can believe "all matter of things shall be well," but our free will can also take us far, which must be what God intends since He gives us free will. And thank God for the movies that often show us how we might use it! Isn't Christianity meant to be something like Giselle's startling well-wishing ("I wish you every happiness!"), seeing everyone's beauty, almsgiving (giving away whatever comes her way), and conviction that "nothing is more powerful than true love's kiss"?


 "Enchanted" tells me that if I do not believe that "dreams can come true," then I am stuck, conditioned, the bird who doesn't know his cage door is open. I don't want to use my free will positively. I accept a mediocre world where tenuous love is inevitable and immutable. The movie suggests that we move from the two poles of idyllic love and "I'll take what I can get" love to something in the middle where "real" really lies.


Giselle's moment of proving comes when she is offered a poisoned apple that will make her forget her separation from her true love, an antidote for the real world's misery. Is she willing to accept some thorns with the roses? Isn't this (suffering) what life with its changing fates asks of each of us?


By the end, Giselle becomes permanently "real," much like Pinocchio, but has she lost some bright simplicity for some dark complexity? Was it a good exchange? It felt to me a little like a fall from grace: Will she continue to inspire all in her path now that she sees life's dark side clearly? (And I loved her fairytale dresses better than her off-the-rack Nordstrom gown). But it must be worth it because it was for true love.


Although the hyper-kinetic antics of a CGI chipmunk (except his enjoyable acting out his messages because animals can't talk in the real world) get a bit annoying, and the ending goes way over the top into the decidedly unmagical Land of Audience Disbelief, "Enchanted" is truly that. (On the other hand, the evil stepmother's outsized, overreacting rage rings true, in that murderous greed and power insist that what is big and loud and warlike will prevail, not love.) The ending of this quasi-musical also felt like it needed another big musical number or a reprise of "That's How You Know."


"Enchanted" is a meaningful romp that could be summed up by the realization of a divorcing couple (whom matchmaker Giselle gets back together): "Every couple has problems and bad times. Do we sacrifice everything because of them?" "Enchanted" makes us grateful for the Giselles in our lives, who let us know that faith, hope and love are real and possible, whether we want to believe it or not.


*Matt Damon, "sexiest man alive," my foot.


"Go tell it on the mountain...."
"...when, lo, above the earth rang out the angel chorus..."
Sr. Sean introducing the song: "Don't Give Up."
Cleaning up our glitter!

November 30, 2007




Nuns sing songs of Christmas magic

Friday, November 30, 2007

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The set couldn't be simpler: Fifteen women in blue arrayed onstage. Their dress is modest, they wear no makeup.

And yet there is, in abundance, magic and beauty, grace and hope.

The nuns of the Daughters of St. Paul performed their 13th annual Christmas Concert last night for the benefit of 500 lucky people in the Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield.

Their angelic voices perfectly conveyed the message of peace and love.

"They are a great group of nuns and they really are our angels," said Lois Nicotra, who, along with her husband, Richard, co-chairs the event.

This year is extra-special, as it marks the order's diamond jubilee -- the 75th anniversary of their humble beginnings in New York.

The nuns presented a video montage, and Sister Donna W. Giaimo read a letter from Provincial Superior Sister Margaret Christopher marking the anniversary.

Sister Donna said she recognizes that the nuns' performance is both transcendent and transformative.

"Our music just brings something deeper out of the season and the meaning of it," she said, "not only of Christmas, but the meaning of faith, the meaning of love and what all of it is about."

Missing in action this year -- at least in the flesh -- was the honorary chairman, actor Chazz Palminteri. With the Broadway strike ended, Palminteri had to return to his one-man show, "A Bronx Tale."

But he was present via a video that included snippets from his show. And he offered a raffle of two tickets with backstage passes.

"I'll show you around the set. We'll meet in the dressing room and talk and take pictures and we will have a wonderful evening," promised the actor on tape before introducing those "wonderful singers and incredible angels, the Daughters of St. Paul."

Despite the dearth of props, the nuns had some tricks up their sleeves. They sprinkled the crowd with golden confetti as they performed "God Is With Us." They flipped on their trademark red scarves while singing "Sleigh Ride" and adopted a techno-beat with a slight Latin flavor as blue, magenta and white lights swirled around them on "Sing, Angels, Sing."

Sister Anne Joan Flanagan's heartfelt "You Are Loved" had the audience transfixed.

During intermission, Dr. Larry Arann, accompanied by Sister Nancy M. Usselmann, did his crowd-pleasing rabbi skit.

It's estimated that last night's show raised $80,000 to $90,000. Funded projects include upkeep of the order's media centers, as well as the education of postulants.

Kiawana Rich is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at


Catch the Daughters of St. Paul Choir on tour!

Thursday, November 29 – Benefit dinner and concert in Staten Island, NY 6pm

Saturday, December 1 – St Malachy's Church, Manhattan, NY 1pm FREE

Sunday, December 2 – St. Paul's Church, Princeton NJ 3pm FREE

Monday, December 3 – St. Athanasius Church, Brooklyn, NY 7pm FREE

Wednesday, December 5 – Maternity BVM Church Philadelphia, PA 7pm FREE

Thursday, December 6 – Bala Gold Club, Philadelphia, PA  7pm

Saturday, December 8 – Boston Concert in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA 7pm FREE

Sunday, December 9 – Boston Concert in Jamaica Plain 3pm FREE

November 26, 2007


Feast of Blessed James Alberione (Nov. 26, 2007)

Fr. Edmund Lane, SSP, Staten Island, NEW YORK

In his lifetime, our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, whose feast we celebrate today, was driven by two great loves. The first of these was certainly for Jesus, our Divine Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In fact, he dedicated himself to the Lord with such an implacable determination to grow into a truly profound intimacy with Jesus through countless hours of prayer and sacrifice following the example of the apostle St. Paul that, at the end of his life, he was able to say of himself as did St.Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me." On the one hand Father Alberione was drawn to a deep contemplative life, and on the other hand his great love for souls inspired and energized him to do something special for the people of the 20th century. It was this second love that drove him to found such a wide variety of religious groups to provide a variety of services in the Church for the sake of the Gospel in our times. The very thought that there were men and women in the world who did not yet know Jesus or who did not know him well enough filled him with a holy anxiety that became the stimulus behind his priestly zeal. They had to be reached somehow and they had to be reached effectively and quickly. The five religious congregations, four secular institutes and one association of lay cooperators for which he was responsible made it possible to do so by using the swiftest and most efficacious means of communicating the word of God to the men and women of today: the press, first of all, then radio, television, films and filmstrips, records, tapes, CDs, DVDs and now the Internet. All of this, of course, presumed the underpinning of prayer. Prayer and the spiritual life were the pillars of his whole existence and were likewise the pillars of the institutes he founded. "Looks are deceiving," could certainly be applied to him. He was very small of stature and, by nature, almost shy. But he made up for that by his dedication to hard work which he inherited from his family and by his exceptional courage. He was an extraordinarily effective leader, an unbelievable achiever and builder. But he never rested on his laurels or even took note of them. There was always more to do. At the same time, he would be the first to say that "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." The things that he accomplished in his lifetime now recognized by the Church in having beatified him show unquestionably the fact that the hand of God was with him all the way. Reviewing his life on this his feast day fills us with a sense of wondrous admiration. Many of us here were so very privileged to have seen him, to have known him, to have been a part of his life and dreams and, therefore, recognize the need to praise, adore and glorify God the Father in a special way this day, the fourth time following his beatification on April 27, 2003 by Pope John Paul II that we have been able to celebrate his feast. Let us thank God for raising up men and women of great faith in every age to open up new paths for the Gospel in order to bring his salvation to the whole world. At the same time let us ask God for the grace we will need to live up to the calling we have received to follow in our Founder's footsteps. May we do so now as we continue with our celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of this Mass.


November 22, 2007


Colleen and Christopher
My 5-year-old nephew, Christopher, is watching "The Incredibles" today with the whole family gathered 'round, and we're watching the superhero lift two trains. Chris blurts out: "God is stronger than that!" (He just started CCD.) "He can lift the whole world! He can lift the whole universe! And He's really old! How old is he, Dad, 100?"

November 14, 2007









Daughters of St. Paul Newsletter

"Glory to God and peace to men." "Gloria Deo, pax hominibus." –Luke 2:14


75th Anniversary in the U.S.A.                             December 2007

Dear Friends,


A very Merry Christmas! We hope you and your family are enjoying the blessings of the season. As we share our good news of the past year with you, we are profoundly grateful to God and you.


                                 Chicago Awaits….

Our postulants, (pictured under the fatherly gaze of St. Paul) are planning an apostolic trip to Chicago in the New Year. We also had three professions this year: Sr. Karen Teresa, Sr. Jamie Paula and Sr. Maria Kim.

                                           Daughters of St. Paul Christmas Concerts   

Sr. Anne Joan and Sr. Helena Raphael, from the Chicago community, will join the Daughters of St. Paul Choir again for their annual East Coast tour. You can follow us on the road:

Sr. Helena Burns' blog: Sr. Anne Flanagan's blog: Our latest Christmas album is now out: "Season of Love," featuring all the songs we sing in concert. Sr. Anne, a soloist, also worked on a traditional album coming out in 2008: "Catholic Favorites: Holy God We Praise Thy Name." She is pioneering a trio of sisters singing sacred hymns. Who knows, maybe someday our choir will come sing in Chicago!!

Sr. Anne in her choir robes.


Travels in the Nation's Heartland

We were very busy this Fall "nunning" book tables, especially at catechetical gatherings, meeting thousands of catechists and directors of religious education across the Midwest. We also give talks on faith & media at many of these gatherings, helping youth and adults bring their faith & media lives together. We just added Iowa and part of Nebraska to our "territory"!


Women's Advent Retreat

Back by popular demand, Sr. Jean Frisk (a Mariologist) will be the retreat director for our annual Women's Advent Retreat, December 1. She will be helping the attendees to enrich their understanding of Mary through talks and clips from the movie "The Nativity Story." For more information: 312-346-4228.

A Catholic Film Renaissance?

Sr. Rose Pacatte, fsp, has written a film guide for "Into Great Silence," the three-hour "silent" movie about the Carthusian monks. Sr. Helena's review of the pro-life film, "Bella," was printed in the Catholic New World, and the second film of "Narnia," is in the works. On a darker note, the Daughters of St. Paul have prepared a free film guide to the "Golden Compass,"—to help parents, teachers and catechists explain our Christian beliefs vis-à-vis this new atheistic fantasy. Please call for a copy: 312-346-4228. Sr. Helena will be working on the screenplay of the life of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, in 2008. Please pray for all these film initiatives!


New "Theology of the Body Explained" by Christopher West now available!

Christopher West ("Mr. Theology of the Body") has completed his newly revised "Theology of the Body Explained" to match the new text of Pope John Paul the Great's revolutionary "Man and Woman He Created Them—A Theology of the Body." Check out our website for other great new books such as Sr. Mary Peter's specific needs prayerbook, "Tender Mercies," and "How to Handle Worry—A Catholic Approach," (with workbook). Sr. Kathryn James came out with her fifth title: "Making Peace with Yourself—15 Steps to Spiritual Healing."


A Sleigh-full of New Children's Books!

Forget sugar plums! Goodies for little book lovers are now available: "My First Christmas Sticker Book," "Santa's Prayer" (little ones pray to Jesus with Santa for the world—CD included), "St. Paul-the Thirteenth Apostle"—just in time for the year of St. Paul: June 2008—June 2009! Also in 2008, look for the launching of "Life and Soul Jr." (a companion to the adult "Life and Soul" magazine).

In the Works

Sr. Anne is working on a book about grief for children, and Sr. Helena is putting the finishing touches on "He Speaks to You," a daily devotional for young women. Many different congregations of Sisters are contributing to the daily "Advice from the Nuns" section. New Technology: Check out Sr. Anne's YouTube channel: Search for "singingsisters" on YouTube!


Vocations: "The Apostolate of Apostolates"

Please pray for Jackie Gitonga, originally from Kenya, getting her PhD at UIUC. She is discerning whether to join the Daughters in Kenya or the USA! We had a wonderful Chicago Vocation Retreat in the summer which nine young women attended. It included a "contemplative walk through the city," to help young women reflect on the spiritual needs of people in our media culture. The Daughters of St. Paul are missionaries to a media culture!


2008 Lenten Bible Studies

We will be hosting a 20-week study of The Gospel of Matthew on DVD by Jeff Cavins, as well as a repeat of an 8-week Overview of the Entire Bible (also by Jeff Cavins—Great Adventure).


If you would like to help sponsor any of the above-mentioned projects, please let us know! Whatever you can do will be greatly appreciated! Remembering you in our Christmas Novena beginning December 16 -- please send us your intentions! If you're downtown, join us for the Novena! (Starts at 6:30pm, December 16—December 24.)


Blessed Christmas and New Year,

Sr. Helen Rita, Sr. Mary Thecla, Sr. Susan Miriam,

Sr. Anne Joan, Sr. Helena Raphael


Daughters of St. Paul          172 N. Michigan Ave.          Chicago, IL 60601          312-346-4228    


Family and Friends Cheesy and Pompous Microscopic Christmas Newsletter*


Dear Family and Friends,


Greetings from the Land of Lincoln (and ethanol)! Indiana is trying to get into the Lincoln act. The official state welcoming sign now says: "Indiana—Boyhood Home of Lincoln." He is just SO beloved out here. Another year bites the snow! I hope you are all dancing and prancing in Jingle Bell Square in the frosty air. Chicago just gets better and better. Mayor Daley is on his 6th term (if he finishes it, he will be the longest reigning US mayor ever). Word is that he's grooming his son to continue the dynasty. Whatever he's doing, it certainly works. The new bird of Chicago is the "crane." They're all over the skyline, and each new condo that goes up is sold out before construction is completed. This is a city of young adults because the job market is booming. Chicago factoid for you: Buckingham Fountain (right next to Lake Michigan) marks the beginning of the fabled Route 66! AND I think I've finally cracked the secret of the Midwest. The East Coast has roots but no wings. The West Coast has wings but no roots. The Midwest has both. Folks that are grounded and open at the same time.

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da….Batman!

For those of you with too much time on your hands, my "da's" are anatomically correct:16. Try the theme song yourself! So I felt like I never left L.A. because they were filming Batman #17 in Chicago this summer, and LYING to us—telling us it was a movie called "Rory's First Kiss." (Rory is the name of the director's kid.) Whadda they think, we're a bunch of Midwestern bumpkins? We have roots AND wings! But we figgered it out. We had a priest from Sicily staying with us, who kept taking pictures at the outdoor sets and didn't quite get it that when they kick you off the set, they mean it. The film crew told us there was going to be an explosion and they didn't want us to get hurt. Right. An explosion named Christian Bale.

The Real Cranes

You haven't lived till you've seen and heard migrating Sandhill Cranes. (They live up in Wisconsin and beyond.) At first you think they're Canada geese, but the honking is more eerie and prehistoric sounding. They fly with the moon on their wings—no wait, that's the song—they fly with neck and legs outstretched (ouch!) unlike other birds that tuck 'em in. 80-inch wingspan! They spiral up in the thermals (like hawks) to great heights. It's really something quite mystical.

The Fake Eagles

The diocese of Superior, Wisconsin, is huge. It comprises 16 counties, and borders Lake Superior (Canada) at its nothernmost. If you're thinking "Brrrrr," you're right. Diocesan motto: "Not big time, just a good time." I went eagle-watching in Superior. I went to all the eagle haunts where the locals swore I would see eagles and eagle nests. They made it sound like eagles are to Superior what pigeons are to Chicago. Nothing. I have been eagle watching many times in my life--at places named Eagle Lake, Eagle Harbor, Eagle Rock, Eagle Bay, Eagle River, Eagle Mountain, Eagle Pond. Nada. (The only bald eagle I've ever seen is on the Muppets.) I'm beginning to think that our "E Pluribus Unum" friends should be put BACK on the endangered list 'cuz I sure haven't seen any! But then again my Dad, who loved moose and spent many summers hiking and mountain-climbing in New Hampshire before he died, never saw a moose. And moose do exist because I saw TWO of them the ONE morning my Dad did NOT accompany me to daily Mass one summer in New Hampshire.

Of Media Workshops, Blogs, YouTube and Facebook

Yes, I continue to blather about media literacy, philosophy, and Theology of the Body (took a week-long course with Christopher West this summer—wow!) to all who will listen, traveling around the Upper Midwest. We also do book and media exhibits with these talks. We just got IOWA and part of NEBRASKA added to our "territory." Our sisters in St. Louis tried to steal southern Ohio from us, but we weren't having any of that! I began an eponymous blog: Again, if you have too much time on your hands, you may want to check out where I have left my footprints in the cornstalks this year (just click on past months and days on the left hand column). I did my first YouTube (just search for "Daughters of St. Paul—Ask the Nuns!") The video is wretched and the audio is worse, but you gutta start somewhere. I am loving Facebook (aka "Wastebook" because of all the time spent on it)! It's really a great way to organize your online life and know when all your friends are brushing their teeth.

Vocation Work

"Jambo!" means "Howzit?" in Kenyan. A young woman studying in Illinois, Jackie Gitonga, is joining the Daughters of St. her native Kenya. The United States' loss, Kenya's gain. Please pray for her as she finishes her studies and abandons us. But I'm not bitter. We had a wonderful vocation retreat here this summer which 9 young women attended. Almost 10. Let me explain. The last young woman to be picked up--Anne--called from the train station. "I'm at the corner of Jackson and Canal." I drove there with a few of the retreatants in the car, and there she was, like all the others, sitting on her suitcase, clutching a pillow. We waved, she ran to the car, we hugged, loaded her stuff, she piled in, we drove off. Everyone introduced themselves. She said her name was "Amanda." (Hmmm. Maybe I had gotten the name wrong.) "Where are you from?" they asked her. "Michigan." (Hmmm. Anne was from California but GOING to Michigan.) Then Amanda piped up: "Where's Aleesha?" I slammed on the brakes. (There was no Aleesha on the retreat.) "OK—who are you and who do you think we are and did you or did you not sign up for a vocation retreat?" I demanded. Amanda: "No." All the other retreatants in chorus: "We kidnapped you!" Me: "Why did you get in the van??!!" "Because Aleesha works with handicapped children and I thought maybe she worked with nuns and maybe she sent the nuns to get me." Needless to say we whooped and hollered all the way back to the train station. The police screamed at us for parking in the bus lane as we unloaded "Amanda," but we were laughing too hard to hear or care. "Have a nice life, Amanda!" we all shouted.

Life in the Foodie Community

So I walk in the living room before supper, and there's Sr. Thecla, our community cook (just celebrated her 50th anniversary of profession this year), watching the Food Channel, SOBBING!! She was watching one of those cooking contest shows, and this young man had his culinary creation brusquely rejected. He and Sr.Thecla were sobbing. Evidently the young man said: "It's like someone rejected your son." Typical supper in the Chicago community: Sr. Thecla (foodie): meat, potatoes and veggies. Sr. Susan (ascetic): whatever Sr. Thecla cooks. Prunes for dessert. If it's Sunday, ice cream. Sr. Anne (foodie): whatever Sr. Thecla cooks, with the addition of her own tangerine-feta-ginger-honey-rosemary-balsamic-tumeric dressings. Sr. Helen (Alaskan outdoorswoman): bowl of vegetables and two apples. Sr. Helena (processed foodie): Raisin Bran.

"He Speaks to You" and a new screenplay

The daily devotional for young women I've been working on, "He Speaks to You," will come out in 2008, God willing. Mother asked me, "Didn't Sr. Marie Paul dedicate her first book to her mother?" I'm also beginning a screenplay on the life of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione. I didn't save on my car insurance, but I did lower my cholesterol by cutting down dairy and eating raw flaxseed—a miracle food.

NOT Back on the Road Again

Mother and I were (insanely) going to take a road trip down to the deep South in the middle of record-breaking heat this August to see relatives. But Mom broke her wrist very badly which made it impossible. (Mom was walking "Spencer" the dog—on a 30-ft. cable—who decided to run after "Lucky" the cat. Mom decided to hold on to the cable.) My sister, Mary—a long-time Californian--is moving to Georgia to be with her son, David, so we'll have to try again soon!

172 N. Michigan—Seminarian Depot

We had an inordinately high number of seminarians coming over for pizza this year. One bunch was from Peoria, Illinois  ("Boyhood Home of Fulton Sheen"). They plan to drive to Rochester, NY, and steal Bishop Sheen's bones and bring them back to Peoria where they belong.

We Irish

"We Irish have a streak of pessimism that sustains us in times of joy." –Bishop Boland, Kansas City, MO

"Irish Alzheimers: When you only remember the bad stuff." I just read the life of St. Bridget of Ireland (who wished for a "lake of beer for the King of heaven"—no kidding). What an extraordinary lady! Turns out she was based in Kildare where the O'Byrne clan originally hung their shelaleighs, until they were pressed eastward by the "Scandinavian horror." At the risk of sounding like St. Bridget, I have to share this: "If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every Spring. He sends a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He listens. He can live anywhere in the universe, but He chose your heart. Face it friend, He is crazy about you! God didn't promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears and light for the way." –Anonymous Uplifting Cyberspace-Circulating Thingamahooey

"Elf" and "Bella"

I hope you all saw these two movies. Remember the "Elf" rules:

1.        Treat every day like it's Christmas.

2.        There's room for everyone on the "nice" list.

3.        The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.

The Niecephews

Colleen is 16, and yes, America and Canada, DRIVING. Actually she has a sweet jeep and is the family chauffeur. Kevin is 14, and playing Lacrosse. Christopher is 5, began kindergarten and CCD, and has to wear whatever Kevin wears.

Christmas in Heaven

My brother, Robert (Bif), 74; my uncles Gilbert Lawlor, 79, and Richie Lawlor, 77; my brother-in-law Guy; and a dear friend's mother, Filomena, 91.


ARE YOU STILL READING THIS?? If you are, please send me your email because a first class stamp will probably be $7.89 next Christmas, and if I send you a Christmas EMAIL, I won't be limited to just TWO pages! You lucky devil you!    love and prayers,  Sr. Helena xo xo xo


*Remember, Cheesy because it's quick, slick and impersonal; Pompous because it assumes you actually care what I've been doing all year; and Microscopic because I think ALL my news is desperately important!