(RNS) 2015 was a notable year for nuns in popular culture, whether hitting it big on reality TV or stirring up controversy on Twitter. A recap of some of the year’s top nun headlines:
1. SINGING NUNS WE’VE KNOWN AND LOVED
Sister Cristina Scuccia was back in the news this year, after the Italian Ursuline nun wowed the entertainment world by winning Italy’s version of the TV singing competition "The Voice" in 2014 -- performing in full habit -- and signed a record deal with Universal. Now she’s starring in a new stage production of "Sister Act" that opened in Rome before Christmas.
Suor Cristina (Suor is Italian for Sister) thinks the pope would approve: “I think he would support me, because the church must reduce its distance from the people,” she told Italian news agency ANSA.
Why does popular culture so love singing nuns? God only knows. But Suor Cristina brings back fond memories of at least two other chart-topping singing nuns from the 1960s and ‘70s:
The first was Belgian Dominican Sister Luc Gabrielle (Jeanine Deckers, aka Soeur Sourire, "Sister Smile"), who had a No. 1 pop hit with “Dominique” in 1963 -- and whose life came to a tragic end in a double suicide in 1985.
In 1974, Australian Sister Janet Mead’s rock version of "The Lord’s Prayer" became a worldwide hit. A member of the Sisters of Mercy in Adelaide, Sister Marietta, as she is known, has taught music and produced three CDs. She is now in her 70s.
But Sister Cristina also may have whetted the world’s appetite to hear more monastic voices:
A 30-year-old Orthodox Christian monk just last week took first place in "The Voice of Russia" reality TV contest, reports Sputnik News.
Hieromonk Photy Mochalov, 30, a priest and monk of the St.-Pafnutiy Monastery in Borovsk, southwest of Moscow, won the Russian version of the famous TV singing contest. The finals were broadcast live on TV Channel One on Dec. 25.
2. SOMEONE’S IN THE KITCHEN WITH … SISTER
Sister Alicia Torres of Chicago in November cooked up headlines -- and attention to hunger and poverty issues -- on the Food Network TV cooking competition show "Chopped," winning $10,000 for Our Lady of the Angels Mission to provide meals for neighbors in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.
Torres, 30, was one of four chefs trying to jazz up a typical Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey, green beans, potatoes and cranberries -- on the special volunteer edition of the show. “The Lord gave me this talent,” Torres told judges, noting that she never went to culinary school. “I believe the kitchen is my canvas where I get to express myself creatively.”
Torres helped found the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago on the city’s West Side and recently professed vows. The new community is devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, evangelization and service to the poor.
3. A DEER-HUNTING NUN CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS
A Pennsylvania nun sparked outrage on social media after she posed for a photo proudly showing off a 10-point buck she shot on a hunting trip.
Sister John Paul Bauer, a teacher at a Catholic high school in the Erie Diocese, said she prayed the rosary as she waited in her tree stand on the first day of deer season.
And when a herd of deer arrived, she took aim and shot a buck that had a 16-inch antler spread.
— Sportsman's Guide (@sportsmansguide) December 11, 2015
A post on the diocese’s Facebook page of the nun with her trophy killing quickly drew more than 1 million page views, and many outraged comments. “Was your God not clear when he said, ‘Thou shalt not kill?'” wrote one commenter.
Bauer didn’t seem to understand the uproar. ”In St. Mary's, this is what you do,” she told a local news outlet. “You go hunting. Everybody goes hunting. The coach, myself, the students.”
But Catholic ethicist Charles Camosy of Fordham University says that hunting, in most cases, is a violation of Catholic teaching on our duties to animals.
“The catechism of the Catholic Church insists that we have a moral obligation to treat animals with kindness and that it is morally prohibited to cause animals to suffer or die without need,” Camosy says.
4. OUTSPOKEN SISTER JOAN SHARES A SECRET PAST
Social activist and prolific author Joan Chittister, the outspoken Benedictine sister from Erie, Pa., may be one of America’s best-known nuns. But even longtime friend and journalistic colleague Tom Roberts didn’t know her as well as he thought he did.
She recently opened up to Roberts, editor-at-large for the National Catholic Reporter, about a fearful childhood she had long kept secret. The conversations became the basis for a new biography of Chittister, 79, titled “Joan Chittister: Her Journey from Certainty to Faith,” published in October.
“All my professional life, I have spoken my heart out for the role of women all over the world," she told Religion News Service. "It’s a theological thing, a deeply moral thing, the determining issue for the integrity of the church and the advancement of any state."
“It’s time to acknowledge that this material is not just theological and rhetorical. It’s real. I’m not just talking from compassion, from a world I don’t know anything about," Chittister said. "I’m talking about myself -- and all social classes, all kinds of people.”
5. AND IN OTHER NEWS …
Well yes, OF COURSE there were many more weighty news stories about nuns and sisters in 2015, from the recent approval of sainthood for Mother Teresa of Calcutta to the legal battles of the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose case against Obamacare’s contraception mandate the Supreme Court has agreed in consider. And don't forget the Vatican in April officially concluding its seven-year investigation of American nuns.
But we know what you’re really wondering, dear reader -- how can a pop-culture roundup featuring singing nuns, cooking nuns and shooting nuns escape any mention of flying nuns?
This year they took the bus.
(Leslie Miller is a contributor to Religion News Service)