Stereotypes and the singing nun

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Over the past month many friends have shared links on my Facebook page of Ursuline Sr. Cristina Scuccia, the singing nun featured on Italy’s “The Voice.” I have to be honest in saying that up to this past weekend I have resisted watching any of the clips, silently objecting to the stereotypical image of a Catholic sister in popular media. Over the weekend, however, I saw a tweet that she had won the competition and gave in to watch the video and see what they hype was all about.

Scuccia’s first appearance on the show was in March, singing the 2007 Alicia Keys hit “No One” when she surprised all four judges who begin with their back to the singer until they are impressed enough to hit a button to turn their chair around. Following with performing other American pop music hits from Bon Jovi, Cindy Lauper and Mariah Carey among others, Scuccia made it through several rounds of the competition, eventually winning on Friday with 62.3 percent of the popular vote of viewers.

Though Scuccia’s videos are all over Facebook and Twitter feeds, little is actually known about Scuccia or what, as a Catholic nun, she plans to do with a Universal Recording contract. In an article appearing in Variety, Scuccia credits Pope Francis and his call to “get out onto the streets” in her inspiration to audition for the show.

When watching the videos, I find that so much about this story speaks to me of novelty – a young woman with a sensible black dress on and crucifix around her neck, crediting God with her victory. Would she have been as successful if she weren’t dressed in a habit? Was it her talent that caught people’s attention or her appearance? 

Perhaps I am approaching this from a cynical viewpoint, but as I have been thinking about her victory over the past couple of days I still see the media’s reaction to Scuccia as perpetuating false stereotypes of what Catholic nuns are or should be, women who are separated from the world who very rarely encounter popular culture let alone have the gifts to do what Scuccia has done.

Women religious have worked hard over the past 50 years to break away from pre-Vatican II stereotypes to credibly represent their communities and ministries, seeking to be educated and leaders of change in church and society.  Perhaps in my cynicism what I resist most is an emerging stereotype that is being guided by popular media with images of Scuccia talking about God as “the man upstairs.” 

[Colleen Dunne is an NCR Bertelsen intern in editorial and marketing and a primary contributor to Global Sisters Report.]