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The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

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The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Post  Elena on Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:08 pm

The Bells of St. Mary's is often referred to as the film which most exemplifies the mythological Church of pre-Vatican II days, the Church That Never Was, so to say. It is seen as idealizing priests and nuns and parish life when in reality, as we are continually being told, priests were abusive monsters and nuns were shrewish old hags. However, every time I see The Bells of St. Mary's I am struck by how many things about the film resonate with my own experience of Catholicism over four and a half decades. The nun friends that I have had laughed together just like those in the film, especially in the scene when the cat got inside Fr. O'Malley's hat on the mantelpiece. And the striving of the parish to keep the school open is not unreal either.

Here is one brief synopsis:
Produced in 1945, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” is the sequel to the 1944 Academy Award winning Best Picture “Going My Way.” Bing Crosby returns to his role of Father Chuck O’Malley. Father O’Malley has just been transferred to a new church, St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s is a church and school in disarray and without enough funds to even make basic repairs. In fact the parish is in serious danger of being shut down. While at St. Mary’s, Father O’Malley comes in to constant conflict with the school’s head nun, Sister Benedict, played by Ingrid Berman. He thinks she is too tough on the kids, she thinks he is too soft.

Making matters worse is crotchety, old Mr. Bogardus (Henry Travers) who is building a nice new office building next door to St. Mary’s and would like to see the parish torn down as the eye sore it is and turned into a parking lot for his new building. But Sister Benedict and the other nuns pray each day for Mr. Bogardus to somehow give the new building over to St. Mary’s so they may have a new place for their school. Father O’Malley thinks the nuns are wasting their time until of course the miracle of all miracles rewards the sisters’ faith.
It is always surprising how familiar some of the characters in the film are to me. Yes, when I went to parochial school there were some cranky old nuns. My husband has stories of his school days and encounters with grouchy teaching sisters that make one's hair stand on end. All the same, over the years I have known several nuns like Sr. Benedict, energetic, cheerful, and beautiful in every way. I have certainly encountered priests of the Fr. O'Malley variety, full of blarney at times, but able to connect with people from all walks of life. And what rectory does not have the occasional eccentric characters associated with it, such as the St. Mary's housekeeper Mrs. Breen, played to the hilt by the pixillated Una O'Connor. "You don't know what it's like to be up to your neck in nuns," she warns Fr. O'Malley, as he readies himself to embark on one of the most famous power struggles in filmdom.

Bing Crosby is not half so annoying as he was in Going My Way, the prequel of Bells. The fact that Ingrid Bergman was not a raised a Catholic and was not an especially devout person is testimony to her superb acting ability. Her composed deportment is right on target, restrained without being stiff. Sr. Benedict is able to gently impose a sense of discipline and order on the children while at the same time letting them know that they are loved unconditionally. I have known nuns just like her. She is based upon director Leo McCarey's aunt, a nun who helped to build Hollywood's Immaculate Heart Convent before dying of typhoid fever.

Sr. Benedict and Fr. O'Malley, like so many dedicated religious and clergy with whom I have been acquainted, interact with a variety of people with a plethora of problems, from the troubled young girl to the cranky old Bogardus. The story is fictional, meant to be entertaining and light-hearted but it touches upon very real quandaries. Sr. Benedict, who after overcoming many obstacles saves the school, has to lose it by going away. She is heartbroken and finds it hard to give up her own will, thinking that Fr. O'Malley has arranged her transfer on purpose. Discovering the truth at last helps her to accept everything that has happened in a spirit of faith. The look she gives Fr. O'Malley before walking away, eyes full of tears but radiant with peace, contains in it an ocean of sacrifice. In that sense, The Bells of St. Mary's is not only about the Church that was, it is about the Church that is, and that ever will be.

Sources:
http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2008/12/bells-of-st-marys-1945.html

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Bells of St. Mary's

Post  Elizabeth F. on Fri Apr 13, 2012 9:42 pm

Wonderful post, Elena. That's one of my all time favorites. I too don't believe that the movie inaccurately depicts the Church at that time. I have a collection of "Catholic" movie classics that I watch whenever I'm feeling down ~ they always help, this one in particular.

God bless you.

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Re: The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Post  Elena on Fri Apr 13, 2012 9:57 pm

God bless you! Very Happy

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