Saturday, October 24, 2009

Don't ask Sister Mary Martha...

I've got a confession to make: I've never liked the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog.

I know others like it, and have linked to it. But something about it always felt "off" to me. After a while I developed a theory--the blog might be somehow being written by Maripat Donovan, the woman who created the Late Nite Catechism series of improv plays. There were certain things about the blog, the writing style, the sense I had that Catholic beliefs were subtly being mocked instead of being treated seriously, and most of all "Sister Martha's" insistence that anyone who wanted to help her could instead donate for the care of retired nuns, that made me suspect this (because some part of the proceeds from Late Nite Catechism and its companion plays is always donated to retired nuns).

About the Late Nite Catechism plays, the Catholic League wrote way back in 1996:
New York, NY - The off-Broadway play Late Night Catechism premiered at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. The play ridiculed virtually every aspect of Catholicism including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Saints, the sacraments, Catholic schools, and Catholic customs. In particular, the sexual statements that the play made about Catholic beliefs and practices were unusually coarse.
As it turns out, though, there's some evidence out there that suggests the blog may be written by a different woman, not Maripat Donovan; my suspicions of Ms. Donovan appear to be unfounded. However, if the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog is really being written by The Write Club blogger Jane Morris, as is being speculated, things are still rather interesting.

Why? Because like Maripat Donovan, Jane Morris is from Chicago. Like Maripat Donovan, Jane Morris has played "Sister" in the Late Nite Catechism plays; in fact, this article mentions that Donovan and Morris were alternating the role in a Los Angeles production of Late Nite Catechism in 2000. Jane Morris is listed here with Maripat Donovan and Marc Silvia in this current production of "Sister's Christmas Catechism," as well.

So while my guess that Maripat Donovan herself was responsible for the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog has apparently turned out to be incorrect, it would seem that I might not have been too far off, if indeed this particular Jane Morris is the one hiding behind the visage of arguably the most popular "nun" on the Internet. Of course, the "Jane Morris" on The Write Club blog might not be the same Jane Morris who has been involved with the Late Nite Catechism plays, or perhaps the claim that a person named Jane Morris is behind "Ask Sister Mary Martha" will turn out to be spurious. But given the similarities I tend to see between the style of Late Nite Catechism and the style of "Ask Sister Mary Martha," I wouldn't be surprised if the Jane Morris who has been involved with Late Nite Catechism has been humorously "impersonating" a nun on the Internet.

UPDATE: As of Saturday night, the link to "The Write Club" blog no longer displays the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog as one of the "Write Club's" member-written blogs. A Google cache of the page still shows (for now) "Ask Sister Mary Martha" under the heading "Write Club Writers' Blogs." It's interesting that this has been done, don't you think?

22 comments:

Dawn Farias said...

Oh, a scandal! I don't know anything about any of this but I do know that you have SUCH a pretty blog.

;)

Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps like different verification security measures used for exchange of money on the internet we should have a Catholic 'Seal' of approval, verifying authenticity of nunness?

Tracy @Magnolia Cul-de-Sac said...

Ms. Morris has also played a character called 'Sister Mary Martha' advertised here:

http://fanaticsalon.blogspot.com/2009/01/january-2009.html

and the adverstising does seem to be somewhat in the vein of poking fun rather than apologetics...

SherryTex said...

Having been told sometimes that my blog was a favorite next to hers, I checked it out and it felt off to me as well.

Dymphna said...

Something about it doesn't seem real to me either but, I've yet to see anything heretical.

MAB said...

Regarding Ember Days, from teh Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 (on New Advent website):

"The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. The immediate occasion was the practice of the heathens of Rome. The Romans were originally given to agriculture, and their native gods belonged to the same class. At the beginning of the time for seeding and harvesting religious ceremonies were performed to implore the help of their deities: in June for a bountiful harvest, in September for a rich vintage, and in December for the seeding; hence their feriae sementivae, feriae messis, and feri vindimiales. The Church, when converting heathen nations, has always tried to sanctify any practices which could be utilized for a good purpose. At first the Church in Rome had fasts in June, September, and December; the exact days were not fixed but were announced by the priests. The "Liber Pontificalis" ascribes to Pope Callistus (217-222) a law ordering: the fast, but probably it is older. Leo the Great (440-461) considers it an Apostolic institution. When the fourth season was added cannot be ascertained, but Gelasius (492-496) speaks of all four."

Basically, "Sister" agrees with the imprimatur encyclopedia. Got anything else?

Red Cardigan said...

Dymphna, I don't know about heretical. To me, it just seems--irreverent. Mocking, a bit. Like when the author breezily says things about offering up her various nun-related trials for the poor souls in purgatory--but she's not really a nun, those aren't really her trials, and even if she's laudably offering up other things for the poor souls it's also possible that the whole thing is a put-on.

Certainly, the "Late Nite Catechism" improv shows always seemed irreverent and mocking to me when I would read about them in the newspapers (back in the day, before the Internet). But others insist that they're fine, and that "Sister's" impersonation of a nun in those shows was all meant in good fun, not really to poke fun at nuns or at the Church.

I think one's perspective here will depend on how one feels about traditional Catholicism--the LNC crowd seems to find everything about the Church prior to Vatican II to be screamingly funny.

Red Cardigan said...

MAB, I wasn't quibbling with "Sister's" take on the Ember days, but with "Sister's" claim that the Church went around grabbing pagan holidays and making them Catholic holidays instead. There may have been limited instances where this was done (such as Ember Days, which aren't really "holidays" in any sense of the word), but Christmas, Easter, and the like are really Christian holy days, not "baptized" pagan feasts--and the charge that they are usually comes from anti-Catholic Christian fundamentalists.

Another thing that bothers me about "Sister" is that she's done an improv play titled "Ask Sister Mary Martha." I wonder how many of the questions posted to her on her blog in good faith by people who thought she was a nun got used as fodder for this extremely questionably sort of comedy.

Anonymous said...

Of course it's got to be Jane Morris. She's a terrific writer and responsible for much of what has come out of Maripat Donovan's mouth in the past decade. Jane Morris was the behind the scenes ghostwriter/joke writer for those shows. She didn't get the credit, but did the work.

Anonymous said...

I came out and accused her of not being a real nun once and I was met with complete silence...so I knew I was onto something.

What made me think she wasn't a nun? Because while she loved to play up the "I'm an old-fashioned nun in habit" schtick, she used to let a couple of personal liberal biases slip. I debated her; she sputtered and responded with emotion; I called her on not being a nun and there you go.

Charlotte said...

My blog poll that had run for 6 months this year had already determined that she wasn't a nun!
http://cheekypinkgirl.blogspot.com/2009/06/sister-mary-martha-is-not-real-nun.html

Sally Thomas said...

I've never been a fan, either. Glad I'm not the only one who thought it didn't feel quite on the moneey.

Charlotte said...

The "Write Club" blog that supposedly listed "Ask Sister Mary Martha" as one of it's project blogs - well, it's no longer listing that blog anymore. Interesting.

WillyJ said...

This got me into thinking: Is the Ask Sister Martha blog contributing to building up the Church or not?

Tracy @Magnolia Cul-de-Sac said...

WillyJ, if by some happenstance something has built up the Church, - if it was done by fraudulent means, then the good is only by the grace of God. Only He can bring good out of evil. And make no mistake, 'bearing false witness' is evil.

The ends never justify the means.

If Jane Morris is SMM, and has been giving advice and selling things based upon that persona that was not fully disclosed to the readers or purchasers it is unethical to say the least.

Lindsay said...

"The "Write Club" blog that supposedly listed "Ask Sister Mary Martha" as one of it's project blogs - well, it's no longer listing that blog anymore. Interesting."

Indeed. If you google for it and look at cached articles from the past, you can still see it listed.

LarryD said...

Erin - I swear to you, it's not being written by Sister Patricia.

Red Cardigan said...

Whew, Larry, that's a relief!

But isn't Sr. Patricia really Andrew Sullivan?

;)

LarryD said...

But isn't Sr. Patricia really Andrew Sullivan?

Wouldn't that be something!

Elizabeth said...

...Are we familiar with the same Late Nite Catechism? It's not offensive at all. I am a Catholic who does not remember pre-Vatican II but is sympathetic with those who remember it fondly (such as my mother...my mom liked LNC too).

Rebekkah said...

Well, I realize that I am a little late to this party, per usual. But if anyone retained any doubt whatsoever about the identity of "Sister Mary Martha," I believe I can help out.

You see, I was one of those "gullible Catholics" that actually held a belief in the persona. Gotta give her credit where it's due -- she reminded me incredibly of a conglomerate of nuns from my youth.

I purchased a medal today from "Sister" in her Etsy store. The payment goes to: (drumroll, please) Jane Morris.

Disappointed? Yeah, I am. Well, a little. I have to say that I held doubts in the first place, even though I wanted to believe she was truly a Sister. Because I do miss them...Carmelites, Dominicans, Benedictines...habits flapping...I miss them so much.

And it was all intellectual for me until I purchased a .50 medal for 13 dollars...because you see, I didn't mind helping out a NUN. However, a comedy writer?? Um...no. Her residuals will likely see her through.

Mea culpa. I should have researched before I purchased.

elfin said...

Sister Mary Martha not a nun?! But of course she's not, most of us that read her blog know that. Her blog still helps people, so I am all for her posing.
I miss the "real" nuns too, you know with their habits flying, as another reader said in a earlier blog.
As long as she is doing something good ,and I believe she is, I see no harm in it. As a matter of fact, I see quite a lot of good that can be derived from her column.
As always, my opinion is just that, one opinion among many.