The show follows five young Catholic women from different backgrounds who have at least considered the notion of taking vows to become Brides of Christ. But, unlike “The Bachelor” and its ilk, none of the girls is going to be forced to make a life-changing choice at the end of the show, nor will any be voted off the convent tour partway through. And ultimately, if anyone is handing a rose to one of these young women, it’s going to be strictly in the spiritual sense.
While the participants’ six-week process of visiting three religious communities is TV artifice, their faith and their struggles are real. And at least one of them hopes that opening herself up to the cameras can help others.
“One of the reasons I feel God called me to do it,” says Harrington Park, New Jersey, resident Francesca DiPaola, 22 (she was 21 during filming), “is to reach out to people. Everybody has been so positive. I really feel God has used me to do good, in that respect.”
According to a piece posted at NorthJersey.com, DiPaola graduated from the Academy of the Holy Angels in Demarest, New Jersey, and received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Obviously, the participants can’t say whether or not they have continued the pursuit of religious life, but DiPaola has plenty to say about her faith.
She tells CatholicVote about how she fell into meditative prayer once during a homily during Mass, “and when I checked back into the homily, the priest was saying, ‘Be the light you want to see in the world.’
“I felt like that was my real, true calling.”
Later, she came across an online casting announcement for “The Sisterhood.”
“Then this project presented itself to me,” she says, ” and I’m like, ‘What better way to go about my discernment than to evangelize the Church and be an example for other girls?”
Viewers who saw the first episode witnessed DiPaola, who has acne issues, having a bit of a meltdown over the request of the Carmelite Sisters at the first convent that the young women not wear makeup during the time they were there.
“Definitely,” says DiPaola, “being in front of the cameras, I had anxiety about my looks. It was like being under a microscope. The other girls really helped me get through that, because they weren’t much older than me. They had such a strong sense of self and self-confidence, and that’s something that I was definitely learning there.”
She continues, “I was really insecure about my skin. I was freaking out. Then instead of just freaking out, I was like, ‘Wow, I have these other girls. They’re so secure in themselves, and they know what to say to comfort me,’ and it was so nice to have that.”
The bio on the Lifetime homepage for “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns,” says that DiPaola “struggles with Church positions on hot-button issues.” But when asked about this, DiPaola says she and the other four hashed out a whole range of issues — and the final editing is not up to her.
“I haven’t seen any of the episodes,” she says, “so I don’t know exactly what they’re going to focus on. But I know that, since the other girls were older than me, I was challenging them pretty much on everything. I just wanted to know their opinions on everything the Catechism had to say.
“Although, I’m obviously very religious, and I’m Catholic, I just wanted to know their opinions. The girls were so intelligent, and they had so much to say, and they had such a way of wording things.”
DiPaola also took comfort in the sisters, who impressed her greatly (along with some of the secular reviewers of the show). But there are always ignorant or anti-Catholic naysayers (including some who posted comments on my first story about the show) who wonder why modern women would want to commit their lives to Christ and His “totally male-dominated organization.”
“For me,” says DiPaola, “personally, it’s about fulfillment. The call is really what’s drawing me. It’s God’s choice. God is calling me to do something, and at the end of the day, I have to listen to what He wants me to do.
“The fulfillment that I see from these sisters get from following God, I want that, too. So it’s more about finding fulfillment. Whatever your call is, you want to find fulfillment. So, women have options, and that’s wonderful, but no matter what you do, you want to find fulfillment in that option.
“If God is going to fulfill you, then that’s a great option. What truly impressed me the most was how [the sisters] were so genuinely happy by simply following God. They didn’t have a huge mansion or an expensive car, and they didn’t come home to a sexy husband, they just followed the Lord. And they were so happy and so fulfilled.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I want this, and if God is calling me to do this, then that’s what I want.”
Asked what she would say to a young person considering either converting to Catholicism or returning to the practice of the Faith, DiPaola says, “I would say, God is leading them there for a reason. I believe God always has a plan, and you shouldn’t fight your inclinations if you feel God is leading you there.”
Unlike some young people, DiPaola has never fallen away from the Faith. She credits her family’s strong witness, but says, “The number-one thing for me is the fact that Catholicism has Jesus Christ. I never stopped believing in Jesus. I never would have been able to get through life without believing that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.
“But the negative voices are so much louder than the positive voices about religion. That’s why I feel so proud to be a part of this, because I want the positive voices to be louder.
“The pope is calling us to evangelize, because those negative voices are louder.”
To her fellow Millennials, DiPaola says, “If you haven’t been to church in a long time, go and just try one more time, at least. Before you turn away, give it that one more try and just see. You may have a miraculous turnaround.”