Crime & Courts

Nuns who provide care at county jail featured in documentary

Sisters JoAnn Persch (left) and Pat Murphy, of the Sisters of Mercy, look through paperwork during a pastoral care session in the library of the McHenry County Jail.
Sisters JoAnn Persch (left) and Pat Murphy, of the Sisters of Mercy, look through paperwork during a pastoral care session in the library of the McHenry County Jail.

Two nuns often can be found providing pastoral care to the immigrants housed at the McHenry County Jail and other detention centers.

And now, Sisters JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy can be seen on the big screen.

“Band of Sisters” premiered Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago and will run through Thursday. The documentary focuses on the lives of nuns post-Vatican II, a 1960s meeting in Rome of all the world’s Catholic bishops with the goal of bringing the church into the modern world.

Before Vatican II, lives of the sisters were mostly in the convent, Persch said. There are clips from when Sister Murphy went to South America in a full habit.

“Then, when Vatican II happened, we were going back to the roots of our founders and renewing the spirits of our community,” Persch said. “It meant educating ourselves, which we did, and realizing our role was more with the people of God than locked up in a convent.”

Filming of Persch and Murphy began about four years ago and follows their fight to enter Broadview Detention Center in Chicago to provide pastoral care to the immigrants detained there.

Other sisters featured in the movies have different social and environmental causes.

“We’re all working for the same goal of believing that every person is a person of dignity and worth,” Persch said. “We as people of faith have a commitment to be present with them and see that their humanity is being respected ... so those are themes that run throughout the movie.”

Director and producer Mary Fishman met Persch and Murphy through a church peace and social justice committee. The women were willing to be filmed and have Fishman follow them as they fought for immigrants’ rights.

“I was looking for sisters who had an ongoing story that I could follow for a while, where things would be happening and we didn’t know the outcome,” Fishman said. “I wanted to be able to show the sisters at work on some type of social justice issue.”

For Sisters Persch and Murphy, they had been turned down by Broadview officials, forced to pray the rosary outside. But they didn’t take no for an answer.

It took years and getting a bill passed in Illinois before they were allowed inside.

Persch said she wants people to know that the sisters are of deep faith, but also well-educated and will stand on the front lines for others who are marginalized or oppressed.

“We can speak for them, often when they cannot speak for themselves,” she said. “I would like people to see us in that light.”

“Band of Sisters” was completed in May and is 88 minutes long.

For information about the documentary, visit

If you go

What: “Band of Sisters” documentary.

Where: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Chicago.

When: 8 p.m. Monday; 6:15 p.m. Wednesday; or 8:15 p.m. Thursday

Cost: $11 general admission, $7 students. Tickets available at the Film Center Box Office from 2 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday or 5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also available through Ticketmaster.

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