MAPLEWOOD, Minn. – If being a “romantic” disqualifies you for the religious life, Carole Sweely wouldn’t be celebrating her 50th year in the convent next year. She is a Benedictine sister affiliated with St. Paul’s Monastery in Maplewood, and “if they told me romantics weren’t allowed,” she says, “I would probably have to leave. I’m a romantic at heart, and movies made me that way.”
Sweely will lead a discussion group, “Sin and the Cinema,” on the third Wednesday of each month, from 6:45-9:30 p.m., starting in October and going through February. Participants will view The Good Son, The Sea of Grass, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Thousand Acres and Cider House Rules. The cost for each workshop is $10. To register online, go to www.stpaulsmonastery.org and follow the Benedictine Center Link.
Movies, Sweely believes, have the power to mold our souls and show us life. As we watch problems emerge up there on the screen, we can observe the human condition, and thus see ourselves in clearer, more compassionate ways. Many films address the spiritual side of our nature; so by sitting in darkened theaters, we can watch people struggle with demons just like our own, looking for the gift of grace we yearn for as well.
Sweeley was raised in Tracy, Minn., where two movie theaters were the town’s main source of entertainment. One theater showed westerns and war films, the other recent hits. So when she needed to fill up her free time or feed her imagination, Sweely headed for the movies. They showed her the world, she says, “and formed me more than I’m willing to admit. I liked musicals for a while, until I realized people didn’t break into a song and dance in real life.”
Thus began a life-long love affair with storytelling and filmmaking that-when done well, she explains-show us how to find redemption and live better, happier lives. Film director Martin Scorsese would agree. “The movie house, like the church,” he once said, “is a place for people to come together and share a common experience.”
According to Sweely, that common experience is found watching stories unfold and leaving the theater with a deeper understanding of our shared humanity.
“Films tell us a lot,” she explains. “We can learn from the mistakes of characters living unhealthy lifestyles or creating destructive situations for themselves. They show us the need to make better choices and live daily life in a smarter way.
“There aren’t too many opportunities in this life to try everything and be all we want to be. Characters in novels and films, however, can do it for us. We can learn from people who have fulfilled their dreams, yet experience disappointment. We can avoid pain by seeing how they struggle with their own inner demons. We can begin to understand why some people are unpleasant or hard to work with. How do we deal with difficult people? How do we deal with our own problems? Good books and films give us some answers. They help us decode our own – and other people’s – possibilities for sin and redemption.”
Movies of love, mystery and adventure had such an impact on Sweely’s growing-up years that she went on to pursue a masters degree in Communication and Film at Notre Dame University. And – as a teacher of English and Film – she has shared her love with thousands of high school students throughout the country. She is now serving as a librarian for St. Paul’s Monastery, but confesses, “I’m really a teacher at heart.”
For that reason, she teaches film courses through the Benedictine Center, hoping to “snare” people into coming together and talking about movies. She says her series “Sin and the Cinema” will explore the “less attractive facets of the human condition, but with characters who yearn for release.”
For information, call (651) 777-7251 or e-mail [email protected]. The Benedictine Center is located at 2675 Larpenteur Ave. E. in Maplewood.