There is no doubt that most audiences will feel all the better while watching this interesting and delightful film. And they will probably even feel much better by the time it has ended.
Over the years, there have been many documentaries which feature nuns reflecting on their lives, reflecting on religious life, reflecting on their place in the Church. Audiences in the past were used to seeing such movie nuns as Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St Mary’s or Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette.
Sister Loyola, who is featured in Gardening with Soul, lived her religious life as a Sister of Compassion through that half-century – and beyond. Serving as a nurse during World War II and then entering the convent, she is in her 80s as this film opens and turns 90 towards the end.
The Sisters of Compassion were founded by Mother Aubert, a woman of enterprise with an openness to people of all faiths and denominations. The sisters have communities in New Zealand and Fiji and worked in Australia, especially in Broken Hill.
Perhaps the first thing to note about Sister Loyola, is what a livewire she is, sprightly and birdlike, working in the garden, cherishing the garden, not only the plants but also the preparation of compost, doing some heavy lifting, and enlightening us about the processes of growth, with images of beautiful flowers, shrubs, and what happens every year, from winter through to autumn, which are the headings of the action of the film.
The title of the film also includes Soul. Sister Loyola is a wise guide in matters spiritual, indicating the depths of prayer and awareness of God over many decades, but able to speak in very practical terms, using garden analogies, using the seasons - able to explain many aspects of spirituality to a wide audience, even those not familiar with spirituality terms and ideas. But Sister Loyola speaks from long experience.
There are beautiful sequences of the sisters at Mass, distributing Communion, as well as the elderly sisters in the background, at prayer, at meals, and the joy of celebrating Sister Loyola’s 90th birthday.
The director behind the camera (not always easy to pick up with the limits of the sound engineering of the film) asks Sister to explain her life, the possibilities of marriage but her grief at the death of a friend during the war, her work as a nurse, her vocation, the old-style, rather strict convent life, the practical changes to the habit and its materials and the decision to live in a more contemporary world in 'mufti.'
A pleasing documentary that is very easy to recommend.
- Peter Malone, ACOFB
New Zealand, 2013. Documentary with Sister Loyola Galvin. Directed by Jess Feast. Rated G. 96 minutes.