Overview

During the almost 40 year Soviet period, priests, bishops, Sisters and members of both Catholic and Protestant churches were harassed, suppressed, imprisoned, exiled and driven underground by Soviet regimes. The documentary, Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism, focuses specifically on Byzantine rite and Roman rite Catholic Sisters. The documentary was generated from the research project, Sister Survivors of European Communism, begun in 2003 by Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas Margaret Nacke and Mary Savoie who began collecting testimonies, photographs, and other data from Sisters in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. All data from the project are archived at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL.

While not all of the activities listed below applied to every Sister and community in every country, the experiences were nonetheless widespread:

Sisters’ schools, hospitals and motherhouses were seized by the state and turned over to secular uses with little or no compensation;Sisters were denied the right to assembly and to accept and train new members;Sisters were forced to work on state collective farms, in factories and mental institutions;Sisters’ teaching and nursing certificates were revoked and they were forbidden to work in these “helping professions” for fear of contaminating and influencing others with their beliefs;Sisters were imprisoned or sent into exile in Siberia as political punishment for resistance, assisting or hiding priests, arranging Masses, meeting with youth, or evangelizing children in the faith;Sisters in some countries were forbidden to wear their community habits and veils;Sisters were forced to live secretly in ones and twos in apartments as laywomen, compelling them to gather and meet undercover;Sisters joined congregations through an underground network in which they did not know the identities of other “Secret Sisters” for fear of accidentally revealing and compromising others;Sisters professed vows secretly in small, intimate ceremonies, usually in the middle of the night, for fear of police detection; vow papers were often signed, witnessed and burned so as to leave no evidence;Sisters were kept segregated by the state in “concentration convents” with limited access to family and friends;Sisters suffered imprisonment, exile, torture, deportations and police surveillance.