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March 15, 2006     566 Words

St. Catherine of Siena: A Holy Role for Sister Nancy Murray

CINCINNATI—Actor Bill Murray might have fame, fortune and a mantel of awards for his film work,but there's another sibling in the Murray brood who is no stranger to the roar of the crowd. Bill's big sister, Nancy Murray, O.P., may never walk the red carpet, but her skills in drama have led her on a unique path of her own, playing St. Catherine of Siena in a one-woman show that has taken her around the world. With each performance, Sister Nancy brings to the stage a fascinating and remarkable saint—the role of a lifetime for this religious thespian.

A great saint and the woman playing her onstage are the subjects of St. Anthony Messenger's April cover story entitled, "St. Catherine of Siena: A Feisty Role for Sister Nancy Murray." In it, Managing Editor Barbara Beckwith delves into the tumultuous life of St. Catherine, as well that of Sister Nancy, a former schoolmate. After March 20, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.

When you're born into a family of nine, making your voice heard becomes a means of survival. In a house of future comedians and performers in Wilmette, Illinois, Sister Nancy deviated from the path and considered the Peace Corps after high school. But religious life soon grabbed hold of her. The Adrian Dominicans had impressed Sister Nancy in high school because they were no cookie-cutter congregation—they were individuals with different personalities.

The acting bug bit Nancy early. She was a drama major at Barry University and was the only one of her famous family with a degree in theater. This play about St. Catherine grew out of new translations of the saint's letters: "She was sassy. She was funny. She was courageous," Sister Nancy says. "She was feisty but lovable, direct but gentle. She knew the power of God's love."

She was also controversial. Born in Italy in 1347, St. Catherine was both medieval and modern. Refusing marriage and entering a life of fasting, prayer and service at 20, the Dominican saint spent years nursing in hospitals, aiding the poor and counseling prisoners. St. Catherine also dictated hundreds of letters, worked tirelessly to bring about peace and convinced Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon, France. His successor, Urban VI, asked her to be his advisor, but she died of a stroke in Rome in 1380.

Her legacy has touched many, including Sister Nancy. Before she landed this holy role, she taught drama, dance and theology, and was a campus minister. She worked as a catechist and youth minister in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago and has been involved in jail ministry.

But the lure of the stage and a chance to spread the message of St. Catherine were too great for Sister Nancy to resist. She performs for parishes, schools, hospitals and nursing homes and has taken the play to groups throughout the United States, Italy, Peru, Ecuador, Trinidad, Taiwan, East Timor and Santa Lucia.

Sister Nancy believes St. Catherine's message is necessary today. "The Church is in a time of struggle," she says. "As I've traveled around, I've seen that people are hungry for a voice of truth, like Catherine's, something that makes their faith relevant."

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