Nuns who could run a Fortune 500 company

In Hollywood, of all places, a religious vocation suddenly has new meaning. Who would have thought the world that created “Two and a Half Men” and “Family Guy” could have a deeper, spiritual dimension?

Now hear this: Ugly Betty, a.k.a. actress America Ferrera, will put on the habit in a CBS drama about a nun who is a crusading lawyer seeking social justice for the disenfranchised. Well, maybe she won’t put on the habit because that might be asking too much.

The last time I saw a nun on TV, when I had a TV, Sally Field was taking off into the stratosphere in the classic sitcom, “The Flying Nun,” but I don’t think she had a law degree, just a pilot’s license, as she darted through the clouds from escapade to escapade before landing for vespers.

The allure of Hollywood could never appeal to women with true vocations. In her book The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows, Dolores Hart, who gave Elvis his first on-screen kiss, talks about her journey of faith as a Benedictine nun and why she left behind the glamour of stardom and pursued God instead of fame.

Hart was in 10 movies with stars like Anthony Quinn, Myrna Loy and Montgomery Clift, and then she walked away from a multi-million dollar career for the contemplative life in a convent. Today, she’s prioress at the Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Conn., and her story was turned into an HBO documentary titled “God Is Bigger Than Elvis.”

The entertainment industry usually views religious vocations with suspicion or derision. Celebrities like Madonna and Lady Gaga do their best to profane the sacred with their tawdry acts, like dressing up in habits made out of latex. The weird thing is Gaga went to a Catholic girls school, which just proves education can’t solve everything.

One of my co-workers is convinced we need to bring back the old-fashioned nuns in black habits with their orthopedic shoes to restore discipline in the classroom.

Laura remembers her high school days when the nuns made the girls kneel in the morning to determine whether their skirts were too short, which is probably a practice public schools should adopt. If the hems touched the floor, they were good to go. It was a different world. “Modesty” was still part of our vocabulary.

“Whenever we passed one of the sisters in the hall or on the street, whether we knew them or not, we always said, ‘Good morning Sister,’” she recalled.  “And whenever they entered a classroom, we all stood and gave the proper address.”

The Old School nuns always inspire fond or frightening memories. My former colleague Angela often tells stories about the nuns in her elementary school, who wielded 16-inch wooden rulers and whacked her knuckles with impunity. We no longer believe in corporal punishment, but I’ve often wondered what Angela did to provoke the alleged assault. I’m sure she’d insist “absolutely nothing” — that she was minding her own business ... a victim of circumstance, as usual.

When my wife and daughters volunteered for several weeks with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, caring for lepers, the sick and the dying, they saw what women committed to social justice and a higher spiritual purpose can accomplish. Ugly Betty could get some serious on-the-job training in Calcutta or the South Bronx, where they care for AIDS patients.

Years ago when I taught English grammar and composition, I worked with nuns who were strong-willed women, and I have no doubt they could run a Fortune 500 Company with their acumen, integrity and sense of purpose. And when all else fails, they can still rely on those 16-inch rulers.

Joe Pisani may be reached at