Sister Edith who keeps a lovely blog has recently commented on a T-shirt promoting an annual event:
It's Mayfest at our college. (Yes, we have May in April, even though this is northern Minnesota. By the time we actually reach May, it's Finals Week.) One part of Mayfest is the Reif Run, a 5k event for students, faculty, and staff. There are winners - but the ethos is simply to enjoy running through the college's neighborhood on a beautiful spring day. This year was the 30th Reif Run, a landmark.
Although I didn't see the run (my class is scheduled right through it), I did see the t-shirt, and it brought me to a standstill. No, it wasn't the neon-green color. It was the plump little nuns in full habits jogging along a little path.
There is not a single sister in this monastery who wears such garb, and only a very few who wear modified habits. On a campus where most students have at least one sister for a teacher at some point in time - and they see us all over the campus - they nonetheless trot out a worn and offensive stereotype. It never occurs to them that mocking nuns in traditional garb is, in essence, mocking the charism of the sisters who sponsor their college.
Someone will surely think I'm simply humorless and don't get the joke. Perhaps. But imagine the reaction if the t-shirts portrayed, oh, women in the hajib or burka running along a path and crossing the finish line? Hmong people pulling rickshaws along a race course? Scrawny pale thin young men with curly sidelocks and yarmulkes? Mocking drawings of people with disabilites? Native Americans with feathers in their hair? There would be an uproar - and everyone knows it. That's why we don't see t-shirts like that.
A past press release gives the flavour of the event, which sound more like frolicking than competition, which is an appropriate way to wind down after a rigorous school year:
St. Scholastica students often add to the festivity of the event by wearing body paint, unique “hats” or odd costumes, walking the course facing backward, pulling each other in wagons, etc. Participants in the 2005 race are encouraged to dress in prom attire.
I am completely perplexed about why dear sister is offended by the image and calls it mockery. She admits that the depictions are "cute" (I googled, but couldn't find the image) but finds it offensive and stereotypical. Being far-removed from the whole event, I must say that my impression was that the drawing was meant as an honour -- seeing the nuns as good-humoured, very much a part of the spirit of the school (still) and a nostalgic nod to their past visibility which spoke as a universal icon.
Sister may know more about the hearts of the organisers, but I would submit that even in this "sophisticated" age, the generosity of a live given to God cries out for its own display, and what better than the motherly nun, in cheerful habit, joining in the festivities with her charges. Catholicism has always known how to balance feasting with fasting, in a way that all could emulate, and these students wanted that icon to be a stamp of deeper meaning. (Perhaps they miss its real presence.)