Nancy Murray, O.P. as Catherine of Siena, O.P.
Nancy Murray is a sister in many ways, first to her community of Dominican sisters, to all those she has served over the years—and finally to her brother, actor Bill Murray, with whom she shares a vocation of acting.
Sister Murray brings to life another Dominican, the great 14th-century saint and doctor of the church Catherine of Siena. Dressed in a Dominican habit and using only a few props and a put-on Italian accent, Murray takes her one-woman show, Catherine of Siena: A Woman for Our Times, to audiences of all ages in parishes, schools, youth groups, even refugees in Darfur.
In preparation for her performances she sometimes reads back issues of parish bulletins to see what the community has been up to in providing help to others, then incorporates those stories into the play so that “they recognize themselves,” she told reporter Jeannette Cooperman in a National Catholic Reporter article.
After a life of intense personal prayer closeted in a room in her parents’ home, Catherine moved out into public life, caring for the sick and dying and visiting prisoners condemned to death. Murray has taught, worked with the poor, cared for those dying of cancer and AIDS, and visited prisoners.
Eventually Catherine went even farther out into the world, traveling and playing a major role in trying to reunite the papal schism in the 1300s which saw two men claiming to be pope. Catherine pressured Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon in France and return to Rome to get the church’s house back in order. In a letter to Gregory she said, “When are you going to get back here? We need you to come back to Rome and be a voice of unity. The church is like a flock that is being torn apart by wolves.” Witnessing the corruption of the Avignon court, she said “it stinks” and compared the bishops Gregory had appointed to “weeds planted in the garden of a church.”
Murray commented on Catherine’s activism by saying, “Our Catholic Church, for example, has not had a stellar record. So when you look at somebody from the 14th century confronting it—a woman, who was 27 at the time—you can imagine how countercultural she was.” A former file clerk at Rotary International, Murray joined the Dominicans Sisters of Adrian, Michigan over some resistance from her mother, who had once witnessed a profession of religious vows and remembered the “drama of the young woman, throwing her crown of flowers to her parents and saying, ‘I renounce the world and all its treasures,’ ” Cooperman wrote. “It left a terrible impression on her,” Murray said.
But then her father, a former seminarian, signed the papers allowing her to enter the Dominicans, saying, “They have rules of silence; she won’t last long.”
After Murray’s dad died suddenly, she was sure her mother would summon her home. But her novice director advised her to ask her brothers and sisters, so she did. “You stay where you are,” they said, “and pray for us.”