Small towns don’t necessarily have small stories.
More than two decades ago, Sister Mary Lou Liptak became parish life director at St. Lucy/St. Bernadette Church in Altamont. She was one of the first to take the position after it was created by the Albany Diocese.
A woman in a leadership position didn’t sit well with everyone who attended the church. But it made for a really unique situation.
“It’s a pretty revolutionary story when looking at the Catholic Church,” said Nick Viscio, a filmmaker from Altamont.
It’s also a story that Viscio and his wife, Marie, have been working to tell for the past few years. Finally, on Friday, they’ll be showing the fruits of their labor with a screening of “A Calling” at Proctors.
The film follows the story not only of Sister Liptak, but of the changing views on women and their role in the church. It’s told through interviews with Liptak and members of the church.
“If it was going to happen anywhere, it was going to happen here,” said Eileen Borden, a St. Lucy/St. Bernadette parishioner featured in the film.
Borden moved to Altamont and began attending St. Lucy’s in the 1990s when Sister Liptak had already assumed a leadership role. At the time, it didn’t seem particularly revolutionary, though it was not accepted by everyone, and Borden herself had grown up in a small town where it would not likely have been welcomed.
“I’m blown away that people are shocked that we have a woman who is a spiritual leader,” Borden said. It’s important to have a good faith leader regardless of whether or not they are male or female, said Borden.
That ideal doesn’t necessarily reflect the Vatican’s policies. Yet Viscio said the film is in no way an anti-Vatican policy film.
“It’s counter-image to how the world views the Catholic Church. It’s not as dug in [as people think]. These changes are happening,” Viscio said.
Although Pope Francis has said time and again that women will never be allowed to be priests, he has also said he would like to see women’s roles in the church expanded. But many say the sentiment has remained just that: a sentiment, a hope without a plan.
Viscio argues that, at least on a local level, the church has made significant strides.
“[Women] stepped in with fortitude. The impact of that change in our community has been far-reaching,” Viscio said.
Having Sister Liptak as parish life director has changed the attitudes of many in the church.
At first “It didn’t sit well with everybody,” Viscio said. But as time passed, that feeling seemed to dissipate, and most came to see her leadership as just that: faith leadership.
“It’s all my daughter has known,” Borden said.
Her daughter, who is now in her teens, grew up with a female faith leader, which Borden said is unique for a small-town Catholic church.
At times, Borden has felt like having Sister Liptak has been a bit like an experiment, especially since she’s not aware of many other churches placing women in leadership roles quite like Sister Liptak’s. She leads the service every Sunday, and much of the day-to-day operations of the church. Borden said she’s always admired Sister Liptak, not only for her strong leadership, but for her compassion and ability to really connect with the church body.
“She knows everyone by name,” Borden said. “It shows that as a leader, she takes the time to show each and every member that they are important, valued and loved.”
Viscio said the film also shows how much women have done in service to the church and for women. Besides interviews with church members, the film includes clips from the Women’s March.
“Nuns were at these marches,” Visico said, “This was news to me.”
It’s also news that he thinks many might not know themselves.
“Historically, women have been the backbone of the church,” Viscio said. “They remain the backbone, but their work is not often made visible to the outside simply because they don’t advertise it. They’re not marching or serving others or volunteering in the church for the attention, they’re doing it because it’s their calling and they answer it with fortitude.”
It’s why the film goes beyond the Catholic Church, and beyond a specific religion.
“I think everyone has a calling,” Borden said.
The film highlights those who have followed theirs, no matter the obstacles.
“A Calling” will be shown Friday at Proctors. After that, Viscio said he’s already had several requests for screenings across the country.
“It’s really taken off. For it to have these regional showings is fantastic,” Viscio said.
For information about the film, including where to see it next, visit acalling.njvisciofilms.com.
WHEN: 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday
MORE INFO: proctors.org