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Show Guide for Sister’s Christmas Catechism

Show Guide for Sister’s Christmas Catechism

A guide and "Catholic Glossary" to the irreverently hilarious and wildly successful show from Chicago.

About the Show: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold

Act I introduces an enigma nearly as old as Christ himself – the mystery of the Magi’s gold. Our teacher for the evening, Sister, points out, “We know where the frankincense ended up and what was done with the myrrh. But the mystery remains: who took the gold?!?” Sister turns her mission into an educational experience for her audience. She imparts Christmas history tidbits as she meshes Agatha Christie with a little Miss Marple, analyzing carol lyrics and the traditions that surround the nativity and the Christmas season. Sister displays and dissects pictures of the nativity, in order to emphasize the “who, what, where and when.”

Act II opens with a choir performing two Christmas carols and continues to the next phase of Sister’s investigation. Sister details the positions and movements of “all of the usual suspects” in Bethlehem on the night in question, explicitly diagramming her notes on the blackboard for all to see. Sister employs the audience to create a living nativity, and the CSI: Bethlehem-style forensic investigation is underway. The performance of another classic Christmas carol gives Sister enough clues to reveal the culprit. The evening comes to a conclusion with a rousing holiday sing-a-long that is fun for all ages.

About the Show’s History

Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan created a one-woman show called Late Nite Catechism in 1993. The show was based on the pair’s experiences growing up Catholic in Chicago and on parochial school stories they heard from their families and friends. The show holds the record for the longest running religious comedy in Chicago’s history. Its success inspired Quade and Donovan to write sequels, including Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold.

In 1997, Donovan learned that when Social Security was implemented, the Catholic Church had opted out for religious sisters. Because of this, the show began taking up a collection for retired nuns. In the past 11 years, the show and its sequels have collected and donated more than $2 million to help nuns across America.

Maripat Donovan – Playwright/Producer and Original Sister

Maripat Donovan was born in Chicago, attended Catholic grammar school and high school on the South Side of Chicago, and went on to Loyola University on Chicago’s North Side. After working in both her high school and college theater departments, often building and designing sets, she developed her own construction company and renovated houses for a number of years.

In 1985, she returned to theater as an understudy in Portrait of a Shiksa, a role for which she earned a Jeff Citation (Chicago Theatre Award) for Best Supporting Actress. She earned another Jeff Citation for her work in the ensemble of The Good Times are Killing Me. In 1993, Donovan co-created Late Nite Catchism and originated the role of Sister. She has been the star of every production in the United States, London, Dublin, and Toronto. Donovan is the recipient of the Los Angeles Critics Award for Best Solo Performance and received a nomination for Best Writing and the coveted New York Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Solo Performance. Donovan also wrote the Sister sequels Late Nite Catechism 2 and Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold.

Vicki Quade – Playwright/Producer

Vicki Quade grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and found her creative outlet in high school, working in various theater productions and writing for the school newspaper, which lead to a career in journalism. She has worked for daily newspapers, national magazines and spent 10 years as a correspondent for Newsweek. She did a long stint as an editor at the American Bar Association. As a journalist, Quade has received dozens of awards for writing, editing, and photography.

Quade is best known for co-creating Late Nite Catechism. Her sequel, Put the Nuns in Charge! opened in 2005 and is still running in Chicago. Quade also wrote Sunday School Cinema (2007), where Sister reviews movies.  Quade’s other plays include Room for Advancement (1994), Mr. Nanny (1997), and Here Come the Famous Brothers (2001). She also has produced a show for mentalist Christopher Carter (2002-05), the musical Forever Plaid (2003), the improv comedy Cast on a Hot Tin Roof (2004), and the political spoken word piece Verbatim Verboten (2004).

As a performer, she appeared in Portraits: Stories of Hope and Survival as part of the Chicago Foundation for Women's 2007 anti-violence campaign: What Will It Take? She also appeared in the All the Women You Want comedy festival at Los Manos Gallery, in Chicago, delivered political rants in Verbatim Verboten at the Royal George, and appeared in a benefit performance of Vagina Monologues at the Apollo Theater. She has done guest appearances as Sister in Scarrie, the Musical and as part of the Dance for Life fundraiser.

Catholic Glossary

  • Catechesis/Catechism – Generally, a catechism is a book containing a summary of principles in the form of questions and answers, usually for memorization. Most typically it's a summary of religious doctrine, but the catechism form can be used for secular subjects too. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an official explanation of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II authorized its publication in 1992. It was originally printed in Latin and French; the English version, The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, came in 2006. The CCC has four main parts: the Profession of Faith, or the Creed; the Celebration of the Christian Mystery, especially the sacraments of baptism and the mass; Life in Christ, including the Ten Commandments; and Christian Prayer, including the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Crèche – A representation of the Nativity, usually with statues or figurines.
  • Frankincense – One of the gifts of the Magi. An aromatic gum resin obtained from African and Asian trees of the genus Boswellia and used chiefly as incense and in perfumes.
  • Magi – In Christian tradition the Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men, the Three Kings, or Kings from the East, are Zoroastrian judicial astrologers, or magi. According to the Gospel of Matthew, they came from the east to worship the infant Jesus, whom they described as the Christ “born King of the Jews.” The Magi followed a star and their path to Jesus led them through Jerusalem. Herod’s fear of being dethroned by this King of the Jews led to his decree that all boys two years old and under be killed. Herod tried to convince the Magi to reveal the child’s location once they’d found him; however, once in Bethlehem, the Magi gave their gifts and left by a different route. Scholars say that it’s possible Jesus was as old as two when the Magi finally reached him.
  • Myrrh – One of the gifts of the Magi. An aromatic gum resin obtained from several trees and shrubs of the genus Commiphora of India, Arabia, and eastern Africa, used in perfume and incense. Also called the balm of Gilead.

History of the Magi

The gifts of the Magi are explicitly identified in the Gospel of Matthew as gold, frankincense and myrrh; they have become the best-known items from that New Testament book. Because there were three gifts the assumption is that there were three magi, but the actual number of visiting astrologers is never specified in Matthew. The Book of Isaiah and Psalm 72 both report gold as a gift given by kings, and this has played a central role in the inaccurate perception of the magi as kings rather than as astrologer-priests. In a hymn of the late 4th-century Iberian poet Prudentius, the three gifts have already gained their medieval interpretation as prophetic emblems of Jesus’ identity, familiar in the carol “We Three Kings” (John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857).

There are many different theories of the meaning and symbolism of the gifts; gold is fairly obviously explained, but frankincense and myrrh are more obscure. The symbolism of the gifts generally breaks down into two groups. The first is that they are all ordinary gifts for a king, myrrh being commonly used as anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume and gold as, of course, a measure of prosperity. The second theory is that the gifts are prophetic – gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of divine authority, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death. Sometimes the gifts are assigned weaker allegorical meanings, with gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.

Depictions of Nuns on Stage, Screen and Page

  • Madeline – Ludwig Bemelmans’ book series about an adventurous red-headed girl in 1930s France focused on the title character and her fellow students, but it was the nun Miss Clavel who kept the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” during their Parisian strolls.
  • The Sound of Music – Arguably one of the most famous nun-centric tales, the 1959 musical was the last collaboration of American song-writing duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical was based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the autobiography of nun-turned-baroness Maria von Trapp. The 1965 film, which starred Julie Andrews as Maria, was a roaring success. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture and the cast album won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
  • The Flying Nun – In Sally Field’s second sitcom role after Gidget, she played Sister Bertrille, a nun whose compact size let her take flight when she caught a breeze with her cornette, the heavily starched headgear of her habit. The show first aired in 1967 and ran for three seasons.
  • Nunsense – The Mother Superior and four Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that while they were out playing bingo their cook accidentally poisoned the rest of the convent. In order to raise money to bury their deceased sisters, they put on a fundraising variety show at the Mount Saint Helen's School auditorium. This 1985 musical comedy has been translated into 26 languages, been staged in over 6,000 productions world-wide and has five sequels, including Nunsense 2: The Second Coming and Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree. Nunsense has also come to Popejoy, most recently in the 2008-2009 season.
  • Sister Act – Whoopi Goldberg starred in the 1992 comedy as Dolores, a Reno lounge singer who must go undercover after a mob boss puts her on a hit list. The witness protection program disguises her as a nun in a San Francisco convent, where she reinvigorates the sisters’ choir with gospel versions of hymns and popular songs retooled to praise God, most memorably the Mary Wells hit “My Guy” becomes “My God.”  The film culminates with the sisters performing a concert for the Pope. The film’s popularity prompted a sequel; in Sister Act II: Back in the Habit, the sisters seek Dolores to help them teach music to rowdy teenagers.


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