Several story lines, but the main story is that of Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley) growing up in rural Tennessee during the 1950's who decides at the age of 17 she wants to become a nun. She grows up in a single parent home, her parents divorced due her father's drinking and abusive behavior. Cathleen's mother Nora (Julianne Nicholson) works in a factory and makes no excuses for the men she shares her bed with.
On a whim Nora takes Cathleen to the local Catholic church, her mother is not religious in the least, but thinks Cathleen should at least have some exposure to church. Cathleen is immediately in awe of the church and it's teachings. When the opportunity to attend a Catholic school comes up, her mother is hesitant, but agrees to let her attend when she is told there are full scholarships available. Cathleen is a quiet, shy girl and makes few friends in the years that she attends. She immerses herself in her studies and her faith. When Cathleen announces to her mother she is entering the convent to become a nun her mother is aghast and begins to think Cathleen has lost her mind. Cathleen listens to her mother's rants, does not say a word in response, and then simply walks away.
Cathleen and nineteen others enter into the convent for a variety of reasons, but none as single minded as Cathleen. Just as she's entering the Sisters of the Beloved Rose convent, Vatican II (1962-1965) is underway which will forever change the Catholic church. Mother Superior (Melissa Lea) has spent forty years at the convent and believes there is no reason for the church to consider its relationship with society or other religions and continues to ignore the Vatican's new direction. She has spent her entire life within the walls of the convent and acknowledges she does not, nor does she want an identity outside of that.
Cathleen undergoes emotional, mental, physical, psychological, sexual, and spiritual self examination as do all who have entered the convent. In the end, only five of the twenty will become "brides of Christ" and become nuns. Her mother can only observe from the outside her daughter's journey and hopes to reunite with her one day soon.
Great movie for people who don't know much about the Catholic church and the changes they've made in attempt to be "more modern." One of the lesser know facts is over 90,000 nuns left their vocations during Vatican II due to those changes, one of which was nuns were no longer required to wear their habits.
Word of caution: Not for younger viewers due to sex scenes.
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