Real People Stories

Sisters in the Mix

UPDATED 05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

Unlike many Roman Catholic nuns, the Daughters of St. Paul have done little to modernize the way they dress. They still don the traditional dark habit of their order, founded in Italy in 1915. They wear sandals or sensible black shoes. There are no jeans, and there are no sneakers. But they do carry beepers. Their singing voices can be heard on the soundtracks of Hollywood movies like 1992's Lorenzo's Oil and 1993's A Bronx Tale. And in the basement area where they store the CDs they sell on their Web site (www. pauline.org), Sister Ancilla Hirsch, 34, likes to take a turn on her Rollerblades. "If I worked in shipping, I'd blade all the time," she says. "But I'm in marketing."

In fact all the sisters at the order's 13-acre American headquarters in Boston consider themselves to be in marketing. "We might have a great message about God's love," says development director Sister Christine Salvatore, 53, "but if we don't package it well, forget it!"

No danger there. With the help of veteran music producer Jerry Barnes, 64, the sisters have recorded 12 CDs since 1988, including the just-out Touched by Love. Total sales are nearing one million. "My mother loves to talk about how much money I'd be making if I left the convent," says Sister Christine. But the sisters are passionate about their vocations. "When they're around, there's just a joyous feeling," says Bronx Tale star Chazz Palminteri. If Hollywood likes the sisters, the feeling is mutual; a wall of the convent is covered with celebrity photos. "We all love Mel Gibson," says Sister Christine. "After all," she says, pointing to her habit, "under here, we're women."

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