In a small theater in Chicago in 1993, Vicki Quade’s memories of growing up Catholic spilled from the page to the stage in a one-woman show called Late Nite Catechism.
Brought to life by co-creator and actress Maripat Donovan and set in a typical Catholic classroom, the lovable but sassy Sister character takes the audience (as students) through the basic tenets of Catholic concepts, with a sharp tongue and an easy smile. Sister is two parts authority, one part soldier of God, but the performance comes from a place of love and admiration.
“That still sticks in my head—what [the nuns] endured, what they gave up, how they showed what it means to have a faith-filled life, to live in an order in the convent. Being so close to those nuns helped me see them outside of the school reference …. We tried to make that character as modern as possible. She’s a feminist, a modern woman.”
Vicki Quade, creator of the hit play.
The idea for Late Nite Catechism was first born when Donovan asked Quade to work on a stand-up comedy routine about the saints. After a few meetings of telling funny stories about growing up Catholic, Quade saw where the real story lay and began crafting the one-woman show. In three weeks she had a script, and the highly interactive show took off. This year, Late Nite Catechism celebrates 21 years not only as a staple in the Chicago theater scene, but as an international hit that entertains Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“Writing [the show] gave me a chance to go back to that time,” Quade said. “The show puts you back in third grade—what it feels like to have that nun have such an influence on your life. And it’s done in a very loving way, no mocking of the church of the women. You laugh, you learn something, you walk away with a bit more respect [for the nuns].”
“The show puts you back in third grade—what it feels like to have that nun have such an influence on your life.”
Sometimes, Quade will meet people who don’t want to see the show because they have misconceptions about its purpose, that the Catholic Church is nothing to joke about. Quade says she always offers tickets to the naysayers and invites the person to talk afterward, to see it before they slam it. Quade recalls how one young woman took her up on the offer and sent a note after, saying she loved it and will tell all her friends about it.
“[Anyone] can appreciate the tenets, the decorum, the beliefs of another, and appreciate and understand another faith. We all have a god that we pray to. Faith and religion have a broad appeal as long as you are not mocking it.” Quade adds, “[The show is about] just how religion has impacted our lives. You may not have had a nun in your life but you have someone who influenced you.”
Late Nite Catechism has debuted in London, Ireland, and Malaysia (to name a few) because Quade believes there is a cultural Catholicism. At a show in Melbourne, Australia, one woman approached Quade to tell her that she grew up in the bush, yet could completely relate to the environment and experiences of Late Nite Catechism.
“The experiences we had on the Southside of Chicago transfer to a woman from the bush in Australia, to a woman in Ireland. They had hall monitors, the skirt check … It doesn’t matter who you talk to, they are all the same stories!”
Quade notes that when she was researching a new play she was writing called Changing Habits: The Nun Monologues, she interviewed hundreds of women about their experiences with nuns. Not surprisingly, Quade discovered many women had a positive reference and affection for the women who taught and nurtured them.
“A strong nun character is a strong teacher. Women will say that by example, nuns showed them how to be a strong woman, how to be in charge, that it’s not a man’s world,” she said. “You can do whatever you want to do in life. Many women saw nuns as positive influences in their life.”
It’s because of the profound and positive influence of nuns in her life that the Late Nite Catechism team decided to give back to the women who gave so much. Since 1995, they have donated more than $2 million to several orders of sisters to help with their retirement needs.
According to Support Our Aging Religious (SOAR!), a Catholic organization serving elderly sisters, brothers, and priests, the crippling combination of meager stipends (or no compensation), and the exponential cost of healthcare, means that most aging sisters have little financial security after a lifetime of service. To compound the issue, the population of nuns across America has so dwindled that there are few—if any—nuns to care for the older sisters.
Quade, Late Nite Catechism, and all the Nuns4Fun productions, which include Put the Nuns in Charge, Sunday School Cinema, Saints and Sinners, and Bible Bingo, encourage audiences to donate after each performance, and even to find the order that taught them and make an annual commitment.
In 21 years, the cultural references change and some of the one-liners and jokes fall to the wayside, but one thing remains constant: Late Nite Catechism is a memory play about the women who taught many Catholic youth more than just their catechism. Every time the curtain goes up, Late Nite Catechism takes great care to show the admiration, praise, and gratitude for the selfless women who serve the Church. If you get a few chuckles in doing so, all the better.
Late Nite Catechism has an open run at the Royal George Theater in Chicago, IL. Shows are Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30. More information about this show and other Nuns4Fun productions, including how to bring Late Nite Catechism to your parish, can be found at www.latenitecatechism.info.
Check out this video of Sister in action. And don’t get caught chewing gum!