Stephanie Weimar with her brother Gregor, who is on the path to taking his final vows at a German monastery. Weimar documents their journeys to accepting Gregor’s choice in My Brother’s Vows. Photo courtesy Stephanie Weimar/Bunbury Films

Understanding paths to, from the Church

By 
  • September 13, 2014

TORONTO - My Brother’s Vows gives us the story of siblings who are running — one towards the Catholic Church and the other away from it. 

The documentary takes an in-depth look at Stephanie Weimar’s brother Gregor, when he decides to take his final vows at a German monastery, and how she returns home to find out why he wants to commit to a life of service to the Church and the problems she has with his choice. 

Stephanie Weimar, who now lives in Toronto, directs My Brother’s Vows (Die Gelübde meines Bruders), a German-language film with English subtitles that is as much about her as it is about secular perceptions of Catholicism as viewers take an inside look behind modern-day monastic walls. 

The film will be screened in Toronto Sept. 17 and 20. 

Leading up to filming, Weimar had very little contact with her younger brother for years, save for major family gatherings. Inevitably, the two grew apart. 

Stephanie, Gregor and their two sisters grew up in a loving Catholic home in small-town Germany. 

Her personal struggles led her to leave home early, and her disagreement with Church teachings on sexuality influenced her walk away from the faith she grew up with. 

“I come from a background that is steeped in a Catholic tradition that is actually very positive. My mother never condemned me for anything. It was always a version of Catholicism that was drenched in love,” Weimar told The Catholic Register. 

But “I witnessed real damage in people’s lives that stems from painful experiences with being brought up in a Catholic background. 

“It was a very antagonistic situation: my brother joining an organization I just didn’t agree with at all on a very personal level.” 

Gregor had always felt close to God, and he was ready to take his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a missionary priest with the Society of the Divine Word. 

But that heightens the tension between the siblings as Weimar grapples with the idea of her brother belonging to an institution she views as oppressive and unaccepting of her. 

Amidst the tension, My Brother’s Vows is a film about understanding. As accepting as Gregor is of his sister, Stephanie wants him to truly understand her. But in the process, her understanding of her brother, of what it means to be Catholic and what it means to live as a monk grows. 

“It (the monastery) was unlike anything I ever imagined and unlike any sort of stereotype floating around the media wants you to believe,” she said. “I was just very surprised to meet a very extroverted, very flamboyant community that was really very lively, very open.” 

As the siblings challenge each other, the documentary exposes the prejudices and assumptions held by secular members of society against Catholics and has the potential to undermine those same prejudices and assumptions. 

This film won’t change minds when it comes to people’s approval or disapproval of Church teachings, but it might change hearts about how they perceive one another. 

“There is potential for communication and potential for a real exchange,” said Weimar. 

Yet “understanding each other to the last inch of our beings is maybe not the point. Maybe there are things that bind us together that are in a way a lot more important, and also that the exchange that we had in fact is actually very valuable, regardless of our spiritual differences.” 

Stephanie Weimar will be present at the Toronto screenings of My Brother’s Vows at the Bloor Cinema. Screening will be followed by Q&A. 

For tickets, visit www.bloorcinema.com.

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