Film critic Sr. Rose Pacatte with her new book on Martin Sheen. Photo by Jean Ko Din

To Sr. Pacatte, it's all about the story

  • April 25, 2015

TORONTO - Sr. Rose Pacatte is first and foremost a storyteller. In her 47 years as a Daughter of St. Paul, she has great stories about answering her call to consecrated life, the joy she shares with her fellow sisters and the opportunities her congregation has given her.

After 20 years as a film critic, she has great stories about meeting movie stars, attending Hollywood events and giving moviegoers whiplash when she enters a movie theatre for an R-rated film.

“When I go to the movies, especially R-rated movies, I don’t wear my veil because I just give people whiplash, trying to get a look at the little Catholic nun watching an R-rated movie,” said Pacatte.

Pacatte was 15 years old when she knew she wanted to serve God. She visited several communities but said she didn’t really find that spark until she arrived at the doorstep of the Daughter’s of St. Paul in San Diego. 

“As I grew to really understand my vocation, the Pauline mission... what really became clear is that we’re about community, prayer, apostolate of spreading God’s word using media and interestingly enough, poverty,” she said.

Over the years, Pacatte lived out the Pauline vocation of communication working at the order’s publishing house and Catholic bookstore. After taking her final vows in 1978, Pacatte decided to pursue a master’s degree in media communications at the University of London.

“You know how in life, you get to a certain age, you start to reflect on what’s coming next and we had our constitution revised in Vatican II... It says that the Daughters of St. Paul are to become critical consumers of the media and then teach and train others, especially the youth,” she said.

“I was riveted. It really got my imagination going because it wasn’t just about making books and distributing them. It really became about understanding the world of media.”

Pacatte looks back at her experience at the University of London with joy and said she is still “living off the energy of those days.” In 1995, she returned to the United States and started the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Boston. She created a curriculum to educate the religious women of her community about media literacy.

It was at their Pauline publishing house in Boston where she met Fr. Peter Malone. She was assigned to be editor of his Lights, Camera... Faith! book series, but soon became its co-author. From there, the world of film criticism opened up.

In 2003, she began to write film reviews for St. Anthony Messenger magazine. In 2008, she became a regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter.

Pacatte said that though her film criticism is based on Catholic social teaching, it does not mean her criteria is based on a film rating. Not only does she watch R-rated films, she has a surprising dislike for G-rated films.

“I remember I met a NASA consultant for a screen day for a film and he quietly boasted to me that at the age of 50, he had never seen an R-rated film,” she said. “He said he only watched G-rated movies. Kill me now.”

Jokes aside, Pacatte emphasized a film must be judged by its content and not just on its rating. The Catholic Church has always taught that all forms of media are gifts from God, but from what the public hears, Pacatte said most people in the United States think that it’s all negative.

“I get a lot of push back from the oral majority about my reviews, not the moral majority, but the oral majority,” she said. “When I review horror films for example, I get a lot of push back because people think that horror movies are immoral. Perhaps some are immoral or contain elements that are immoral, but what does the story mean?”

Pacatte said that one deal breaker for her is gratuitous violence in film. In 2004, Pacatte was invited to a special screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The film studio had invited a few notable members of the Christian community to ask for their input on the film.

“I sat there horrified by the degree of violence. I have to tell you that Mel Gibson was really taken aback that we didn’t see his vision,” she said. “One Protestant minister said that we were not saved because of His passion and death. We are saved because of His resurrection and that is true. Anyway, I think there was enough pushback that they cut out something like 14 minutes of the scourging.”

Pacatte said many films are marketed to Christians because they contain Christian elements and symbols, but even films without these can reveal something about the human experience.

“Art is wholely concerned with the good of what it has made... and this is the mistake Christian moviemakers make,” said Pacatte. “They’re not making art. They are making a catechism, not telling a story.”

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