Today in Catholic History – The Last Episode of The Flying Nun

On 18 September 1970, the last episode of the The Flying Nun was broadcast. The sitcom, which began on 7 September 1967, lasted 82 episodes.

Based on the book “The Fifteenth Pilgrim” by Tere Rios, the series focused on the life of Sister Bertrille, a novice of the Daughters of Charity of the Convent San Tanco in Puerto Rico. Sister Bertrille was played by Sally Field. Due to the starched cornette of her habit and her weight of only 90 pounds, Sister Bertille was able to use the wind to fly – which could be both helpful and problematic. As Sister Bertille explained, “When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly.”

Tere Rios came upon the idea of a flying nun after a friend told her of seeing a nun with a large cornette almost fly away on a Paris street. Indeed, shortly after her book “The Fifteenth Pilgrim” was accepted for publication, the Daughters of Charity changed their habits for a much smaller veil. The publisher had decided to forgo publishing the book on the grounds that it was now dated. However, Rios persuaded the publisher to issue the book by suggesting that perhaps the reason why the Daughters of Charity changed their habits was because the events of her book really happened.

While, the novelty of a Flying Nun attracted viewers, it made it difficult for writers of the sitcom to come up with ever new plot lines involving flight every week.

The producers of the show did look for input from American Catholics. Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles wanted Sister Bertrille to be a novice because no vowed nun would behave so frivolously. He also wanted to make sure that there would be no romantic attraction between Sister Bertrille and one of the main lay characters. Sister Michael Marie, the vocations director of the diocese of Los Angeles and technical advisor for the show, wanted to make sure that the Mother Superior was not portrayed too sternly or authoritarian.

In addition to the support of Cardinal McIntyre, John Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York and Archbishop Philip Matthew Hannan of New Orleans also endorsed the program as did the National Catholic Office of Radio and Television. The NCORT hoped to use The Flying Nun as a means of encouraging vocations.

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One Comment

  1. Andrea
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    This post brought back many fond memories of watching the show with my family. It was amazing as time went on to watch Sally Fields develop into an incredible actress. Her character of the Flying Nun became a cultural icon of the period.

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