The nuns in a real estate face-off with Katy Perry and the archdiocese of Los Angeles can still hope their past loyalty will be rewarded in heaven.
A half-century ago, this same small faction of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary opted to comply with the dictates of the archdiocese while the majority of their sisters chose to leave the order rather than submit.
“The dispute ended with the largest exodus from Roman Catholic religious life in recent memory,” Time magazine reported at the time.
The 300-some nuns who left joined their leader, Sister Anita Caspary, in founding the Immaculate Heart Community. They continued to pursue a religious life while embracing the more liberal and liberating spirit that accompanied Vatican II but that was so disturbing to Los Angeles Cardinal James McIntyre.
The remaining 50-some nuns bowed to the views of McIntyre. The son of a NYPD mounted cop disabled in a Central Park mishap, McIntyre was reportedly given to racial slurs and known to dispatch his priests to gatherings of the loony John Birch Society. He has been described as “the most extreme right-wing member of the American Catholic hierarchy.”
And as loyal Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the compliant 50 continued to occupy such facilities as a convent in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles on the grounds of what had been the estate of automobile service station-radio-television tycoon Earle Anthony.
In recent years, their number has dwindled to just five and there was talk of selling the property. Katy Perry expressed interest and offered $10 million cash along with $4.5 million toward a new property.
As reported by the Los Angles Times, Perry met with the nuns and sang “Oh Happy Day” while “dressed rather conservatively.” She is said to have “showed them a ‘Jesus’ tattoo on her wrist area.”
As the archdiocese tells it, three of the five nuns were adequately charmed by Perry to agree to the sale. The trio in question has not publicly said otherwise.
The two remaining nuns balked. One said she had been put off when she viewed Perry’s music videos and had not been among those who liked it at all when the singer belted out “I Kissed a Girl” during halftime at the Super Bowl.
“It felt so wrong, it felt so right” seems to have struck this nun as just plain wrong.
The other nun of the compliant-turned-defiant duo said she found Perry to be “a very lovely person,” but favored a competing offer for the property from restaurateur Dana Hollister.
By one report, Hollister was ready to put up $15.5 million. The archdiocese insists the offer is actually worth only $10 million and even that is contingent upon Hollister obtaining the necessary permits to open a boutique hotel and a bar.
Hollister’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Whatever the ultimate value of her offer, Hollister put down a $100,000 deposit and is said to have posted security guards at the former convent to keep Perry’s people out. The archdiocese filed suit, using the same attorney who represented it during the sex abuse scandals.
The settlement with 508 sex-abuse victims had cost the archdiocese $660 million, but it insists that all proceeds from the sale of the former convent “will be dedicated to the care of the Sisters.”
“The Archdiocese continues to work with the Sisters to ensure that decisions concerning the sale of the property are made in their best interest,” an archdiocese statement read.
As the matter headed to court, the irony that the once obedient Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were now squaring off against the ever patriarchal archdiocese was not lost on those who had walked rather than comply back in 1970.
“Isn’t that a riot?” Rosalina Baldonado, current president of the breakaway Immaculate Heart Community, remarked to The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “I mean, it really is kind of funny.”
In the next breath, Baldonado expressed some sympathy for her former sisters, figuring that it must be difficult to have the world turned so upside down for them since the days of McIntyre.
“But we’re not getting involved in that situation,” Baldonado said.
Meanwhile, Baldonado’s group posts what it terms an invitation to listen.
“God calls each of us in a variety of ways,” says the message from the Immaculate Heart Community. “Each is an invitation to listen and respond, to be open to, and aware of, God in our lives, our connections, and our prayers. This lifelong process of seeking to uncover God’s deepest desires for us, is called discernment.”
The posting goes on, “Where is God leading me? What is the story of my life about? How can I be my truest self? Where do I experience my deepest joy? What gives me life?”
And then there are words that would no doubt drive the tyrannical McIntyre cuckoo:
“There are no perfect answers, only choices and freedom. Freedom to feel excited and alive. Freedom to respond to the heart. Freedom to enjoy the depth of passion and fulfillment that comes from making and living your choices.”
Whatever comes of the sale of the former convent, whether or not Katy Perry gets it, the true immaculate heart left nearly half a century ago with the 300 who refused to submit.
And it continues to beat strong with the community they founded.
“We’re very much in existence,” Baldonado said.