I remember the television replay of Kennedy’s funeral in November of 1964, which is when our play begins. I also remember snippets of the Latin Mass and how excited my mother was about the changes that Vatican II was bringing about. I remember being petrified of the principal of Notre Dame Elementary School, an austere nun with marked similarities to Sister Aloysius in Doubt. When I was older, our pastor, Father O’Connor, always called upon me to serve as an altar boy, but I never experienced any of the problems discussed in Shanley’s play or in headlines today. I have fond memories of another priest, Father Deegan, visiting our home and playing basketball with us, removing the distance previously observed by the clergy. Times, they were a changin’.
Shanley titled his play Doubt – A Parable, because he created a fictional story in order to teach us all a lesson about doubt vs. certainty in a changing world. I believe he chose a more innocent time, because the progressive movement in 1964 seems quaint when compared to our current cultural norms. Many things that appear to be black and white to Sr. Aloysius during the time of the play have been discarded just as the Latin Mass was replaced shortly thereafter. This provides a backdrop for the universal struggle of good vs. evil in conjunction with the battle of doubt vs. certainty. Hopefully, the doubts that arise from the lesson of the parable will give us an opportunity to reflect on our own imperfect natures.
The story asks us all to examine our lives and speculate whether our points of view might seem antiquated 20 years from now. Do we suffer from an inelasticity that we gain as we get older, a disdain for leaving our comfort zone? Is our certainty a vestige of our loyalty to our jobs, cultural norms or political affiliations? Shanley is using a more innocent time to encourage all of us to ask these questions and make distinctions between non-negotiable truths and temporal priorities with a soon-to-be-expiring shelf life.
I have a fond place in my heart for my Catholic upbringing. When researching the play, I discovered that Father O’Connor was subsequently accused of improper behavior at his next parish. Father Deegan left the priesthood and married my brother’s first grade teacher. And one-by-one, the nuns disappeared. I still pray for vocations (men and women who are called to work for the Lord) and know in my heart that these selfless people should not be stained by the few who have stumbled.
- Mark Paladini
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