The Dominican Nun who Shaped the Sound of Music

I greatly enjoyed reading Todd S. Purdum’s Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution. I bought a copy for my mom for her birthday, I read (and sung) chunks of it to my husband, and I was particularly charmed by the story of the real nun who consulted on The Sound of Music.

Sister Gregory was a Dominican nun who led the drama department at Rosary College. She met Mary Martin when she saw her in South Pacific, and the two became pen pals. Martin described her thus, “She didn’t act like a nun, or at least the way we poor ignorant souls thought nuns acted. She was bouncy, enthusiastic, with an ambling walk like a good baseball player.”

(This certainly matches my experience of nuns. Particularly the sisters I met when I attended a Jesu Caritas retreat with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia and played kickball with the novices. I strongly recommend the retreat to any unmarried woman.)

Purdum includes an excerpt from one of Sr. Gregory’s letters, offering advice on how to write the nuns in the musical:

“The whole purpose of life, it seems to me,” she wrote, “is pin-pointed in Maria’s struggle to choose between two vocations. Like every adult human being, she must find the answer to the question: ‘What does God want me to do with my life? How does He wish me to spend my love?” She took some pains to explain that, in her view, nuns (and priests) are neither afraid of love, nor incapable of sharing it, but were drawn to their vocation “because they keenly appreciate the gift of life, and have a tremendous capacity to love.
“A religious is neither afraid of sex nor disgusted with it,” she added, “but rather recognizes it as one of God’s greatest gifts, and therefore, in consecrating it to His service, one reflects the measure of one’s love.”

Purdum, Something Wonderful, p 272.