“Hermanas de Corazón” (Sisters of the Heart), a Spanish-language documentary on Servant of God Mary Lange and her Oblate Sisters of Providence, opened in theaters this weekend in Cuba, screening at Cine 23 y 12 on Friday in Havana.
The release was accompanied by a new short trailer for the film, which itself was completed and premiered at festivals in 2021. The director, Gloria Rolando, had previously screened the film with a Q&A at the theater earlier this year.
The three-part film, the first of which is screening at the theater this week, covers the work of the African-American order of nuns on the West Indian island, which began in earnest in 1900. Their mission there lasted until 1961, when opposition from Fidel Castro’s communist regime effectively forced their departure.
As in the U.S., the ministry of the Oblate Sisters in Cuba focused on the education of young Black girls, while also extending to those of Asian descent, according to Rolando.
“After the triumph of the Revolution, these students became literacy teachers, teachers, doctors, and professionals in different fields,” she said in an interview this week with La Jiribilla.
“They believed that they were going to die without telling a little bit of their childhood and adolescence, that those experiences would be forgotten, for which they appreciated the possibility of meeting again and offering testimony of those years.”
Lange, the Oblates’ Black American foundress, was raised in Cuba after fleeing the island of San Domingo (Hispaniola) as a child. She later immigrated to Baltimore and founded the Oblates in 1829 as the first African-American Catholic religious order in history. Following her death in 1882, Lange became the third Black sainthood candidate in the United States.
“Hermanas de Corazón” features interviews with women educated at the sisters’ overseas schools, which operated in a climate where Afro-Cuban women and girls were often marginalized. Rolando’s fascination with the order stemmed from a family connection, as her mother was among those educated at the sisters’ El Colegio San José in Havana.
In 2017, during the early stages of the film’s production, Rolando interviewed members of the Oblates in the United States. She had previously visited their Maryland headquarters three years earlier.
“The month that I stayed with the Providence congregation in Baltimore, in 2017, allowed me to access their archives and interview some of the nuns, already quite old, who taught in our country,” she said in the Jiribilla interview.
Following its overseas premiere, the documentary received the Caracol Grand Prize from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba in 2022, amid glowing reviews and praise for Rolando’s three-decade filmmaking legacy.
Part 1 of “Hermanas de Corazón” will screen through Wednesday, May 17, in Havana, with parts 2 and 3 screening from May 18-21. A stateside release has not yet been scheduled.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.