Sunday, September 11, 2016

It Didn't End There: The Nun's Story and Sister Luke's Post-convent Years by Karla Stover

     When Gabrielle Van Der Mal, the former Sister Luke, walks out of a Belgium convent after the death of her father in World War II, she enters the last half of her life: a young Belgium woman for the first 21 years, a nun for the next 18, a nurse for two, and the partner of author Katherine Hulme for the last 40.

     Miss Van Der Mal was really Marie-Louise Habets, born in 1905 in West Flanders, Belgium. At age 21, she joined the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary becoming Sister Xaverine. As in the movie, she did serve in the Congo and did return to Belgium after getting tuberculosis. The Holy See’s dispensation of her vows was highly unusual for the time.  Habets’s convent was Uccle in Brussels. From there she made her way to Antwerp, which the Allied forces liberated a few weeks later, after which German forces bombarded the city “killing and maiming some ten thousand civilians, and soldiers wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.”  There, she joined a British First Aid unit and nursed the soldiers. When the war in Europe ended, Habets was sent to Wildflecken, a displaced persons camp in Germany. That is where she met Kathryn Hulme, the camp’s director.

      In 1951, Hulme sponsored Habets and the two sailed to America. First the couple settled in Arizona where Habets worked in a hospital nursing the Navahos. From there, they moved to California. Her income freed up Hulme giving her time to write. Habets also acted as consultant to actress Audrey Hepburn who was preparing to make The Nun’s Story. The two became good friends and Habets nursed Hepburn after she (Hepburn) was badly injured while filming The Unforgiven in Durango, Mexico.

      In 1960, Habets and Hulme moved to Kauai and lived the ex-pat’s life—raising fruit, breeding dogs, riding horses, socializing, and traveling. Hulme also continued to write. She died in 1986 and Habets died five years later.

     The following is a google quote:  Having inherited Hulme’s literary estate, Habets, in her own will, shared it out among members of her own family, members of Hulme’s family, and six Sisters, who cannot be traced. The resultant confusion makes it unclear who owns the rights, and who can give permissions. This is probably why The Nun’s Story, along with Hulme’s other books, remains out of print.”
     The movie undoubtedly ended at the perfect place.