Back in March, three young women in white captivated the Game Show Network (GSN) audience with their bubbly personalities,spoon-flipping skills and biblical knowledge.
Members of the Roman Catholic religious order Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, from Ann Arbor, Mich., professed Sister Maria Suso, and novices Sister Evangeline and Sister Peter Joseph, became surprise stars on season two of GSN’s “American Bible Challenge,” with host Jeff Foxworthy, and won a spot in the show’s finale, airing tonight (Thursday, May 23).
In addition to what they won in earlier rounds, the sisters hope to win the $100,000 grand prize — and if they also top the online voting for fan favorite, an extra $10,000 — all of which will go to support aging and retired sisters in the order.
The tallest of the trio is Florida State University alumna Sister Maria Suso, who says that her Prioress General, Mother Assumpta, first proposed the idea of the sisters going on the game show and asked about which ones were the most well-versed in Scripture.
“Because obedience is such a big part of our lives,” Sister Maria Suso tells Zap2it, “we believe that when our superior asks us to do something, it’s God’s will. So we very joyfully accepted that as God’s will and went out to Los Angeles.
“One nice part of this is being able to show that Catholics do and should know our Bibles.”
While the sister says that faithful Catholics don’t necessarily memorize their Bibles chapter and verse, as many Evangelicals do, they are very familiar with its content and stories. But, there is an increasing movement to improve biblical knowledge and literacy.
“Also,” she says, “I’ve noticed that a lot of new churches or churches with young pastors are having Bibles in the pews.”
It’s no accident that Sister Maria Suso is well-versed in Scripture. Raised by parents who practiced their faith but weren’t necessarily passionate about it when she was a child, Sister says that, as a 14-year-old, something changed radically within her.
“I had everything going for me,” she says, “in terms of good grades, friends, all that kind of stuff. But I was very unhappy.”
In talking with another Christian friend, she realized she needed to know more about the person of Jesus Christ.
“I wasn’t in a relationship with Him,” she says. “Then I started Confirmation class, and they gave me a Catechism and a Bible. Primarily through reading the Scriptures, I came into a place where I started praying daily. I can’t even account for those few months, but God really took over, because, by the time my Confirmation came around, I was very enthusiastic.
“I experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a very intense way, that made me realize that I couldn’t keep living the same life I was living, and I couldn’t keep doing all the things I was doing that were wrong. I basically had to give up my friends, because they were bad influences on me, and start over.
“But it was such a grace, because I had time to get to know God, because I didn’t have all the distractions.”
Asked why a 21st century American woman, with practically unlimited opportunities in a variety of fields, would choose religious life, Sister says, “The big answer is that you can have all of the options in the world, but if you’re called to marry Jesus Christ, none of those options can compare at all.
“I have family members that challenged me because I was entering the convent, basically, at 23 and said, ‘Don’t you want to go see the world? Don’t you want to go explore other things?’ And I said, ‘If I met the man of my dreams and said I wanted to get married, you would not dissuade me, but that’s what happened. I met the man of my dreams, and his name is Jesus Christ. I want to be completely His and serve His Church.
“That is the greatest blessing and privilege that I could have, and God still calls people to that.”
While the Sisters of Mary are a relatively young (in median age) and growing order, being on a nationally televised game show does present unique opportunities to women who wouldn’t normally be in the public eye.
“This was very unexpected,” says Sister Maria Suso, “and not obviously part of anything that I ever dreamed I would be doing, and the others as well. We’re grateful for whatever God wants to do with it. It seems He’s doing a couple of things with it.
“One is bringing greater attention to the fact that religious life is alive and growing in the Church, and that it’s still very real. And too, one thing people on the show have mentioned is that we appear very joyful and peaceful, and that’s an attractive thing.
“My hope is that when people see that they will say, ‘OK, these women are living authentic Catholicism, and maybe authentic Catholicism can also give me joy and peace.’ But ultimately it’s not about us, it’s about helping people to meet Jesus.”
And for those who wonder how the sisters can tolerate wearing their distinctive white habits (which they sew themselves) every day, Sister Maria Suso says, “I remember when we were trying on our tunics, which is the main part of the habit, for the first time, I thought, ‘If everyone in the world knew how comfortable this is, men and women alike would be beating down doors, trying to put this on.'”
Whether it’s on “American Bible Challenge” or out in the world, the sisters’ attire speaks for their faith without them having to use words.
“The religious habit,” says Sister, “is a really clear sign that we belong to Christ, and that we’ve given up everything for Him. When we walk into a room, everyone thinks of God immediately.”