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‘The Sisterhood’ brings viewers, local woman inside convents

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Stacey Jackson knows what it's like to be in the spotlight. The thespian's talents secured her spots with Arena Stage and the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington and led to national tours of the "Wizard of Oz" and "Beauty and the Beast." But for her television debut, she put her acting skills aside to share an unscripted - and deeply personal - journey.

The 26-year-old is featured in "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns," a new Lifetime series starting Nov. 25 that follows five women considering the religious life. Cameras go with them inside three convents and capture the ups and downs, tears and prayers of the diverse group.

"I see the show as part of the new evangelization," said Jackson, who grew up a parishioner of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton and graduated from Seton School in Manassas. "We are supposed to reach out to people where they are, and my generation is online and watching TV," she said.

One of eight siblings, Jackson felt drawn to the religious life long before she hit the national stage or the small screen. Her family had a coffee-table book of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Jackson knew it by heart.

"St. Thérèse (a Carmelite nun) was my hero growing up, and I told my grandma when I was 12 that I wanted to be a nun," she said. But her other love - theater - soon took over.

Rob Tessier, founder of Upper Room Theatre Ministry in Manassas, has known Jackson for more than a decade and called her "a triple threat" as a "superb actor, singer and dancer."

Along with stellar artistic talent, Tessier said Jackson's love of God is infectious. "There are some people that seem to live their faith in such a way that others will say, 'I want that,'" he said. "That's Stacey."

Tessier directed Jackson in a number of productions and hired her to teach at summer drama camps.

She went on to earn a bachelor's degree in musical theater with a minor in theology at Catholic University in Washington and moved to New York to take her acting to the next level.

But during one of her national theater tours, Jackson felt something was missing. She was the only one going to Mass, and it was a lonely time. "A lot of the culture of musical theater is not very friendly to religion or to someone trying to live their faith," she said.

Back home from the tour, Jackson revisited her childhood dream of being a nun. And, after much soul-searching, she decided to share an integral part of her discernment process on "The Sisterhood."

"I asked a lot of questions about the show and spoke with a lot of people," she said. "I wanted to make sure the producers were taking the faith seriously."

Before making a final decision, she turned to her beloved St. Thérèse with a novena. "I asked her, 'If you think it's a good thing, please send a flower.'" After the nine days of prayer, Jackson was handed a flower while at a carnival. It was the confirmation she needed.

In "The Sisterhood," the young women spend two weeks each with the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, N.Y.; the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Chicago; and the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker in Walton, Ky.

A good amount of discernment takes place off camera, but the drama captured on film is real, said Jackson. "It's a really dramatic time," she said. "You're asking yourself, 'What's most important in life?' 'Who am I without my cellphone, makeup, attention from men - all the worldly attachments we have?'"

Jackson said the series shows the sisters as the beautiful, spunky and very real women they are.

"People often see nuns as boring or drab," she said. "But I have never laughed so hard as when I was with these sisters. They really have a sense of joy, because they are not tied down to all the little attachments we have. They are so joyful, so caring.

"These are not the stereotypes of nuns walking after students with rulers," she added, laughing. "They followed us around with chocolate."

One of her greatest struggles was grappling with the possibility of not marrying and having children.

"But it was a beautiful realization to see that nuns are still life-givers," she said. "They are not sterile and sad. They are not physical mothers, but they are spiritual mothers."

While Jackson disclosed no spoilers, she said the whole experience "was a freeing process that has led to more joy, contentment and peace."

Her hope is that "The Sisterhood" will inspire Catholics and non-Catholics alike to look at their own lives in a different way. "I hope they see the value and beauty of living life for others," she said, "of living in a selfless, giving way like the sisters do."

Watch the show

The six-episode "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns" airs on Lifetime Nov. 25 and runs for three consecutive Tuesdays at 10 p.m., with the final episode and finale Dec. 26 from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Find out more

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the show and follow Stacey Jackson's discernment process on her public Facebook page.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014