Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Nun's Real Story ... Marie Louise Habets

Sr. Xaverin, Marie Louise Habets

Marie Louise Habets [1905-1986]

In the film The Nun's Story, Audrey Hepburn's character, Sr. Luke was based upon Marie Louise Habets.  It is one of my favorite films of all time.  I was searching a bit of trivia* on the story and came across details on the life of Marie Louise Habets, whose name in religion was actually Sr. Xaverine.  She had been a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, entering in Ghent.  At the time the nuns were 'enclosed' or semi-cloistered, as shown in the film.  The book by Kathryn Hulme and the film follow Marie Louise Habets' experience closely and accurately portrays religious life as it was at the time.  Her post-convent life is also rather interesting.  I especially enjoyed the photos I came across.

Marie Louise as a nurse
after leaving the convent.

She became attached to the Belgian army which in turn served with the British forces. She aided the wounded and dying when the first V-bombs were fired at Antwerp by the Germans. Scarcely had the tide of the German advance in the Battle of the Bulge been blunted and turned than she was nursing the American wounded who held Bastogne and survived. - The Boston Globe, 1957

Kathryn Hulme and Marie Louise met during the war
and became lifelong partners.  Both remained Roman Catholics.
A brief note on their life may be found here

Author Kathryn Hulme and former nun Marie Louise Habets, 
pictured in 1956. Chez Moune nightclub.

The bar photo surprised me, I'm not sure what the occasion was.  Nevertheless, as noted on the Wikipedia page:
Anyone who, inspired by the integrity, rebelliousness and self-assertion of Gabrielle van der Mal, goes to the Hulme papers looking for signs of Habets as a religious or sexual revolutionary, will search in vain. Comments attributed to her in interviews show her as socially conservative (though tolerant) and a staunch admirer of nuns, her one regret being that she herself was not strong enough to remain one. If she and Hulme had any criticisms of the Catholic Church or convents, they kept them out of their archive. If they were aware of or interested in women’s liberation or lesbian/gay liberation, they show no sign of it, though clearly they lived openly as a couple, and were acknowledged as such by friends and business associates. Numerous letters to Kathryn Hulme, from friends and business associates alike, contained among the Kathryn Hulme papers, include greetings to Habets, enquiries about her health and activities, plans for social events in which she is to be involved as Hulme’s partner - the normal stuff of communication among friends who are relaxed about each other‘s status. A handwritten note from Habets to Hulme dated 3 November 1975, begins "darling" and ends "I love you. Warmest kisses." - Source
Audrey as Sr. Luke

*So.  What piece of trivia was I looking for?  I couldn't recall if her number/habit number in the convent was #1072 or #1078.  Although I'm fairly certain she inherited Sr. Polycarp's number - correct me if I'm wrong.  Needless to say, I didn't find what I was looking for.


  1. Sr. Luke's number was 1072. "The filament of number 1072 stretched far beyond the kneeling figures, beyond the sanctified grounds of the mother house..." It was the number of Sr. Marie-Polycarpe.

  2. Yes! Thanks Angela! I thought you would know.

  3. Trivia:

    When I was editing the Loyola Classics series, I very much wanted to get A Nun's Story, which had not been in print in English for a long time. It took me ages to track down the rights, partly because of a language barrier and partly because of European vacation habits. When I did , I found that Hulme had willed the rights to Habets, of course, and she in turn had willed the rights to the last few nuns of their convent, as a group. At that point....I gave up.....

    1. Thanks Amy - I saw that the rights were in some sort of Limbo now - which is why Hulme's other books have not been published as well. I think there is one based upon their friendship - that could be interesting to read, considering how out in the open everything has become today.

  4. Was an audio book ever made please? It is a wonderful movie. I'd love to read Hulme's other books. Thank you.


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