Stumbling across the Singing Nun
I confess I have not thought about the Singing Nun for years, although occasionally that tune does get stuck in my head. (It is now – “Dominique, nique, nique “) So imagine my rather twisted musical joy at having the convent of the Missionary Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Fichermont (left) being pointed out to me on a visit to Belgium.
It is nearby Waterloo (where Wellington and Blucher gave Napoleon his comeuppance) and it there that one Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers of Brussels entered as Sister Luc-Gabrielle in 1959.
The sister could sing and in 1963 put out a single that went to the top of the pop charts in 11 different countries and turned her into a global celebrity. (She went on The Ed Sullivan Show and is still the only Belgian to top the U.S. chart. Surely a candidate for the “Name 10 Famous Belgians” game.) The song was recorded in English, French, Dutch, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese. I seem to remember it mainly as being in French.
Deckers was widely known in English-speaking world as the Singing Nun and in French as Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile). But her story was not a happy one. She had a nervous breakdown, left the convent and moved in with a girlfriend from her youth with whom she appears to have been a lover. (Not that it matters, but rough for a nun.)
She and her friend got into financial difficulties — back tax to Belgium etc — and ended up killing themselves in 1985. They are buried not too far away from the convent (my next visit). Her grave stone says, in French, “I saw her soul flying through the clouds”.