Bells of St. Mary’s is a classic movie of Father O’Malley and his efforts to turn around old St. Mary’s school and, in spite of, and because of his efforts, a “miracle” happens and all ends up right with the world. It stars Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman.
The movie poses several things to think about, I didn’t write anything down as I was watching it tonight, (the third or fourth time I’ve seen it, but I barely remembered the ending from before.) so its likely that I’m missing things.
1. As a teacher, it is difficult to know what is the best idea when wimpy little Eddie doesn’t fight back and Father O’Malley pats his more aggressive schoolmate on the back for being such a good fighter. This is followed up by a quiet debate on whether the world was better off for teaching people to stand up for themselves or whether people standing up for themselves is the problem. Though Sister Benedict does not agree with Father O’Malley she soon teaches young Eddie the art of boxing. Eddie later proves himself a worthy pugilist on the playground, but the obvious joy he has as he first bates his nemesis and then toys with him in the ensuing fight helps us to realize that there is something about his new power that is frightening and dangerous.
2. A second dilemma arises when Father O’Malley tries to help young Patricia, a girl with little help from home in the first 13 years of her life. Her final act of intentionally failing her year end \exams in order to stay at this one true safe place for her one more year demonstrates the importance of teachers, schools and that we need to get to the heart of the matter before we leap to logical conclusions, as in many cases, logic does not really come into play. Sister Benedict’s desire to adhere to the rules and standards of St Mary’s is commendable and right, but Father O’Malley is also right in his desire to show grace.
3. Lastly, we see Mr Bogardus and his struggle to say “no” to God. For a movie with main characters who are a priest and a nun, God rarely makes an appearance in this movie. The most beautiful part of the movie takes place in the grade one class as the children put on their own interpretation of the Christmas story. Here alone do we see Jesus, and one of the few times that God is referenced. In spite of this oddity, there is little doubt that God is chasing down the curmudgeonly old Mr Bogardus. It is a tip of the hat to both the sovereignty and love of God as we see the older man give in to God and experience the joy of generosity.
Does God show his face in this movie? Yes. Is there room for more of Him? Isn’t there always more place we can make for Him in our lives too? This is a movie of internal struggles, about trying to figure out what is right for others, about obeying God. All in all, it’s a wonderful movie to re-view as often as possible.