Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You Characters

Christopher Durang

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sister Mary Ignatius

Sister Mary Ignatius, a nun and fifth grade teacher at what she calls Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow School. Sister Mary appears in an old-fashioned nun’s habit; her age is uncertain, but she might be anywhere from forty to sixty. Although she displays many human characteristics, Sister Mary is a caricature of an earnest but oppressive parochial school teacher, more concerned with doctrine than with truth. One of her chief assertions is that God answers all prayers, but that sometimes the answer is no. She lectures directly to the audience, occasionally answering questions that she has on file cards, but the information she presents is often confused. When questioned, Thomas, her assistant, gets the commandments wrong, but Sister Mary nevertheless approves his answers and rewards him with cookies. She claims to come from a large family, some twenty-six children, of whom five became priests, seven nuns, and three brothers. The others, as well as her mother, she says, were placed in institutions. When four students from her 1959 fifth grade class arrive and perform a Christmas pageant, she becomes even more confused. The pageant, presumably written by Mary Jean Mahoney, a fifth grade student from 1948, clearly reflects Sister Mary’s teachings and marks the turning point of the play. After the performance, Sister Mary questions her former students and discovers that they have all abandoned her teaching and that each has sinned in some way. Sister Mary immediately dislikes Diane, who has had two abortions. When Diane accuses Sister Mary of being insane and threatens her with a gun, Sister Mary tricks her and, drawing her own gun from beneath her...

(The entire section is 689 words.)