Many years ago, I learned of a Menzingen Nun who secretly helped a priest throughout his ecclesiastical career. She supported and guided him as he rose through the ranks to becoming Pope of the Catholic church in 1939.
Although this nun was often called Madre Pascalina, I came to know her as Lapopessa (female Pope). Books, magazines, and interviews I had with people who knew Madre Pascalina indicated that she lived with Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) in different capacities for nearly 30 years.
Coming from a family where the mother was the breadwinner, I saw that equal rights and women's liberation was not just about a woman getting out of the kitchen. It seemed instead to be about choice and self-determination. Raising children or working in an office were both important to my mother, and she managed to do both, which was unusual in the late 1950s and '60s.
The parallels between my mother and Sister Pascalina impressed me; they both made conscious decisions to support others and assume what was then considered non-traditional roles for women. I was fascinated by this nun's rise to the world stage. And although she did it in the shadow of a man, the only road available to her, she accomplished much and pushed the boundaries of what women could do.
In time, I began to write songs and assemble notes for the book for a musical to showcase the life and accomplishments of this Lapopessa. I traveled to Switzerland and met a nun who served with Sister Pascalina, and I learned fascinating facts about Pasacalina's life in the Vatican.
The church kept Lapopessa's existence secret in fear that her role would be controversial and misinterpreted. But after this meeting, I realized that the relationship between the priest-turned-Pope and nun named Lapopessa was an extraordinary untold love story. I'm convinced that this pope-making nun and somewhat troubled man shared a deep but platonic love relationship.
The complexities of the times and the complications of these two people's religious roles were a novel and challenging backdrop on which to write a musical to celebrate this long-term and fantastic love relationship. Being a long-time fan of musical theater, I wanted to tell this story, including the highlights of their 40-year relationship, and do it all in song.
The writing of this musical was affected by life, loss, and procrastination. The show took many, many years to reach completion. But in 2020, I finally realized my dream much through the efforts of my husband Paul, a brilliant composer and lyricist. Paul played the few songs I'd managed to get down on paper on his keyboard for years. And hearing the songs get played kept the dream alive.
In an attempt to inspire me, Paul came on board as my writing partner. He then proceeded to compose a monumental amount of music and lyrics for the show. In fact, by turning the musical into a sung-through theater piece, he's written more songs for the show than I did. His passion for the project knows no boundaries. Our writing collaboration is only second to our 29-year love affair as husbands. In addition to gaining two daughters, two grandchildren, and several step-grandchildren, Paul is singularly responsible for making my dream of Lapopessa come true and come to life.