Community Partner Spotlight: Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Sister Celine Dionysus from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, San Francisco’s beloved Order of drag nuns, now have a 15-foot honeybear on the side of the Powerhouse, by S.F. street artist fnnch. The individual behind this adorably devout mural is Sister Celine Dionysus, who also happened to be the first novice ever to be elevated to a full nun via Zoom. We asked her to share some details about that experience, and what the Sisters are up to next.

photo by Peter-Astrid Kane

The Sisters are coming off a very successful partnership with fnnch to create prints of a honeybear nun along with a mural on the Powerhouse. How much money did you raise?

The fnnch “Nunny Bear” was such a roller coaster! It’s quite powerful to have an idea, and then in a short while stand in front of it realized in a mural and think, “Did that come from my head?” I never thought that a fleeting thought could change a landscape, but creation is quite an overwhelming process. The response has blown open my perspective on how art shapes a city, and the most exciting part for me has been the dialogues I have subsequently with so many emerging artists. I have some ideas for events and am actively discussing new projects that will spread joy and expiate guilt in a visual form, hopefully in the most unexpected of places.

photo by Peter-Astrid Kane

We made over $30,000, and the gallery sale took under two minutes to close. I’m also really happy that we did it this way. Galas are great, and the people who attend them do so out of generosity of spirit. But the range of people who I know personally and who bought a Hunny Bear includes many individuals who would never attend a gala dinner but who are huge fans of the artist.

The final Bear that was put up on eBay sold for over $7,000, which is the highest auction sale for a new fnnch painting since he began putting them on eBay! I don’t know who bought it, but rumor has it that the painting is in the city somewhere, and I have a feeling that my path will cross it again one day.  

On the Saturday before Easter, the order publicly blessed the Powerhouse and the intersection of Folsom and Dore streets. How did that go?

The blessing was my favorite part of Easter weekend. The Sisters were founded on Holy Saturday 1979, and the holiday is always celebrated as our anniversary. Traditionally, there is a meditative walk through the Castro during the day, but when the opportunity came up for the mural, it became clear that Holy Saturday would be the best for the blessing. We were able to get a large group of nuns, representing decades of Sisters, to come out for it, partly because of the increased availability of vaccines. 

It wasn’t an official event, per se, since we are not holding in person events, but was a throwback to the old street theater, agitprop activism that the Sisters have become known for. The blessing was performed by Sister Lilith of the Valley, who is such a spiritual light in the Order, and has been giving blessings for close to three decades now. I drug her out of the catacombs, dusted her off — and her magick made me cry.

Blessings of spaces, or people, or events, are something that the Sisters have become known for and are typically tailored to the situation. I have performed blessings and typically take a day or two to meditate on the people who the blessing is for, and who I should call upon to come down and lend their protection. It satisfies the woo in me, and I hope in others, too.

Why did the Sisters choose to saint the noted journalist, community advocate, and kinkster Race Bannon? Was he surprised?

Race Bannon! LOL. So, when his name came up for the sainting, we looked at each other and said, “Well, he’s been blessed for years, right?”  Then we slogged through the records and realized that we hadn’t formally recognized San Francisco’s most prominent Saint of Sexual Freedom! Talk about egg — or something else that’s sticky — on our faces! 

Well, like Joan of Arc finally being canonized, we have made that correction, and supplicated ourselves accordingly. Then we supplicated again, cause it’s Race Bannon — and if you ever have the chance to supplicate with Race Bannon, you’d understand the thrill of taking a knee in front of him.

Race has been such a supporter of ours for years! He was surprised during a meeting and we saw how meaningful it was for him!

Were you the first Sister ever to be elevated to a full nun via Zoom?

I was the first nun elevated by Zoom! It was definitely not what I had conceived when I joined the Order, but I look on it as completely in keeping with how my journey as a Sister has been: unexpectedly gorgeous and an opportunity to stay in the moment and say yes to possibilities. 

I am grateful to be able to do this work, and to be among the Sisters of this Order. I am also practically a Luddite when it comes to tech, so being known as the first remote elevation via Zoom makes me seem so computer-literate. It’s really punched up the skills section of my resume.

What’s your next individual project with the Sisters?

I’ve been talking with Bay Area artists and artisans to see where I can show up for them, and what the Order can do to support local queer artists, and I’m trying to synthesize this into a project. We’ve gone through so much this past year, and we don’t really have a clear path ahead, but I think that art acts as signposts that show us which way is up, so I want to help put signposts out there. 

What’s something the order is planning that LGBTQ+ people in the Bay Area can look forward to?

The Sisters are looking forward to Pride Season, but we can’t make any announcements right now. We’re collaborating with community organizations and will know more as it gets closer. The Sisters have been marching in Pride since the early ’80s — most notoriously in a 40-foot penis covered in a condom, in 1986 — and have hosted a Pink Saturday event since 1998, but we also agree that community health and safety is the most important thing to focus on, so we are focusing on collaborations that celebrate Pride with safety and creativity! But we look forward to marching behind the Allies from Google and toasting our liberty with an ice-cold Bud Light (if the cops at the gates let us in, that is) next year!

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