If you’ve lived in New Orleans for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen the Big Easy Sisters. These colorful characters make appearances throughout the year, from large events like Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence to smaller ones like weekly charity bingo games. Their visible presence is often associated with lighthearted, irreverent fun.
What you might not know is that the Big Easy Sisters are a local chapter of a nationwide organization, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. This group first appeared on Easter Sunday, 1979 in San Francisco with a single mission: “to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.” While they are usually seen out having fun, their work is much more than that.
The Sisters, both nationally and locally, are a nonprofit organization. The Big Easy Sisters hold fundraising and charity events regularly throughout the year, and each event benefits a local New Orleans charity. It could be anything from fundraising for a large community organization, dropping off 25 $10 gift cards at the Drop-In Center, or serving food at Saint Mark’s. But that’s not all they do. At every event, each Sister is performing a mission of outreach, educating people they meet on a one-on-one basis.
The Sisters are truly run as an Order, with a strict organization and hierarchy. Each member has taken vows, and many view their work within the group as a true calling and vocation. Becoming a full Sister takes a full year – both a test of and a testament to each member’s dedication.
Seeing them out and about in full habits, contrasted with colorful, flamboyant makeup and hair it’s hard not to wonder if people get offended by their appearance. I asked Abbess Glory Bea, leader of the Big Easy Sisters if the group has ever gotten pushback.
“In a city like New Orleans, we really haven’t had much pushback. We’ve been welcomed openly. Every once in a while we get people telling us that they went to a Catholic school and were taught by nuns, so knowing we are “sisters,” it makes them a little nervous. But…we have been welcomed into any place we go to.”
According to the Abbess, the Big Easy Sisters are big proponents of treating others the way you wish to be treated, as well as “live and let live.” According to the Abbess:
“When something offends us, chances are it is something that we do not understand. So, our first reaction is to be on the defensive side or react negatively to it. If we as a community just stopped and had an open dialogue on what we do not understand, then we will get along… Education is the key.”
Which is why one of the Sisters’ key missions revolves around education. They hope that their method of personal outreach on an individual level will help to eliminate pockets of bigotry and intolerance that sometimes hide within the community.
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness. Be sure to check out her other articles and reports here.