religion

After receiving a Masters in Religious Studies at New York University in 2011 Jo has written extensively on various religious traditions for the WSJ and other publications. Her nonfiction book on American nuns, At Your Service will be published in September 2014.

Wall Street Journal

Ex-Governor Goes Behind Bars
published: March 15, 2013
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — On a recent Sunday morning, a former governor of New Jersey stood before a predominantly African-American church congregation here, tapping a Bible on his thigh to the choir’s rendition of “Blessed Be the Rock.” In the pews before him sat a group of ex-convicts he knew well.

When the music stopped inside Bethesda Baptist Church, James McGreevey spoke from the pulpit in a full-throated sermon complete with dramatic gesticulations and the occasional “amen.” His subject: struggle.

“He almost got to sound like he was a Baptist at the end,” said Pastor Vincent L. Thomas, the leader of the congregation.
read full article

Nun’s Divine Intervention Turns Nightclub into Thrift Store
published: January 11, 2013
Some neighbors looked at the abandoned Astoria nightclub Studio 34 and saw the remnants of a good time. Others welcomed the end of its sin, depravity and strobe lights. One went so far as to compare the cinder block walled disco to the underworld.

But when Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, a nun in her 60s, first set eyes on the 8,000-square-foot space, she saw something completely different—a thrift store.
read full article

Mixing Church and Drinks
published: March 30, 2012
At a pair of worship services in Brooklyn, reminders to tip the bartender are heard alongside entreaties to love thy neighbor and praise the Lord.

On Sunday evenings, two watering holes in the Williamsburg neighborhood regularly host Christian congregations — not for after-church drinks, but for full services with scripture, sermons and prayers. The odd arrangements have been a boon for the bars and those they serve.

“I like the people,” Eric Kingrey, a bartender at Trash Bar, said of the church crowd. “They’re good tippers.”
read full article

Letting Go of Wall Street
published: October 31, 2011
Rasanath Das was an atypical member of the city’s investment-banker class.

The 32-year-old MBA earned a $170,000 salary working long days negotiating deals at Bank of America. But on his free nights, he slept on the floor of a bare room shared with 13 other Hindu monks in a monastery in the East Village. On weekends, he taught classes on scripture and scrubbed floors and pots.

“I realized I was not dependent on external objects to make me happy. It was like letting go of crutches and being able to walk faster,” Mr. Das said.
read full article

This Way to the Séance
published: October 27, 2011
On a recent Wednesday evening, 10 women and three men sat in a circle holding hands in a fluorescent-lit back room of a Midtown conference center. They settled into metal office chairs, turned off the lights and prepared to summon the spirit world.

There, in the dark, they learned about love, family and work. One was given a foreboding message from a long-deceased aunt, another was told of the Brooklyn intersection where she would meet the love of her life.

It was just another night at Séance in the City, a weekly meeting of supernaturally inclined New Yorkers. Members pay $20 to spend a couple of hours testing their psychic abilities with guessing games that typically involve playing cards hidden in an envelope. But the main attraction is a chance for a reading from the group’s founder, Jesse Bravo.
read full article

Temple Mines for Members
published: September 29, 2011
When political consultant Bradley Tusk orchestrated Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s victorious run for a third term, he owed much of his success to the novel use of consumer data to locate and target groups of voters.

Now he’s turning those tactics toward a more spiritual aim.

Mr. Tusk, along with Gary Ginsberg, a veteran of the Clinton White House and a founding editor of the magazine George, wants to turn his conservative synagogue, Town & Village on 14th Street, into the destination temple for young, unaffiliated Jewish Manhattanites.
read full article

Jersey Shore Nuns Find Salvation in Surf, T-Shirts
published: August 19, 2011
Along a certain stretch of the Jersey Shore, the t-shirts seen advertising Nuns’ Beach seem to be just another bit of satirical beachwear targeted at the tourist trade. But the beach in question is very real, as are the nuns who have flocked to the popular surfing spot for the last 75 years.

Nuns’ Beach is a one-block strip of sand in Stone Harbor, N.J., a hamlet 40 miles south of Atlantic City. The beach is attached to a facility owned by the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a teaching order based in Pennsylvania. Each summer, the property fills with nuns weary from nine long months in the classroom.

When the sisters hit the sand dressed in their summer habits — a light-weight material in blue and white — they stand out amid the sea of flip flops and tank tops. The nuns even don bathing suits, with certain restrictions.

“Not a bikini,” said Sister Anne Pierre.

“No, no,” agreed Sister James Dolores, shaking her head. “We wear one-piece suits, with the little skirt sometimes.”
read full article

A Comedic Airing of Conservative Laundry
published: July 16, 2011
As a playwright, Aizzah Fatima knows she is pushing boundaries with the title of her one-woman show, “Dirty Paki Lingerie,” which will make its debut Saturday at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. But as an actress, Ms. Fatima is delighted to portray roles that transcend the traditional fare she is typically offered as a Pakistani Muslim actress. “‘Terrorist No. 2′s girlfriend’ is an actual title of a character I once auditioned for,” she said.

Ms. Fatima is the first Muslim playwright to have her work featured in the Midtown festival, which is in its 12th year, and the title of her comedic show about Muslim women reconciling their ethnic identities with their American lives has proved too controversial for some members of the Muslim community in New York. Many, she said, have asked her to change it to something less salty. “Several people have told me they have an issue with the word ‘lingerie’ in the title, and not so much the ‘dirty Paki,’” the 34-year-old said. “Conservative Muslim women in my social circles have suggested I change the title to ‘Dirty Paki Laundry’ to make it more politically correct.”
read full article

In N.Y. Surf Heaven, A Blessing of the Boards
published: June 20, 2011
Montauk’s Ditch Plains beach is about as close as New Yorkers can get to an “Endless Summer”-style surf heaven. On Sunday morning, many of the town’s wave-riders tried a new way to attract divine curls — by having their surf boards blessed.

The blessing of objects is popular in New York City, where religious adepts can get anything from bulldogs to bikes blessed someplace. But for Saint Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church, out on the tip of the Hamptons and just blocks from the beach, the board blessing was a first.
read full article

A Priest Finds Her Own Flock
published: March 18, 2011
As a five-year-old girl growing up in Brooklyn, Gabriella Velardi Ward dreamed of being a Catholic priest.

Other girls doodled rainbows and unicorns in their notebooks; she drew chalices and vestments. Her family told her girls weren’t allowed to be Catholic priests, which was true in 1953 and remains true today.

But last Sunday, Ward presided over what she describes as a Catholic mass in a tiny living room in Sunnyside, Queens. Now 63 years old, Ward belongs to a group who call themselves Roman Catholic Woman Priests. Her community of 85 worshipers has named themselves after St. Praxedis, a female leader in the early church.

She counts herself as the only female Catholic priest in New York City.
read full article


Scientology Is Officially Recruiting at Cannes
published: May 19, 2011
Hollywood has imported more than film and celebrity to the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France. It’s also brought along its pet religion, Scientology.

Yes, a Scientology recruiting outpost has been set up just off the festival’s main drag, a couple blocks from the Palais des Festivals, since the start of the film orgy last week.
read the full article

Katie Couric Was Right! Muslim-Americans Do Want Their Own TV Show
published: January 26, 2011
Katie Couric came under fire for suggesting a Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show’ would go a long way in fixing America’s ignorance about the Islamic faith. Critics derided her as simple, but Jo interviewed many Muslim Americans who welcomed the remarks and hopes Couric’s words would bring more Muslim characters into the mainstream media.
read the full article