One of the saddest stories in the history of time is the story of Jeanine Deckers also known as Soeur Sourire. She is popularly known as The Singing Nun. The story is sad because of where it fits in the tragedy of its creator.
Let me cast your mind a little back to memory lane, do you still remember the song called “Dominique” in the 60s? Jeanine Deckers was the woman who sang that song. She once lived in a Belgian convent.
Jeanine Deckers was born on October 17, in the year 1933 and in September 1959, she joined the Missionary establishment of the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Fichermont. Its headquarter is situated in the city of Waterloo. This establishment was founded to offer assistance to the Dominican friars of the missions in the Belgian Congo. During her stay in the convent, Jeanine Deckers composed, sang and performed some of her songs. This was so well appreciated and received by visitors and her fellow Sisters, that her superiors in the missionary decided to allow her record and release an album, which retreatants and visitors at the convent would purchase.
After she had composed ‘Dominique’, her co-sisters encouraged her to record the song. She was reluctant about the recording of the song. Later on, she agreed and paid for the recording session so she could offer the copies of the record as gifts.
Fortunately for Jeanine Deckers, the song was noticed by the executives at Phillips Records. In the year 1962, she was signed to a recording contract with Phillips Records.
Jeanine Deckers agreed to answer, Soeur Sourire, as her stage name. She turned all the gains she got from her record over to the convent.
At that time, her song became a hit. In the year 1966, a movie titled “oddly enough” was produced. This movie was all about her life, and it starred Deborah Reynolds in the title role. During the following year, a TV series called “The Flying Nun” was produced. It spoofs the movie. This series starred a young, talented actress called Sally Field.
In the year 1963, the album was recorded and released in Brussels at Philips. The song “Dominique” became a hit internationally. Most American radio stations played it more often in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The Dominican Sister became an international celebrity overnight, with her stage name known as Sœur Sourire (Sister Smile). “Dominique” was the first Belgian song to be listed as number one hit single in the US. In the year 1966, her movie called The Singing Nun was produced about her. Jeanine Deckers rejected the movie as “fiction”, and because of that, the video was hard to find for a long time.
Jeanine Deckers didn’t profit much from her international fame, and her second album titled “Her Joys, Her Songs,” also was not much appreciated and it disappeared almost immediately, as it was released. Philips, her producer, took most of her earnings from the song, and the rest went to her religious congregation.
In the year 1967, Jeanine Deckers left the convent. She planned to continue her musical career under the name “Luc Dominique”. She also planned to look for social work, which she studied at the Louvain to become a lay Dominican. She decided to move in with her childhood friend named Anne Pecher, whose profession is physiotherapy. Anne was also a former Dominican Sisters member. Jeanine Deckers was not able to keep “Sœur Sourire”, her initial professional name as the Dominican Sisters refused to permit her because they own the rights.
Jeanine Deckers released an album titled “I Am Not a Star in Heaven”. The album contained religious and children’s songs. Despite her hard work and renewed musical emphasis, Jeanine Deckers began to fade into obscurity. She could not maintain the success of her first hit.
In the year 1970, Decker’s musical career was over, so she opened a school for children having autism. Late in the year, the Belgian government claimed that she owed $63,000 in back taxes. Deckers countered against the claim, saying that the royalties from her music were given to the convent, so therefore she was not liable to pay any personal income taxes. Her former congregation refused to take up the responsibility of paying the debt, they claim that they’re neither responsible for her nor for the funds. Deckers were heavily indebted because of this. During this period of her financial problem, she became addicted to drugs and alcohol, in addition to bouts of nervous breakdowns and severe depression.
She began painting and started teaching art to help raise money. She also started guitar lessons while helping her companion Annie to run their school.
In the year 1982, she tried, once more as Sœur Sourire, to know whether she will be able to score a hit with her disco synthesizer version of “Dominique”, but this last attempt of resuming her music career failed.
The song and the songwriter turned out to be a one-day wonder. In the year 1980, Jeanine Deckers had many challenges with the Roman Catholic Church, with money, and with her sexuality. In the month of March 29, 1985, Decker and her companion Anna Peche, committed suicide by having a few drinks and a bunch of barbiturates. The sad news of their tragic end made the headlines of that time. Today, only a few people still remember either Jeanine Deckers-The Singing Nun or her famous song that made her popular.
Jeanine Deckers and Anna Peche were granted a church funeral despite the fact that they committed suicide. Both of them were buried in Cheremont Cemetery located in Wavre, Walloon Brabant. This is the town where they died. The tombstone inscription reads “I saw her soul fly across the clouds”, this line was gotten from Decker’s song titled “Sister Smile is dead”…
Jeanine Deckers and Annie Peche’s suicide note (1985) read as follows;
“Am I a failure? I try to stay honest with myself. To look for the truth, and try to question everything in my life…
Ten years ago I would have said I was a loser.
Now I don’t think in terms of losing or winning…
Life is a continuum. You’re constantly on your way. One day I feel good, the next I feel bad. Altogether, it’s bearable.
Would I do it all over again? That’s not a good question. You can’t.
You can’t do it all over again. Voila”
“Jeanine is in constant depression and only lives for me. I live for her. That can’t go on.
“We do really suffer too much. We have no more place in life, no ideal except God, but we can’t eat that.
“We go into eternity in peace.
We trust God will forgive us.
He saw us both suffer and he won’t let us down.
“It would please Jeanine not to die for the world.
She had a hard time on earth.
She deserves to live in the minds of people.”
– Annie Peche