Deloris Van Cartier was the central hero of the 1991 movie Sister Act, the sequel Sister Act II, and Sister Act: The Musical which was based upon the first film.
In 1968, Deloris Williams was a young girl who attended a Catholic school. Her wisecracking and disobedient nature exasperated the nun, who warned her that people like her tended not to do so well.
By the early 1990’s, Deloris Van Cartier was working as a lounge singer in Reno. She was carrying on an affair with casino owner Vince LaRocca. When Vince gave her his wife's purple fur coat, she decided that she had enough of Vince and went to break up with him. In Vince's suite, Vince was interrogating his young limo driver and confirmed that he had spoken to the police. Vince had the young driver executed at the exact moment Deloris entered the suite. Deloris managed to get out a few words of apology for an earlier argument before exiting the suite. Vince decided he couldn’t have her as a witness and had his accomplices pursue her.
Deloris managed to escape and took a taxi to police headquarters where she told the police what she had seen. Lt. Eddie Souther revealed that Vince was a major mob figure. He asked Deloris if she would testify against Vince, but she was too frightened to do so. Souther told her that if she agreed to testify he would hide her in the last place on earth Vince would ever expect to find her.
The next day, they arrived in San Francisco. To Deloris's considerble horror, she realized that she was going to be staying in the convent attached to St. Katherine's Parish. The Reverend Mother wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect, but the pastor Msgr. O'Hara said that the convent would have law enforcement protection, and that the Reno police department was giving them a considerable donation.
Reverend Mother took Deloris in. After instructing her not to smoke and having her dress in a habit, Reverend Mother informed Deloris that while she was in the convent she would be known as Mary Clarence.
Initially, Deloris had a rough time adjusting to the structure of convent life, of having to get up before dawn, of small and plain meals, and of working in the church and convent. She found the convent closed off from the neighborhood. The choir at St. Katherine's was in sad shape. Despite the difficulties of having to conform to Catholic communal living she did make friends with many of the nuns there, especially the shy Mary Robert and the boisterous Mary Patrick. Deloris snuck out to a bar one night followed by Mary Robert and Mary Patrick. Coming back they were confronted by the Reverend Mother. She nearly called Souther to ask him to make alternative arrangements for Deloris, but decided instead that for the remainder of her time there she would sleep and sing.
Within minutes of arriving in the choir room, everyone discovered that Deloris had an excellent grasp of music theory, and former leader Mary Lazarus agreed to step aside. The following Sunday the choir sung Hail Holy Queen in the traditional manner followed by a fast paced rock and roll performance of the hymn. People in the street overheard the choir and came in to see what was going on. The Reverend Mother was very disappointed and was going to have Mary Lazarus resume her leadership of the choir. However, Msgr. O'Hara stepped in and said that the music was heavenly, and it was bringing people in to church. Deloris convinced him to let the nuns go out in to the neighborhood, helping to clean up the area and make it much more livable. On Sunday, a church that had only had a dozen or so attendees at Mass was filled to capacity. Deloris was nearly exposed when a TV crew visited, but Vince had been distracted when she appeared on TV for a few seconds.
Meanwhile Pope John Paul II was visiting the states and heard about St. Katherine's choir. He decided to make the time to visit the parish. Upon the decision of the choir to let Deloris select the music instead of a traditional program for his visit, Reverend Mother decided she had enough and was going to hand in her resignation. Deloris offered to go in her place but Reverend Mother still was planning to resign.
Tate, a corrupt officer on Vince's payroll discovered where Deloris was hiding. Vince sent his men Joey and Willie to return her to Reno. After Deloris was kidnapped, Reverend Mother revealed the truth to the convent that Mary Clarence was not a nun, but a singer named Delores Van Cartier. The nuns of the convent all flew to Reno to rescue Deloris.
Vince confronted Deloris, who faced her former lover calmly and without any outward signs of fear. The Deloris they faced now was nothing like the woman who fled months earlier. Vince tried to have Joey and Willie murder Deloris, but they found they couldn't do it, fearing their souls in jeopardy for killing someone who might have actually become a nun. Deloris managed to knock over Willie and Joey and escape through the casino. Vince chased Deloris through the casino as the other nuns of the convent arrived. As a group they tried to escape but Vince cornered them. Before Vince could shoot Deloris, Lt. Souther shot him in the arm. Vince cursed her as he was being dragged away by cops, Deloris simply responded with, "Bless you."
The Reverend Mother found a renewed sense of purpose and since Deloris would soon be leaving decided she should stay. Deloris returned with the nuns to St. Katherine's where in front of a packed house they performed for the Pope, who was quite pleased with what he saw. Deloris directed the choir at several concert engagements in the coming months.
Sister Act II: Back in the Habit
Deloris left the convent to resume her career, which was far more successful. She began an act based on her exploits at the convent where she hid from Vince. At the last performance of her show Mary Lazarus, Mary Robert, and Mary Patrick approached Deloris to ask for assistance. The nuns were now working at the same St. Francis Academy that she attended. Learning that the school was in danger of closing Reverend Mother asked Deloris to assist in convincing the Diocese to keep the school open.
Resuming her Mary Clarence persona, Deloris taught the music class at the school. She was able to bring about a change in the students, who had been rude and unruly. Getting them interested in learning and singing, she was able to bring them to perform at an all-state choir championship. For the first time in many years the school won the championship. Seeing the many positive changes the Diocese decided to keep the school open.
Sister Act: The Musical
In the mid 2000’s a musical based on the first film was released. The role of Deloris was played by Patina Miller in the original Pasadena and Broadway runs. Cynthia Erivo played Deloris in the first UK tour of the musical, Ta'Rea Campbell in the first US tour of the musical and Mireia Mambo in the first tour of the musical in Spain.
The underlying premise for the musicals was basically the same as the first movie storyline. Deloris had witnessed her mobster boyfriend having someone killed in front of her. Going to the police she was hidden in a convent by the police to keep her safe. Specific details such as location, the date, and names in the musical were changed.
Behind the Scenes
When the story for Sister Act was initially conceived in 1987, screenwriter Paul Rudnick and producer Scott Rudin wanted to have Bette Midler play the role of Deloris. However Midler turned them down, believing her fans would not want to see her playing a nun. Eventually they signed Whoppi Goldberg to play Deloris, a role she reprised in the second film.