Netflix’s The Keepers explores the tragic story of Sister Catherine Cesnik and the darkness her death would eventually bring to light. The seven-hour documentary uncovers a city-wide sin of twisted penance, power and politics, ultimately speaking volumes on the plight of victims’ rights, and the strength of the human spirit.
Viewers follow the mystery of “Who Killed Sister Cathy?” with a small group of justice seekers. Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, former students of Cesnik, are the protagonists. The duo – Cagney and Lacey with a dash of Murder, She Wrote – make it their mission to identify who killed their beloved teacher of Archbishop Keough Catholic High School. Hoskins is the former teacher and handles interviews with people of interest, while the reserved Schaub does the grueling research. In addition to Hoskins and Schaub, the investigation unfolds through the eyes of other former students, colleagues, law enforcement and family members all touched by the case.
Firsthand accounts of Cesnik paint the picture of a young, dutiful nun whose liberal approach to the Word matched the social backdrop of the 1960’s. At twenty-six years old, Cesnik sought to reach people on their level, in their environment. This mindset made her popular with her students. She became more than just a teacher, but was a friend and eventually a confidant. It’s this role Cesnik embraced that many believe caused her unfortunate demise.
Two narratives illustrate our story. First, the murders. On November 7, 1969 Catherine Cesnik did not return home from shopping for an engagement gift. Hours later police found her car oddly parked across the street from her apartment complex. A week later, 20-year-old Joyce Malecki disappeared under similar circumstances, her car found abandoned. Malecki’s body turned up days later in a shallow wooded creek. Two months pass before Cesnik’s remains are discovered five miles from her home. The murders shake the blue-collar Baltimore community, but with no leads or suspects, the cases go cold. It would be 25 years before the city would revisit either murder. And in doing so, a hideous truth about Keough would shake the city’s faith to its core.
Keepers’ second narrative, a “ripped from the headlines” Dick Wolf-esque serial, is an all too-common tale of stolen innocence. Through a series of uncomfortably honest interviews, Keough alumni describe years of heinous sexual abuse at the hand of a priest. Finding where these two narratives intersect bring Hoskins and Schaub to revelations beyond their wildest nightmares.
Director Ryan White pieces together a tale of unwavering resilience amidst the gravest odds. Viewers are consumed with empathy for the victims. We cry from the recounts of abuse; we’re enraged at the failures of justice. But in spite of the pain and suffering, viewers revel in the survivor’s bravery to face their demons, speak their truth and reclaim their lives from victim-hood.
The Keepers is an infuriating journey of faith when all hope is lost. A rallying cry for those who suffer in silence, unable to find their voice. A testament to the impact unconditional love has on the human experience.