Imagine a nun, early 50s, with a wrinkleless face that exudes divine joy, her brown habit gliding about the cloistered monastery in Wahpeton, N.D., as she works, sings and prays unceasingly. Now hold that thought.

When I read that the stars of “Napoleon Dynamite” would be in town for the Fargo Film Festival March 21 to screen and discuss their 2004 hit comedy – a low-budget indie film that garnered nearly $45 million worldwide – I thought, “Sweet!”

Though I’ve never seen the whole film, I’ve caught parts through the years, and know some of the well-worn lines, thanks to my kids, who still say “quesa-DILL-a.”

Years ago, one of my oldest son’s tennis teammates commonly went to practice wearing a “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt. Another son once dressed as Napoleon Dynamite for Halloween, courtesy of a white T-shirt I “Napoleonized” with a black Sharpie. Like the low-budget film, his low-budget costume, complete with curly, blonde wig and gold wire-rimmed glasses, was a hit.

So, what does this have to do with a Carmelite nun from North Dakota?

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On March 21, I texted Mother Madonna, prioress at Carmel of Mary monastery, newly back from a business trip south, to arrange a visit.

“I’ll check the calendar,” she said. As an aside, she mentioned meeting two actors at the airport the day prior after waiting together for their carry-ons in Denver, before all boarded another flight to Fargo.

“Can’t wait to hear more about your visit,” I casually texted back.

She noted that the actors were from California. Interesting, I thought. Maybe I’d heard of them, she suggested. Napoleon Dynamite and Pedro? “They bought me lunch and we talked and talked.”

Suddenly, I’m very amused. “My kids are going to love this,” I typed before asking a few questions.

“Pedro was standing next to me (in the luggage line) and asked me a simple question,” Mother said; a question indicating he’d noticed her earlier – the habit, no doubt.

They ended up having lunch together, and talked about relationships, including Napoleon’s (Jon Heder) “beautiful wife” and four children, and how Pedro (Efren Ramirez) remains single. “We had a long discussion about the meaning of marriage.”

It was then that the beautiful irony of it all hit me: an encounter of two men with worldly success meeting this humble nun, so unworldly in one sense but so wise in the ways of God, who’d never heard of their hit film until that moment.

Instead of the gawks normally directed at the stars, they’d been the quiet gawkers, inching closer to the unsuspecting Carmelite nun. I smiled, realizing how blessed Heder and Ramirez were to have met Mother, who hopes to stay in touch with the actors.

“I told them the next movie will be about meeting a cloistered nun in an airport!” Mother texted, undoubtedly grinning.

Ah yes. “Napoleon Dynamite Meets Carmel,” a screenplay guaranteed to make us “salvivate,” salvifically-speaking. Pass the popcorn. Or maybe it oughts to be tots.

Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage,