Less than two months before the Beatles hit America, the number one song on the US Billboard charts, for four straight weeks, was Dominique, a “French language popular song, written and performed” by Sister Luc-Gabrielle, “better known as Sœur Sourire or The Singing Nun.”
The story is that back in 1961, another nun had asked the folks at the Brussels office of Philips Records if they could pay the label to press a couple hundred copies of their songs, to be given away. Philips executives said no, but the nuns were persistent, and finally snagged a brief recording session the next year
Sister Luc-Gabrielle, accompanied by four other nuns, recorded over a dozen songs. The album became a hit in Europe, but got little traction in the US until Dominque was released as a single. Not only did the single top the charts, so did the album. And the song and/or album was a smash in a dozen other countries.
She even appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 5, 1964, from the convent. A 1966 movie was made, more or less about her, starring Debbie Reynolds
She yearned for the seclusion of her convent but the cloister she returned to was not the same as the one she had left. She met jealousy and backbiting over her success. Meanwhile her exposure to the outside world had changed her more than she realised and she found it hard to adjust back to the restrictions of religious life…
She enrolled on a course at university, where she wore lipstick and was even spotted smoking. More dramatically, she fell in love with a novice nun she met there: French-born Annie, who was 11 years her junior.
Scandalously, as far as the rest of the nuns were concerned, Jeanine left the convent so they could set up home together. Despite the outrage they had caused to strict Catholic morality the two lovers remained deeply religious, building an altar in their flat and taking communion together…
More worrying was the problem of money. All the proceeds from her recordings had gone to the convent and as such was not taxable. But record-keeping had been poor and when the tax authorities started asking questions Jeanine [Deckers] could not produce receipts to prove her story.
Although Dominique had made some $100,000 in royalties for the convent and she had taken nothing herself Sister Smile now found herself facing a massive tax bill…
By now addicted to booze and painkillers she and Annie opened a home for autistic children in the Belgian town of Wavre in 1983 but it was forced to close for lack of funds.
Despair closed in and on March 29, 1985 the two women took their own lives.