True ecumenism

True ecumenism… brick by brick…

Episcopal nuns in Archdiocese of Baltimore to join Catholic Church

By George P. Matysek Jr.
gmatysek@catholicreview.org

[Mother Christina Christie (left), Sister Mary Joan Walker and Sister Emily Ann Lindsey depart the chapel of the All Saints Sisters’ of the Poor convent in Catonsville. The sisters are part an Episcopal order that will be joining the Roman Catholic Church Sept. 3. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)]

After seven years of prayer and discernment, a community of Episcopal nuns and their chaplain will be received into the Roman Catholic Church during a Sept. 3 Mass celebrated by Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien.

The archbishop will welcome 10 sisters from the Society of All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor when he administers the sacrament of confirmation and the sisters renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the chapel of their Catonsville convent.

Episcopal Father Warren Tanghe will also be received into the church and is discerning the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.

Mother Christina Christie, superior of the religious community, said the sisters are “very excited” about joining the Catholic Church and have been closely studying the church’s teachings for years. Two Episcopal nuns who have decided not to become Catholic will continue to live and minister alongside their soon-to-be Catholic sisters. Members of the community range in age from 59 to 94.

“For us, this is a journey of confirmation,” Mother Christina said. “We felt God was leading us in this direction for a long time.”

Wearing full habits with black veils and white wimples that cover their heads, the sisters have been a visible beacon of hope in Catonsville for decades.

The American branch of a society founded in England, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor came to Baltimore in 1872 and have been at their current location since 1917.

In addition to devoting their lives to a rigorous daily prayer regimen, the sisters offer religious retreats, visit people in hospice care and maintain a Scriptorium where they design religious cards to inspire others in the faith.

Throughout their history, the sisters worked with the poor of Baltimore as part of their charism of hospitality. Some of that work has included reaching out to children with special needs and ministering to AIDS patients. Together with Mount Calvary Church, an Episcopal parish in Baltimore, the sisters co-founded a hospice called the Joseph Richey House in 1987.

Orthodoxy and unity were key reasons the sisters were attracted to the Catholic faith. Many of them were troubled by the Episcopal Church’s approval of women’s ordination, the ordination of a gay bishop and what they regarded as lax stances on moral issues.

“We kept thinking we could help by being a witness for orthodoxy,” said Sister Mary Joan Walker, the community’s archivist.

Mother Christina said that effort “was not as helpful as we had hoped it would be.”

“People who did not know us looked at us as if we were in agreement with what had been going on (in the Episcopal Church),” she said. “By staying put and not doing anything, we were sending a message which was not correct.”

Before deciding to enter the Catholic Church, the sisters had explored Episcopal splinter groups and other Christian denominations. Mother Christina noted that the sisters had independently contemplated joining the Catholic Church without the others knowing. When they found out that most of them were considering the same move, they took it as a sign from God and reached out to Archbishop O’Brien.

“This is very much the work of the Holy Spirit,” Mother Christina said.

The sisters acknowledged it hasn’t been easy leaving the Episcopal Church, for which they expressed great affection. Some of their friends have been hurt by their pending departure, they said.

“Some feel we are abandoning the fight to maintain orthodoxy,” said Sister Emily Ann Lindsey. “We’re not. We’re doing it in another realm right now.”

The sisters have spent much of the past year studying the documents of the Second Vatican Council. They said there were few theological stumbling blocks to entering the church, although some had initial difficulty with the concept of papal infallibility.

In addition to worshipping in the Latin rite, the sisters have received permission from the archbishop to attend Mass celebrated in the Anglican-use rite – a liturgy that adapts many of the prayers from the Episcopal tradition. Mother Christina said 10 archdiocesan priests, including Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, have stepped forward to learn how to celebrate the Anglican-use Mass.

The sisters expressed deep affection for Pope Benedict XVI. The pope exercises an authority that Episcopal leaders do not, they said. The unity that Christ called for can be found in the Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope, they said.

“Unity is right in the midst of all this,” said Sister Catherine Grace Bowen. “That is the main thrust.”

The sisters noted with a laugh that their love for the pope is evident in the name they chose for their recently adopted cat, “Benedict XVII” – a feline friend they lovingly call “His Furyness.”

Click here to read how the Episcopal sisters hope to form ‘diocesan institute.’

Click here to see a slide show of the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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10 Responses to True ecumenism

  1. Paula says:

    God bless these sisters–and their cat. I remember praying for Christian unity each week at my Episcopal parish, until I decided to stop being part of the problem and return to the Catholic faith.

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    The honest anglicans come marching in three by three hurrah hurrah.

  3. ckdexterhaven says:

    I love this story! And I really love this sentence:

    “Wearing full habits with black veils and white wimples that cover their heads, the sisters have been a visible beacon of hope in Catonsville for decades.”

  4. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Praise be to God for this wonderful discernment from the nuns.

    Mother Christina said 10 archdiocesan priests, including Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, have stepped forward to learn how to celebrate the Anglican-use Mass.

    I wonder what it will take to instill the same enthusiasm and eagerness in more priests to learn to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite!

  5. 4mercy says:

    What a wonderful article to wake up to!! Praise our Dear and Good Lord!! Welcome Sisters!!

  6. TJM says:

    What wonderful news. Thanks for posting this Father Z. Tom

  7. irishgirl says:

    I read rumors about this move about a month ago….all I can say is, Thank You dear Lord!

    Welcome to the Barque of Peter, dear Father and Sisters! And your kitty, too!

    ‘Benedict XVII’-oh, that’s so cute!

    When I worked in the local Catholic bookstore, I met the Episcopal Bishop of Albany, NY, Bishop Herzog. When I commented on his ‘chunky’ ring-he was wearing secular clothes-he revealed his identity, much to my mortification. He was a great admirer of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and not long after this encounter in the store, he and his wife entered the Catholic Church.

  8. EXCHIEF says:

    Outstanding–might serve as a good example to some Nuns who are Catholic by birth.

  9. rwprof says:

    Fr Tanghe lived right down the street from us in Louisville back in the early 80s, and was the pastor at the Church of the Advent, an TEC church on Bardstown Road. Knew him quite well, and back then (that was 25 years ago, er, almost 30 now), as upset he was about the new prayer book, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

  10. JPG says:

    This is wonderful news.
    One is seeing the logical conclusion of private judgement, namely the disolution or apostasy of mainline Protestantism. What will be left will be the evangelicals who at least will be more orthodox but seemingly bent on reducing faith to a mere subjective emotional experience likwise being all too prone to the cult of personality. Anyone with an orthodox understanding will flee to the barque of Peter.
    JPG