Since there is a great deal of liberal hooting at the latest women religious, LCWR, Bus-Nun type goat rodeo, let’s turn the clock back a bit and look at something at Religion and Politics about the Nashville Dominicans.
The article is longish, and at times it drifts over to the lefty-LCWR-secular religion line, but here are some good quotes. The title itself say a lot:
The Nuns Not on the Bus
By Mark Oppenheimer | October 26, 2012
“There’s no recruiting,” Sister Catherine Marie told me. Curious women, including many college students, stay with the Dominicans for short retreats; otherwise, the sisters’ outreach is just existing, publicly. “It’s about being visible and available,” she said. “We usually get two master’s degrees, one in theology and one in the field of education. So we have a lot of contact with young people.”
They resisted my insinuation that they cared only about the church’s “conservative” positions. “If you don’t care about the dignity of the human person, it makes no sense to talk about education or war in Iraq,” said Sister Hannah, an African-American woman who majored in philosophy at Notre Dame. “So pro-life is foundational that way. But we do care about other issues.”
They got animated when I asked about the habit. “At the hospital, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached,” said Sister Catherine Marie. “A woman once asked me, ‘My mother just died. Will you pray over her body?’ They unzipped the body bag right there. If I weren’t wearing the habit, that wouldn’t happen.”
But what of their cloistered existence, their regimented prayer life, their periods of mandatory silence, their jobs chosen for them?
“Kids today have a thousand friends on Facebook, and they feel totally isolated,” said Sister Ann Dominic, who was completing her second, or novice, year, a year spent of no interaction with outsiders. “I’ve been cloistered all year, and I’ve never felt freer.”
THE SAME WEEK I WENT to Nashville, I visited the Sisters of St. Joseph, in Holyoke, Mass., a congregation that belongs to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. They had arranged for me a program almost identical to the Dominican treatment: a tour, lunch, casual chats. These women were as articulate as the Dominicans, as mirthful, as indifferent to worldly goods. Their simple, sensible-shoe, old-lady garb was, in its way, more modest than the bright white habits of the Dominicans. Many of these sisters were teachers, too, although they were permitted other careers, and some worked in parish houses, in charities, or as social workers. There are 257 Sisters of St. Joseph, about as many sisters as in Nashville.
But the Sisters of St. Joseph were old: they range in age from 53 to 100. This summer brought one new member, a once-divorced, once-widowed woman of 54. The halls of their home, Mont Marie, are filled with walkers, wheelchairs and canes, congregating in loose formation outside the chapel, the living rooms, the dining hall.
The Vatican looks at Sister Anna, the Dominican, and sees the future; it looks at Sister Jane, and her fellow Sisters of St. Joseph, and figures their only hope is to emulate the Dominicans. The Vatican is right, up to a point: the liberal, more elderly congregations are dying. But then again, so are the vast majority of conservative groups. [Ehem…. they are? The “vast majority of conservative groups”? Whom does the writer consider “conservative”? It seems from this piece that the “conservative” groups like the Nashville Dominicans are doing pretty well.] Five or ten youthful, growing congregations will not reverse the geriatric, and ultimately mortal, trend. And forcing some liberal groups to become more conservative won’t necessarily increase the number of women interested in being nuns. [It won’t? Who says? On one side, traditional groups are growing in numbers of young women. On the other side, liberal groups are shrinking and getting the occasion late vocation. It stands to reason that if more women were out there with a strong and faithful Catholic identity, all the groups with a strong, faithful identity would benefit. Don’t believe for a moment that God is not calling women to religious life. It’s just that they have fewer good groups to turn to. They get frustrated, distracted, side-tracked.] Church conservatives “want to give you the sense that if all groups went back into the habit, they’d all have the success the Nashville Dominicans are having,” Patricia Wittberg, a nun who teaches sociology at Purdue University, in Indianapolis, told me. “Not true!” A few young women “would just all be flowing into more orders. It’s a very small pie.”
See what I mean? That last point is interesting in itself. “It’s a very small pie.” Spoken like a liberal, no?
Liberals tend to see the pie as static. That means that if you get some of the pie, there is less for me. We are, therefore, in unhealthy competition which ultimately produces haves and have-nots.
Instead, perhaps the pie isn’t static. Perhaps the pie itself can be expanded. Just because I get some, you can still have as much as you want. This isn’t a zero sum game.
When religious orders or bishops in diocese start thinking that there are only so many vocations out there, so it really doesn’t pay to work any harder than we already are… that’s the day we start to starve for vocations.
My old pastor, Msgr. Schuler, use to talk about the priestly vocations crisis in light of the ridiculous discussions going on in the diocese at that time. They were just making plans about how to starve to death instead of actually getting out and planting crops and doing some fishing. In his 33 years as pastor, there were 30 First Masses at his parish. The secret? Strong identity Catholicism, superior traditional liturgical worship, an open door.
Were some of those older dying orders to undergo true reforms and get back to what they are supposed to be, not necessary giving up everything they have taken on over the decades, but reintegrate a real religious sense in light of the charism of the group and the founder’s vision, as well as taking on a more visible role in society – yes with habits – I suspect their numbers would grow in a way that the more traditional groups are growing. They could make the pie bigger. In other words, everyone, even more people could benefit.
In the article, above (read the whole thing) there is a paragraph which describes what some of the older, liberal-group sisters are reading:
In the small, cushion-filled room on the third floor of her group home in Springfield, where she and four other sisters pray every morning, I saw copies of “The Te of Piglet” and works by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Han, in addition to Francis of Assisi.
Wow. That’ll inspire a young idealist to join up! “Isn’t that great? Sr. Randi is reading Buddhists! I think I’ll join.”
Look. I think we should be widely read. But … that stuff in their “prayer room”? Fail.
I suspect that young women are like young men in that they want to give themselves over to something that has a goal, defined edges, a clear mission and identity. They are ready to set aside cushions in favor of a kneeler.