A woman religious, making sense

On National Review Online Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews a religious sister who has her head screwed on in the right direction.

Sister Prudence Allen, RSM clearly is on the right side of things.  It is her model of woman religious which, in the end, will survive, while the liberal odd balls will die off from lack of vocations.

The piece is too long easily to examine in its entirety, but here is the beginning… with my emphases and comments:

Nun Sense: Women in the Catholic Church

A habited woman speaks.

In his New York Times [aka Hell’s Bible] column this month, Nicholas Kristof wrote about “A Church Mary Can Love.” If you didn’t read the column, you might not be shocked to learn its contents: He’s not that into the Vatican, and he doesn’t think the Blessed Virgin would be either. He’s more into a priest who reportedly told him that he “would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.” However, Kristof also wrote something sensible: “I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.” Amen. And in the following interview with Sister Mary Prudence Allen, I think you’ll begin to see why. Sister Prudence is with the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., an order with a special focus on health care. Sister Prudence is also a philosophy professor and a published author, having written the two-volume The Concept of Woman and contributed to The Foundations of Religious Life: Revisiting the Vision (a compilation from the other “nuns” in the health-care debate, the ones who stood by the bishops conference’s objection to the abortion provisions in the legislation — and by Catholic doctrine on the most innocent human life).

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: During the recent health-care debate, we heard a lot about some Catholic religious sisters — the Network — who supported the president’s health-care legislation, despite abortion-funding issues. Were they representative of the Catholic Church or Catholic religious sisters?

SISTER PRUDENCE ALLEN, R.S.M.: This question should be more fully answered by a theologian [She is a philosopher.] whose area of specialization is ecclesiology. However, as a Christian philosopher, I see two obvious contradictions that could be initially noted.

The first contradiction relates to the meaning of “Catholic.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#830-831) states, “The Church is catholic in a double sense:” First, because the whole Christ, head and body, subsists in her, and second because Christ sends the Church out on a mission to the whole human race.

By comparing the statements of the Network religious sisters on health care with the statements of Cardinal George and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on health care, it is clear that there are fundamental contradictions between them. Thus, the Network religious sisters have separated themselves from the head, [oops] and therefore cannot be included in the meaning of “catholic.” Therefore, they are not representative of the Catholic Church. [The intention of what she was saying was clear: the "Network Sisters" have tried to set up their own "magisterium" apart from the bishops and the Holy See.  However, Christ is the head of the Church, not Card. George and the USCCB (cf. Eph 5:23 and Col  1:18, etc.).  To separate oneself from the position of the USCCB is not quite the same as to separate oneself from Christ.  I think we are perfectly justified to separate ourselves from the dopey letter the NCCB put out years ago about economics, just as an example.  That said, don’t let this discolor your view of the sensible things she says throughout this interview.]

The second contradiction relates to claims about numbers of religious sisters. Network’s letter stated that “we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States.” The director of media relations for the USCCB challenged them to do the math. The letter had “55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons.” Since there are several hundred communities of women religious in the U.S., the most that could be claimed is that the Network sisters represent a much smaller portion of women religious sisters, more likely a few thousand. [A good reminder.]

Network’s claim that their position in favor of the health-care bill “is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholic are all for it” needs to be assessed by Catholic physicians and health-care personnel to determine the truth of its claims. [Amen.]


LOPEZ: You’ve got a Ph.D. Why would you ever take the vows you have, wear a heavy, colorless habit, and spend so much time praying?

SISTER PRUDENCE: The simple answer is that I received a call from Jesus Christ to follow Him, who was poor, chaste, and obedient, and who came to serve. The specific way of following was revealed over time not only to me but also to those in charge of the formation of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma. The vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and service we freely take bind us to Jesus Christ forever, in a spiritual marriage. We live a common life in a spirituality of communion with our sisters, who are formed in the specific charism of our foundress, Venerable Catherine McAuley. [This is an important point: the orders and institutes which have lost sight of who they are don’t have vocations.] Our particular charism is expressed in works of mercy at the professional level. So we become educated, not for ourselves, but to give ourselves in service to the Church and the world. It is a joy to serve this way.


Do go read the whole piece.

She has some smart and hard-hitting comments about many current issues.

Furthermore, I will be always grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan for the good care they gave to His Eminence Cardinal Mayer.



I notice that Sr. Allen is also one of the "Consulting Editors" of Communio.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Lee says:

    Reading the whole article is indeed very worthwhile. What a remarkable woman! The following biographical sketch of Sister Prudence Allen is from Concordia University in Quebec:

    Biographical sketch
    Christine Hope Allen, known as Sister Mary Prudence Allen, R.S.M., was born July 21, 1940 in Oneida, New York. Her father was Henry Grosvernor Allen and her mother was Mildred Beatrice Gorman. Her family was descended from the Oneida Community, a utopian religious community of the nineteenth century. Married from 1965 to 1976, she has two sons. In 1983 she became a Roman Catholic nun with the Religious Sisters of Mercy. (Her sister, Elizabeth “Bethany” Allen joined the same community, and is called Sister Lydia Allen, R.S.M.) In 1967 Sister Prudence received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Claremont Graduate School in California. She began to teach philosophy at Sir George Williams University in 1969. From 1972 to 1977 she was full-time assistant professor, from 1974 onwards at Concordia University, which was formed in 1974 with the merger of Sir George Williams with Loyola College. She was promoted to associate professor in 1977. She became a full professor in 1993. She retired, and was named professor emerita, in 1996.

    Sister Prudence Allen helped develop the interdisciplinary pedagogical basis for women’s studies and helped found the Working Women’s Association for faculty and staff. She co-coordinated the committee that established a women’s college, the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. Sister Prudence Allen was involved with the interdisciplinary Lonergan University College, serving as its principal from 1992-1995. Her book The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution (750 BC- 1250 AD) was published in 1985. A revised edition appeared in 1997. Volume II, The Concept of Woman: The Early Humanist Revolution (1250-1500) was published in 2002. She is also the author of numerous articles, and has lectured widely.

    Scope and content
    The fonds provides information on: philosophy, particularly philosophical perspectives on woman; P.F. Strawson and other philosophers; Roman Catholic philosophy, religion and spirituality; such religious figures as Hildergard of Bingen and Edith Stein; the Oneida Community, and other philosophical interests and activities of Sister Allen as well as her religious and personal life. It also gives family history.

    The fonds includes drafts and reference documentation for Sr. Prudence Allen’s writings; copies of her lectures, speeches, and articles; correspondence, including family correspondence; annual reports and other documents from Lonergan University College; recipe books, phone books, and agendas. The fonds also includes dolls and other objects such as a Tree of Life embroidered for Sr. Prudence Allen by Greta Nemiroff.

    Immediate source of acquisition
    The documents were donated to the Concordia University Archives by Sr. Prudence Allen in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2000.

    Concordia University
    1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3G 1M8

  2. TNCath says:

    Thank you, Sister Prudence! Your comments give witness to your religious name!

    Sister Carol Keehan, are you taking notes?

  3. elmo says:

    She is also a professor at Denver’s two seminaries.

  4. Awesome read, Father. Thanks for the link. The interview reminded me of the trial of St. Joan of Arc.

  5. MrTipsNZ says:

    Interesting article and thank the Lord for her.

    Sadly, the RSM in New Zealand do not have the same respect or concern for their charism; indeed they seem to have lost their way and instead have focused more in recent times on supporting the UN Global Health Plan.

  6. The Community to which Sr. Prudence belongs is a great witness to the “new Evangelization” while remaining faithful to the Tradition of the Church. They wear a habit and veil; they live a communal life; they love the Church; they are stellar examples of the “genius” (as Pope John Paul II called holy women in his “Mulieris dignitatem”) of the feminine gift to the Church in their religious life.
    May they prosper!

  7. carl b says:

    I am fortunate to be taking a class these weeks from Sr Prudence on Gaudium et Spes, and next year will learn under her in philosophy, at St John Vianney in Denver. We’re certainly proud of her!

  8. nzcatholic says:

    MrTipsNZ is that the Mercy sisters?
    I had a singing teacher who was a Mercy sister and very wonderful spouse of Our Lord even attended the traditional mass until her superior told her not to.

  9. nzcatholic: This is a re-founded community of the Religious Sisters of Mercy from Alma, Michigan.
    I am not sure of their history; I just know that they decided to remain faithful to the Church in the ‘crazy daze’ of the 1970’s and are separate from any other congregation of Mercy Sisters.
    They were instrumental in helping the Sisters of Life, in NY, founded by Card. John O’Connor, I believe.
    A great community of sisters.

  10. MrTipsNZ says:

    nzcatholic, yes I do mean the NZ Mercy Sisters, RSM.

    And I should apologise for not being more clear.
    I have no doubt there are good individual nuns in the RSM in New Zealand.

    But at the organisational and leadership level, questions should be asked.
    And the fact your singing teacher’s superior told her NOT to attend Latin Mass says something surely?

    See here: http://nzconservative.blogspot.com/2007/07/journey-to-dark-side.html

    Apologies to Fr Z for self-linking.

  11. Margaret says:

    The second part of this question is framed within a feminist political ideology. As we say in Catholic philosophy, the mind receives according to the mode of the receiver. If the mode of the receiver is a political feminist ideology, then that is how he or she will perceive the Catholic Church. The word “subservient” as used in your question seems to imply serving in an inferior way, which is not what we do. We serve as Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve.”

    Okay, Sr. Prudence is officially awesome. Her answer calls to mind some alternate-universe scenario in which Mr. Spock converses with St. Thomas Aquinas…

  12. doanli says:

    Great story to read about, Father. Thank you. :)

  13. TKS says:

    My local doctor sent us a letter saying that she had joined this group. She is a wonderful doctor and this was a huge surprise. If she is an indication of the orthodoxy of this Community, I have hope again.

  14. Agnes of Prague says:

    This was really a high-caliber interview. She *is* a philosopher–she doesn’t ‘ooze’ with knowledge but she makes careful distinctions. Thanks very much for the link, Father.

  15. irishgirl says:

    ‘Born July 21, 1940, in Oneida, New York’…hey, she came from my neck of the woods! Isnn’t that cool? What a small world! And she has a blood sister in the community, too!

    I read what you posted, Father Z-excellent!

    These Sisters of Mercy have not lost the vision of their Irish Foundress!

    And what a fitting name in religious life: Prudence!

  16. TJerome says:

    I’d like to see a debate between Sister Prudence and “Sister” Keehan. I think I know who would carry the day. It would be like St. Thomas Aquinus debating Oprah.

  17. For anyone keeping track, Mr. Kristof is at it again…this time with a ‘backhanded compliment’ to the Church (minus all of those ‘out-of-touch’ people in the Vatican, of course!): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/opinion/02kristof.html?hp

    Some of my thoughts here: http://iubilatio.blogspot.com/2010/05/backhanded-compliment.html

    Of course, always interested in your take!

  18. ArtND76 says:

    I very much like her statements on obedience. Here she is sharing a crucial part of the Gospel that I see few people understanding. Our culture in the U.S. for the most part just “doesn’t get” this concept at all. In John 13:34, when Jesus commands to “love as I have loved you”, I wonder how many understand that this is a call to obedience to the Father in the manner that He was? In the manner that He explained to Philip that He had shown him the Father? I wonder how many try to give themselves “to God” by loving according to their understanding (even “giving their body to be burned”), without bothering too much to find out how God might define love, or when a certain act is truly loving and when it isn’t.

    I am encouraged by Sister Prudence and similarly by Bishop Slattery’s homily stating that “obedience is thus the heart of the life of the disciple”, and his further explanation of how the world mis-perceives obedience.

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