Look, Learn, And Assist

NUNS SPEAK WITH WOMAN AT CAREER FAIR IN PENNSYLVANIAAs many of you have heard, the Vatican is conducting an apostolic visitation of women religious in the United States. Over the next several months, in turn, superiors general and major superiors in the US will be interviewed. A series of visitations will follow. Then the report is compiled and delivered to the Vatican.

Coming as it is, heels of the seminary study, there may be a bit of an unfortunate connection to the undercurrent of that visitation. It’s interesting that communities of contemplatives won’t be part of this visitation, only communities with apostolates in the secular world.

The web site (already nicely put together) presents the mission clearly and without the undercurrents. Three aims:

• look into the quality of the life of apostolic women religious in the United States,
• learn more about the varied and unique ways in which women religious contribute to the welfare of the Church and society, and
• assist the Church to strengthen, enhance and support the growth of the more than 400 congregations to which the approximately 59,000 women religious in the United States belong.

There’s lots of chatter about the decline in numbers of women religious. One aim seems to be concerned with “quality” above quantity. Do large numbers of women religious have a particular advantage over smaller ones? In history, religious life accorded women freedoms unknown in most all cultures. They were free to pursue interests and abilities that would not have been supported in roles as wives and mothers. In most of the West, women now have that freedom. They can serve in any number of careers, with or without a spouse and family, and take it to the limit that the sexism of the culture allows–which has significantly expanded in the last forty to fifty years.

What would be of interest to me would be a timeline of women religious and their orders over the scope of US history. Which is the unusual circumstance: greater than usual numbers post-WWII or fewer post-Vatican II?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Look, Learn, And Assist

  1. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    Don’t have time to summarize the material, however some interesting data and reflections can be found in Lawrence Cada et.alia(ed):”Shaping the Coming Age of Religious Life”, Affirmation Books (1979/1985)Chapter 1, and Patricia Wittberg: “The Rise and Fall of Catholic Religious Orders” SUNY Press (1994). Cada et alia(ed), although rather dated, is still useful for an historical perspective, and for statistical data up till the 70’s. The analysis in the latter half of book is however open to criticism. Wittberg focuses more on the USA scene, and she is still considered one of the best writers in the field. The peak period for numbers was probably the 1950’s and 1960’s, though the seeds of decline were already present with the increase of public provision in the fields of education and welfare, and the opening up of alternative career fields for single women.
    One interesting change has been that whereas before ‘the sisters’ used to teach future priests their catechism and prepare tham for their First Holy Communion, now they teach them in our seminaries, lecturing in such fields as Scripture, Barbara Reid and Dianne at CTU in Chicago, or Mary Catherine Hilkert in Systematics and Homiletics at Notre Dame, and Catherine Vincie who teaches Sacramental and Liturgical Theology at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. Incidentally Vincie’s latest book, “Celebrating Divine Mystery” (Michael Glazier,2009) is and excellent introduction to Liturgical Theology.
    Cada et alia also shows that the number of both male and female religious communities that have survived to mark bicentennials or longer are really a minority. When we were still campaigning for the canonization of our founder one joke often heard was our survival for over a hundred years was in itself a miracle. Arnold Janssen finally became St Arnold Janssen in 2003 some 128 years after our foundation. A story passed on in the society relates that when St. John Bosco visited our first foundation, so sorry was our state, he predicted we wouldn’t survive.
    If I have time, and can find anything else of interest, I’ll add to the above later.

  2. Tony says:

    Nuns… “career day”. LOL!!!!!

    Do you look good in polyester suits and sensible shoes?

    Would you like to dedicate your life to social justice?

    Are men just a pain in the butt?

    Then you could be a nun!!! It’s not just a career, it’s …well… a career. :)


    If you look at the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, you’ll see a real vocational crisis.

    Established by two sisters in 1998, they are now approaching 100 sisters. With yearly postulant classes reaching a dozen or more. They are currently running out of romm at their mother house.

    Differences between them and the “polyester sisters”:

    They don’t focus on “social justice”, they focus on Jesus in the Eucharist, daily prayer and adoration.

    Their social justice flows out of their love and devotion to Jesus.

    With all the opportunities modern women have, young girls are still drawn to this contemplative (and some would say restrictive) life.

    Looks like the DSoMMotE have the formula for a “vibrant” and expanding community. And I didn’t even have to go on a traveling tour to figure that out.

  3. Pingback: Polyester « Catholic Sensibility

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