Fruits of Founders

color photograph of a hand holding a red appleI noticed on cruxonline, a note about “Scandal-ridden Legionaries of Christ named in Pandora Papers.” A social media friend suggested fire, demolition, and salt for the order founded by an acknowledged criminal and grave sinner. As the linked article confirms, overseas banking isn’t illegal. It might not be immoral. But it is a method used on occasion by criminals.

I’ve been familiarizing myself with the life story of my new parish’s name saint. She did what many people with a mission did in the Tridentine Era. She founded an order.

I’m not suggesting it was at all a bad impulse. Lots of people were doing it after 1570. Educating black and native children in the US was a definitive need. Maybe nobody else was doing it. I have noticed the original motherhouse closed and St Katharine’s relics are removed to the cathedral in Philadelphia. Other orders have shut down, or merged, or shifted charisms to lay associates. A friend who is an associate tells me that lay people now outnumber vowed religious in the community.

If Katharine Drexel were to have surfaced a century later, and visited Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1987 rather than 1887, would she have started an order? Would she have been a Jesuit volunteer, or a Maryknoll missionary? Her charisms for education and faith formation, for justice and prophecy, for organization and leadership would have matched many existing ministries in the Church.

As for Marcial Maciel, would his vocation, as viewed in the larger Church, have fit anywhere?

On one level, it doesn’t seem fair that a noble purpose should fade and another built on abuse should continue. Founding is far from a bad impulse. But these days, is it any longer a necessary one? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather join an existing collective of disciples and offer what I could to enhance something already in the works. Maybe Liam would convince me otherwise.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Fruits of Founders

  1. Liam says:

    For *women*, the post-Tridentine era opened up a vast world of apostolates previously denied to them in effect. Before Trent, religious women were largely restricted to cloistered life (and the occasional wave of exceptions had to deal with intra-Church suspicion or active persecution). The Ursulines were the first and for a while most immense in scale but far from the last; this created a Catholic world where much of the spiritual life of laity was eventually mediated first by religious women. There was also an explosion of third orders of laity and, more importantly, attention to the spiritual development of laity as something not merely an extension of cloistered religious. Vatican II built on these considerable foundations.

  2. Liam says:

    PS: Dorothy Day came out of that post-Tridentine dispensation, as it were. The likelihood that someone like her would have come out of the pre-Tridentine dispensation was remote (on the other hand, the likes of Hildegard of Bingen were less probable after Trent than before, though contemplate mystical women saints arose after Trent, but with less of the multivalent talents of someone like Hildegard – the Jesuits, notably, stayed all-male given their military model – and that was a singular lost opportunity for the post-Tridentine dispensation given how salient the Jesuits became – still, the Ursulines gave the Jesuits a run for their money in terms of presence on the ground in many places, as it were).

  3. Before Trent, there were the Beguines–late medieval imitators of Jesus and his life, devoted to service in poverty, and all as lay persons. The institution’s bias has not only been cloisters for women, but permanent commitments.

    • Liam says:


      I am very aware of the Beguines – and they are not the only example. Hence my reference to “occasional waves of exceptions”. None of them were embraced with alacrity by the established order the way the Ursulines (and those who took their example and ran with it) were after Trent. That was a *monumental* development. To cling hard and fast to a bias against that age for not be as enlightened as we fancy ourselves now to be is a blatant anachronism. It just strongly cuts against what’s worthy in your argument.

      Impermanent commitments were not necessarily poised for success/fruitfulness in an age where people didn’t live nearly as long on average (even controlling for surviving infancy and early childhood) and often lived in much worse health than we care to imagine, and where being uncommitted would leave one more like the widow and orphans of ancient Palestine. The passage of the Eurasia through the 14th century (not just plague but vast prolonged famines that preceded it and accompanied it – courtesy of the onset of the Little Ice Age that lasted for centuries) did not make for institutional optimism of any kind (unlike the warm period that preceded it from the end of the Viking/steppe peoples’ migrations – while the Turkic and Mongol migrations were traumatic in respects, they were (very especially in the case of the Mongols) restorative of pan-Eurasian cultural cross-fertilization (and, eventually, for similar practical reasons, the plague).

  4. Marie says:

    Personalities that are big enough to found orders don’t always fit in nicely elsewhere. Catherine McAuley was forced to do a novitiate with the Presentation Sisters before was allowed form her own order.

    Looking at the fruits – both groups do much the same work, in much the same places. Outside of Ireland, they’re both pretty well regarded. Inside Ireland, though, the order formed by the one who could (would? did?) not fit in did the ultimate turn, and became the state’s jailers for women. Could this have been avoided if there was less administration and more wisdom? Who knows.

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