So I know a lot of Sisters.
I think it’s important to note that the recent investigation that has been in the headlines this week is an investigation not of every single religious women’s communities. That investigation did occur and the results have not yet been released. Rumors state there is much positive news coming out of that investigation.
This investigation was of a professional organization–a conference of women’s religious leadership, namely the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious. So the Vatican isn’t saying that Sr. so and so’s’s dedication to the poor in our neighborhood isn’t wonderful, or that another sister’s work in Catholic education for years wasn’t amazing…no they are taking a particular organization of women’s religious leadership to task. You read about the problems they have raised—some that I think are justified and others that I think are a stretch.
But let me say something about the encounters I’ve had with religious women in ministry and in my life in general. Most of the religious women I’ve worked with have been wonderful colleagues and friends. Sr. Jeanne Hamilton, OSU was one of my campus ministers at Fordham and she’d often stay up into the wee hours with me in her office talking to me and making sure I knew of my self-worth. She really led me to take better care of myself and to be more able to see gratitude.
There’s colleagues of mine today who are sisters, like, Sr. Jeremy Midura, a Felician sister here in Buffalo, who knows more about urban renewal than anyone I know. She’s led our RCIA team for years and has brought so many people into the church. She also has a special care for the poor in our community–but you won’t see her letting people panhandle. She’s set up an entire system where we can care for the poor in a more dignified way. She’s always walking with someone on Sunday morning who needs just a bit more attention.
Sr. Eileen McCann, SSJ who works for the U.S. Bishops is one of my closest ministry colleagues and she has gone to the mat for me more times than I can remember. She’s been a voice for young people for quite a long time and brought attention to the hierarchy in ways that none of us could have done. She’s used her influence to make sure that young adults are heard and has prayed with us in our struggles to keep them on the minds of everyone who calls themselves Catholic.
Sr. Caroline, who I don’t think had a last time, was my CCD teacher back in the day for my first confession and my first holy communion in the late 70s. She was a Franciscan with a special love for children, both in and out of the womb. She had a quiet way of speaking and was always encouraging children. When I started as an altar boy, I made the usual foul-ups and mistakes that anyone would make. As time went on I got better and the rhythms of the mass became second nature. As I was extinguishing candles after mass, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. There she was, habit and all, with her rich Irish brogue and she only said four words to me that day:
“You’re getting much better.”
For a nine year old kid, still unsure of himself, that was all I needed. I probably got more involved in the church as a kid because of that moment. And the words I said back to her that day is words we should express to religious women often:
“Thank you, Sister.”
Now, not all the news is good. Like in any other walk of life, there are Sisters who haven’t always lived up to what God and the church has called them to. How many nuns did our parents fear when they were in Catholic School and who perhaps used corporal punishment as a way to dominate? The Magdalene laundries in Ireland are certainly a blight on the record of the nuns in our church. There are also some nuns who I have found to be bitter, angry women and I have met some who just seem to hate men and others who crave power and prestige and some who are just simply goofy.
But I’ve met lay folk and priests who exemplify the same attitude.
Simply put, there are nutty and challenging people in every way of life.
But just as sure as we know that every priest is not a child molester, we also know that every nun is not a heretic, or an angry man-hater. In fact, that’s not even close to the majority. And in reading around the Catholic blogosphere this week, you’d never know it.
So let’s remember how much the good Sisters have sacrificed for us, for the poor, for the unborn, for those who have no voice. Let’s remember how many of their prayers have been our prayers –for our families and our dead. Let’s remember how many hands of the sick and the dying they’ve held and how many have done all that they do without a personal assistant or a blackberry. They’ve baked the bread that will become God’s body and they’ve gone to prisons and the developing world and cared for those who everyone else seemed to have forgotten.
Sorta like this sister:
These women are truly free. They offer their lives for each one of us and for all those who they speak for—and they do it with a grace and a passion that most can only dream about.
I hope you all have a Sister in your life…
And if you do, just take a second today to thank her.