As the Vatican continues their investigation into the religious communities of women, the Bishops of California decided to write the nuns a letter of support. Cardinal Roger Mahoney made that letter public and the National Catholic Reporter printed it recently:
“Dear Sisters, We are all aware of the special anxieties which surround our women religious these days,” wrote Mahony, “and I am writing to offer you my prayers of gratitude and my support for all of your members. The bishops of California met last week and passed a statement of support for all of you, and I am pleased to send a copy of that statement to you.”
He praises “the historical presence” of women religious in California beginning back in the 1800s. “I can honestly state that there would not exist our Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service outreach apostolates without you.”
The cardinal goes on to write that women religious in Los Angeles “opened the first hospital, established the first schools, and provided the first social services to those most in need.” He added that our “church’s history of outreach after the example of Jesus Christ and the Gospels would not exist today without your initiatives and creativity.”
He ended his letter reassuring women religious “of my continuing prayers and support.”
The Vatican announced its investigation, officially callend an apostolic visitation, of U.S. women religious last January, saying the intention is to find out why the numbers of women religious have decreased during the past 40 years, and to look at “the quality of life” in the communities.
Nicely done. And right on the mark. Women’s religious have, simply put been the “operations directors” for our church–meaning they have organized and got the work done on the ground level, in the trenches. Without them we’d all be the worse for wear.
However, their numbers have indeed rapidly declined. Why is that? Some would cite a visibility issue–nuns don’t wear formal habits anymore for the most part (and those that do report an uptick in their numbers) so they are harder to spot in a crowd of people doing social justice work or running parishes or whatever.
But I think the reason goes far beyond a simple visibility issue. Women’s rights have given women more opportunities since the days of the blossoming numbers in women’s religious communities. Years ago these communities provided opportunities for women that did not always exist in secular life. What woman would be able to run a hospital if she were not a nun in the 1950s? Sister wielded great power in both the emergency rooms of hospitals and parish schools. If you messed up, Sister was going to hear about it and then you were in deep trouble.
Those positions of power are now readily available for women in the corporate board room as well as in all walks of life.
A second reason for this decline is the opposite effect. Despite the fact that women do indeed much of the work of the church–they don’t get the accolades for it and are not known to really be in positions of power in the Catholic Church and that has to be unattractive to most women today who can indeed rise ahead of men in other vocations in life. Women will never be Pope or Cardinal or even pastor (at least canonically).
So the Vatican indeed should do a hefty investigation and I support their work here. Why? Because they need to see the work that women have contributed to the church and understand the importance of it. They are indeed beacons on a hill that cannot be hidden. It is my prayer today that this investigation will result in further support for women’s roles in the church and will not further limit or return them to a more “humble station” in life.
And just for the record, the following religious women need a brief shout out from me:
1) Sr Caroline, who taught CCD to me as a 2nd grader and who always supported me as an altar server (I remember her saying to be “You’re getting really good at serving mass now when I was 9!).
2) Sr Manuela Tino, my 8th grade teacher who was strict, but loving.
3) Sr Julie, who played guitar in our parish and who always had a kind word (she was the cool young nun!)
4) Sr Anne Walsh, who ran liturgies at Campus Ministry at Fordham and whose Irish lit is always a joy to hear.
5) Sr Jeanne Hamilton, OSU, who stayed up too many late nights with me at Fordham convincing me of my worth and simply being a great friend.
6) Sr Christine Wilcox, OP who is simply awesome and who makes me more sensitive to others and who makes my work better.
7) Sr Bernadette Reis, who gives the Daughters of St Paul a great gift of understanding young people and is a woman of deep prayer.
8) Sr Francesca Thompson, who has been a voice for black women for years.
9) Sister Maura Clarke, M.M, Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., Sister Ita Ford, M.M., and lay missioner Jean Donovan — who were killed in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980.
and finally, Sr Jeremy Midura, who runs our parish here in Buffalo (sorry Fr jack, but she does!) like a Swiss Watch….
To all of you….Thank You. Thank You. Thank you.. for inspiring a young man all of his life to be a better person and to simply be a witness to Jesus working through you, to change the lives of all those you touch.
And lastly let’s not forget that the person who Catholics cite most often as the person who has been the face of Catholicism for the last 50 years or so is a simple little nun who served the poor in streets of Calcutta. And she soon will be a saint. Blessed Teresa indeed had given all women religious much respect from the general public. And so we place a picture of her religious community here today on this blog.
And by the way…if there’s a Sister in your life that you’d like to thank–you should go to ThankYouSister.com and do so today.
You’re five minutes late already.