Category Archives: Women Religious

National Catholic Sisters Week 2018

Possibly I was too wrapped up in Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day to remember that March also heralds the special recognition of some of the strongest women of all.  I have just realized that this week, March 8-14, is also National Catholic Sisters Week http://www.nationalcatholicsistersweek.org

In the interest of sharing that time-sensitive message without delay I am taking the liberty of quoting the website description of this major initiative:

Created to honor women religious, it is a series of events that instruct, enlighten and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women. It’s our chance to recognize all they have done for us. It’s also our hope that as more young women learn about women religious, more will choose to follow their example. 

 National Catholic Sisters Week, a branch of National Catholic Sisters Project headquartered at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisc., is headquartered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn., and is held in conjunction with Women’s History Month.

For a not-quite-recent update on today’s women religious this 2011 article in the National Catholic Reporter offers a brief history of the contributions of women religious to the history and values of this nation. https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/us-women-religious-have-earned-place-american-history

I am also taking the liberty of noting some past Poking Around posts that give a sense of the unique missions and roles of women religious in this region:

These posts are a minimal sampling of the myriad articles and books that reflect the leadership of individual women and communities of women religious in Minnesota.  In the interests of piquing the interest of readers, I presume to note just a smattering of the stories that record the work of strong committed women who have shaped the state’s health, education, political, social movements and intellectual life.

Minnesota Women’s Press has published several articles about women religious; following are links to just a couple:

A quick skim of MNOpedia disclosed these articles about women religious – there are, and will be, more but these offer a taste of the research that has been and needs to be undertaken, recorded and shared:

On my personal bookshelf I found these books that record the work of the women religious in Minnesota.  The shelf is tilted to the contributions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet because the CSJ’s were my teachers throughout high school and college:

  • They came to teach; The story of Sisters who taught in parochial schools and their contribution to elementary education in Minnesota. Annabelle Raiche, CSJ and Ann Marie Biermaier, OSB. Published by North Star Press, St Cloud in 1994.
  • Eyes Open on a world: The challenge of change. A collaboration by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St Paul Province. Published in 2001 by North Star Press, St. Cloud.
  • On Good Ground, The story of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. by Sister Helen Angela Hurley. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 1951.

By any measure this is a sadly incomplete listing.  My last-minute effort is to share the message that we are now celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week.  Much more important, this post is intended to spark and encourage scholars’ interest in learning and share more stories.  The archives of the religious communities and academic institutions (of which there are many!) are robust, meticulously preserved, and open to serious students of the history of these too-often under-recognized powerful women of faith and vision.

I am interested in and will post other publications – please share ideas, suggestions, stories and publications that fill in the gaps in the role that women of strength and wisdom have played of Minnesota’s and the nation’s history.

National Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14 2018

 

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Celebrating women religious as visionary agents of change

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.  Mahatma Gandhi

As noted earlier on this blog March 8-14 was National Catholic Sisters Week. At random moments during the week I struggled to think of how to write something about the week and about the role of women religious, their history, their contributions, their leadership the challenge to achieve social justice in so many fields. Try as I might I couldn’t focus on a general theme that encompasses the enormity and complexity of the narrative – or that expresses my personal experience. The common thread, I’m finally beginning to realize, is the ability and willingness of the women religious I’ve known to embrace change. Thus, post -National Catholic Sisters Week tribute:

The change among women religious that everyone remembers is the shift that most community members made from restrictive habits to modern dress indicative of their worldly role. While memorable, that change is but a clue to the substantive change within the minds and hearts of the Sisters.

What the visible change indicated, in fact, was manifestation of a far more profound change in the role of women religious, a change credited in a 2011 “Essay in Theology” by Richard McBrien, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University.   In his essay on “Women Religious’ embrace of Vatican II change commendable” McBrien notes the several changes happening in the Catholic Church during the 50’s and 60’s; he specifically cites “abolition of outmoded customs, the modification of habits and increased attention the professional education of sisters.” As a consequence, McBride observes,

Vatican II urged religious communities to return to their biblical roots and their founding charisms and to develop a greater measure of engagement with the modern world. Women religious, however, responded with more energy, creativity and enthusiasm than church officials anticipated, to the chagrin of more traditional nuns and ultra-conservative Catholics – the very type of both constituencies that applauded, and even instigated, the recent investigation of U.S. sisters and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious….”

While McBrien focuses on the impact of Vatican II, my experience is far more personal and actually pre-dates his post-Vatican II reflections. What follows is a stream-of-consciousness collage of vignettes that remind me – and I hope illustrate — my story of a lifetime of experience with women religious who, as individuals and communities, have not so much responded to change but have taken the lead to make change happen.

Some personal memories and observations may illustrate a common theme:

  • As a wet-behind-the-ears freshman at the College of St. Catherine in the early 60’s my first major assignment was to write a paper-of-consequence on the topic “The Idea of Progress”, a mighty challenge. Though I’m sure the paper was painfully naïve, it shaped my frame of reference for life.
  • Later in my college years, still in the early 60’s, I recall a professor heading a bus tour to St John’s University to hear the controversial theologian Hans Kung, whom we found not only inspiring, but very handsome……
  • In my first grown-up job I led a national Catholic college student organization that joined the struggle for civil rights at the federal level, a role that involved hordes of youth in the struggle for equal rights. There it was often the Sisters who supported not only the cause but us ardent young protesters – of every denominational persuasion – who knew little of the how’s and why’s of the movement.
  • Again, during the 60’s I spent endless hours learning about the techniques of educational technology. It was not until I saw a brilliant Sister using computer assisted learning for a long-distance discussion of the depths of Thomas Merton’s writing that I understood the possibilities.
  • I had the same experience when I observed the leadership of women religious in revamping the health care delivery system. Women religious took a visible lead in the advance of alternative medicine, personal health responsibility, home and hospice care and other evolving efforts in the health care arena. Consistently, their focus was not so much on techniques but on human needs and possibilities.
  • More recently, as a staffer for a national open government advocacy coalition my job has been to reach out to other like-minded groups working in agriculture, environment, food, climate, health, to grapple with cataclysmic change. Whether it was sustainable agriculture or hunger, immigration or climate change I found women religious not in the headlines but in the trenches, seeing each issue as it relates to social justice.
  • Today hope for progress in a global context much of that hope is directed to the Millennium Development Goals. Again, women religious stand out as a united network committed to understanding and working to achieve those goals locally, nationally and globally. The quest for justice has inspired women religious of all ages and religious communities to share their knowledge and experience in the slow and steady struggle to make real the vision reflected in the MDGs.
  • Finally, as I have come to know the rank-and-file advocates of change in so many sectors, I have observed just how colleagues were educated by the Sisters and inspired by their willingness to assume personal and institutional responsibility as change-makers in the relentless reach for progress.

These are simply personal memories of the Sisters I have known as teachers, colleagues and visionaries, just a few facets of a beautifully complex history. Still, the lesson I learned many decades ago is that there are many paths to progress. As Martin Luther King reminded us, “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”