Thursday, January 29, 2009
A Title IX for women religious
It's time to step up awareness of female religious communities, both active and contemplative.
The Diary of a Parish Priest column in February's issue of Today's Parish Minister illustrates an issue I have been thinking about lately.
A quick synopsis of the column, since it's not available on-line: Father and the female pastoral associate take the altar servers (boys and girls) to the diocesan altar server Mass at the Cathedral, at the end of which is a priestly vocation spiel, followed by a fleeting mention of cloistered women religious. The pastoral associate is furious, believing that the girls are shortchanged because there is no presentation of lay ministries. She holds her own self-described "damage control" session for her parish's servers to inform them of this potential.
I agree with the pastoral associate in a way. And I think lay ministry gets plenty of air time, so I'm going to approach the situation from a different vantage point. A concern with female altar servers is that they are presented with an unsustainable model for service to the Church. By promoting the priesthood while neglecting women's religious communities, the impression is given that the only way for anyone (versus any man in the most exclusive sense) to serve the Church in an official leadership capacity is as a priest.
A devastating combination occurred soon after Vatican 2: a number of women left religious orders and many of these women's roles were easily replaced by lay people. People realized that you didn't have to be a religious to be a teacher or a nurse, at least not in America. Many female religious that people encounter today are visiting missionaries, rather than resident members of the community. Women's religious orders no longer have anything but a stereotyped role in many people's Catholic consciousness.
Look at your average diocese's website. Walk into your average parish. Most of them do a great job of promoting vocations to the priesthood- I'd be surprised if you didn't see a recruitment poster for the seminary.
But for women? Frankly, while there are diocesan congregations,there isn't a standard religious community that plays an active role in most dioceses, and certainly not the type of promotion for women's religious communities that you get with priestly vocations.
And that's a crying shame. It is a travesty that women's religious orders don't get the promotion they deserve and that young girls don't get the education they need about this beautiful state of life.
The Church Ladies intend to make up for this negligence by providing a list of our favorite women's religious communities. While at Our Lady's University, many of us were fortunate to go on nun runs and have visited these places, so do feel free to ask questions!
Ann Arbor Dominicans
Teaching Dominican sisters, many of them quite young. Their website even has an image of their visit to Our Lady's University for a Eucharistic Procession
Chicago Poor Clares
A cloistered monastic order interceding for us on earth
Discalced Carmelite Nuns
Links to communities all around the US
Another order of young teaching sisters, these ones with sweet tea
USA Dominican Nuns
Links to Dominican communities across the US
Little Sisters of the Poor
A nursing order, caring for the elderly
Missionaries of Charity
You might know them better as Mother Teresa's order. Rosaleen, the third of the original Church Ladies is an MC postulant.
Monastery of Our Lady of the Perpetual Rosary
A cloistered Dominican community in NJ
Poor Clare Nuns of Virginia
A contemplative community in the spirit of St Clare
Contemplative Benedictines in Bethlehem, CT
Sisters of Life
a contemplative/active religious community dedicated to protecting and advancing a sense of the sacredness of all human life
Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration
A contemplative/active community in Indiana
[image source: The Liverpool Museum]