Is there any group in the American Catholic church that has done so much while receiving so little appreciation than Catholic sisters?
Women religious helped to build our church, teach our children, nurse our infants, care for our elderly, feed our poor, manage our parishes and spread the Gospel, with astonishing faith, ingenuity, talent, diligence, and plain old hard work. They did so, in love with Christ and inspired by their redoubtable foundresses, under a patriarchal (not a calumny, just a descriptor) system that undervalued them, with paltry salaries (a reason that their communities are struggling today), and in the face of false cultural stereotypes. Given all that, they had a much harder row to hoe than priests and men’s religious orders. One is reminded of the comment that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels.
Today, many women religious, who were given little by way of salaries for their work in elementary-school education, nursing and social work, are facing difficult financial times. This moving article, by the estimable David Gonzalez, in today’s New York Times, focuses on the Sisters of Mercy in Brooklyn, who are being forced to move, for financial and other reasons, from their beloved mother house. While religious men and women in the active life are not to be "attached" as St. Ignatius Loyola would say, to bricks and mortars, the story is a sad one nonetheless.
"Now, after 146 years, it is time for the small band of sisters, most of them retired, to walk away from the convent. The leadership of their order, the Sisters of Mercy, decided to shutter the place and scatter the sisters to other homes and nursing facilities after realizing it would cost more than $20 million to fix serious structural and accessibility problems in the fortresslike building..."
Read the article here and look at the moving slide show on the Times’s site. And, by the way, that is Sister Camille D’Arienzo, RSM, America contributor, pictured above in the photo by James Estrin.
James Martin, SJ