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Our readersOctober 13, 2003

Sisters Still Say...

As the chaplain at a large motherhouse of Dominican sisters, many of whom are elderly and infirm, I write to thank you for the extraordinary editorial Valiant Women (9/22).

It is a magnificent and well-deserved tribute to all sisters everywhere to whom the church in our country is so indebted. In the name of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, I express our/their gratitude.

To celebrate Mass each day and to see in the chapel balcony so many faithful sisters in wheelchairs or using walkers; to sit at table and listen to so many reminisce cheerfully about their years of ministry; to be the beneficiary of countless lived homilies; all this is a special privilege for this aging Dominican chaplain.

Though the sisters may no longer be engaged in active apostolates because of age and poor health, this is still a rewarding and effective ministry of presence.

To this day the Catholic faithful can still profit and grow spiritually because Sister says....

Raymond Daley, O.P.
Sparkill, N.Y.

Alive and Struggling

Thank you for the well-deserved recognition given in the editorial Valiant Women (9/22) to the many religious who spared no effort to build our Catholic school system and systemically changed a church of immigrants into an influential leaven in today’s society. Their love and generosity can only be known to and rewarded by God.

The editorial mentioned that these religious now lie beneath identical simple tombstones, and, indeed, many of them do. But over 40,000 of them, now over age 70, are still very much alive and last year required over $848 million in care. The median age of women religious is now 69; that of men religious is 63. With their Social Security benefits only 3.5 percent of the average retiree’s benefit and their very inadequate retirement savings, the struggle to meet rising care costs is great.

So I ask you to keep these generous pioneers and benefactors of our Catholic heritage in mind. Not all are pushing up the daisies.

Andree Fries, C.P.P.S.
Retirement Fund for Religious
Washington, D.C.

The Right Direction

What wonderful reviews of new books by Peter Steinfels and David Gibson (9/15). As I thought about the distinction between church governance and a crisis of faith, I could not help recalling the recent debate among our Episcopal friends over gay-related issues. Two separate constituencies argued for several days over governance issues. The first, composed of laypersons and priests, met and debated important policy changes. The second, the House of Bishops, followed in parallel form. On matters of governance both groups must agree before new policy can be adopted. Whether one agrees with the ultimate policy decision or not, it is difficult not to be impressed by the process.

I am encouraged that the direction offered by Mr. Steinfels and Mr. Gibson, although somewhat general in scope, could in time lead to real reform in church governance. This would be especially helpful in the areas of church finances and lay and clergy accountability, as well as in providing a real voice in the selection of bishops.

Leo J. Jordan
West Orange, N.J.

The Great Equalizer

Sarah Stockton’s reflection, Christ the Teacher (9/22), should be required reading for all parents embarking on the high school admission process. In some cities this has turned into a mad frenzy equivalent to rabid, face-painted football fans vying for the last available playoff ticket. In the heat of their quest they lose sight of what they truly want for their sons and daughters.

As we shop around for what we believe to be the right choice for our children, are we listening closely to what our children are saying? I often hear students rattle off their overextended schedules; they sound like C.E.O.’s of an oil conglomerate.

Perhaps, as we search for and with our children, we can foster a spirit of meditative peace and mindful awareness. Regardless of where our children go to high school, if they carry the belief that silent reflective prayer is valuable to their lives, they will know God is with them in the silent moments.

I would petition all parents to look for one more subtext to the schools of their choice. What about reflection? Is the school going to support and nurture what most adolescents crave, but never admit in public? Silence is the great equalizer for students on the mad-dash treadmill to college. There is no competition, achievement or privilege in silent group prayer. In the end there is community and belonging, and this subtext will serve students as long as they live.

Dennis Phillips
San Francisco, Calif.

We’ve Been Set Up

In his excellent critique of the movie The Magdalene Sisters (9/29), Richard A. Blake, S.J., mentions how obsessed the media and celebrities have been with criticizing the destructive sexual ethic of the Catholic Church, as if strict sex was pretty much all our church was ever concerned with. He says, they rarely speak of immigrants’ and refugees’ rights, capital punishment, trade unions, housing, bilingual education, foreign aid, redistribution of wealth and other [progressive] issues that our church stands for officially.

Right on!

But, truth be told, when or how often have our people in the pews ever heard instructive Sunday homilies on such topics? And, like it or not, isn’t that practically the only time when the vast majority of our adult Catholics receive any religious education? With sadness I suggest that if our ordinary churchgoers are not well acquainted with such issues as vitally important to a Catholic conscience (and how can they be without preaching?), there is no way the secular media or entertainment stars ever will be. It is disconcerting to realize that our hostile critics are not the only ones who have set us up.

Andy Galligan
Tracy, Calif.

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