One of my Sisters suggest I apply to National Catholic Reporter’s “Global Sisters Report,” a site where each year 20 international Sisters answer two questions. After being accepted, I answered my two assigned questions. You might be interested in checking these out.
- The latest one is found at http://bitly.ws/t39F It is my answer to Do you think most religious are happy with the collaboration and support in community life? Is community meant for mission, or is community living itself a mission?
2. My first response was the answer to the question What was the most surprising thing to you about religious life? This is what I wrote:
I live in an apartment building where half the residents are sisters and half are laypersons. Each Sunday I play the piano for them. The other day 87-year-old George commented, “Did you ever imagine that as an old lady you’d be playing the piano?” “No, George, I never imagined that.” I never thought I’d be living with men either.
As my life as a Sister of Notre Dame unfolded, there were countless things I never imagined. The most soul-shaking surprise is that my community is radically different from when I entered. Religious life is not static but evolving, creating new wineskins for new needs.
My early formation experience was akin to marine boot camp. Virtually isolated from family, friends, and world news, we were introduced to practices such as acts of humility, penance, corrections, and asking permissions. My motto then was based on Job’s words, “Even though he kill me, I will still love him”!
Along came the Second Vatican Council’s whirlwind, turning religious life as I knew it upside down. Suddenly we could drive, own a watch, go to weddings. One sister remarked, “Everything I gave up, God is giving back to me.” Most importantly, my community claimed its identity as an active apostolic order. Reorienting ourselves, we shed the customs of cloistered nuns and became the sisters we were meant to be: women nurturing God’s kingdom by engaging with the world.
Gone was our rule of silence. We could speak freely with each other and others. People were no longer excluded from our convents. Rather, we practiced hospitality. We could also visit others’ homes. Where once only sisters were our cooks, nurses, and housekeepers, now laypersons served us in various departments. They and Associates (another innovation) became like family. For most of us, multilayered black habits were replaced by a practical, colorful wardrobe, making us more relatable to the laity.
Formerly we were regarded as excellent educators. But then in the USA our ministries expanded beyond classroom walls. For example, a sister ministers as a lawyer in custody trials; one sister advocates for poor inner-city women; and another founded Blessing House to care for young children of working parents. Sisters assist immigrants at the border, and some work to eliminate human trafficking. Afghan families stay at houses on our property. A salient sign of our focus on social work is our Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) National Office.
No, I never imagined this metamorphosis of my community. Still, there are constants: vows, community life, prayer, and, above all, deep-seated love of God and desire to serve God’s people. I adopted a new motto: “My joy lies in being close to God” (Psalm 73:28, Jerusalem Bible).
- How have Sisters ministered to you?