Why are there religious Sisters today? What is the meaning of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience through a life dedicated to prayer and service lived in community?
Seven Catholic Sisters from four different Midwestern congregations shared their reflections with Sisters United News (SUN) as the Catholic Church observes World Day for Consecrated Life (WDCL), the official promotion of the life of religious Sisters and priest, Brothers and monks, vows of single persons lived in secular institutes, and vows made privately by others in their various walks of life.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II called for consecrated life to be promoted throughout the universal church, declaring Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, to be observed as WDCL. In the United States, this year, WDCL is observed Feb. 8.
The Catholic Messenger shares excerpts from the SUN article:
Sisters of Humility of Mary, Davenport
“The vowed life allows us to participate from a different angle and from that angle shed light; it isn’t a better light, it is only valuable when united to other lights from other angles or walks of life,” comments Sister Mary Penelope Wink, CHM, pastoral worker and psychotherapist in Chiapas, Mexico.
“For us, it is responding to the ‘signs of the times’ in working with the homeless, those afflicted with substance abuse and mental illness and those incarcerated in our prison system,” say Sisters JoAnne and Cathy Talarico, CHM, Des Moines. “Prayer and our vowed connection with the Sisters of Humility ‘fuel’ us for our ministry in the world. In similar fashion to that of our founding Sisters, we feel called to alleviate the pain and suffering found in our neighborhoods today.”
“Religious life for me today means working with various organizations — civic, faith groups, government and non-profit — to alleviate the human needs of our brothers and sisters in our country and throughout the world,” states Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM, president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary.
“We say in our governing documents ‘Joined together through a common commitment and call from God, Sisters can accomplish what one alone cannot do in creating an environment of justice, love, and peace.’ Our model is Jesus Christ who especially welcomed the marginalized people into his company. By our particular call to ‘humility’ we strive to imitate his mother Mary who showed great faith in answering her call to be the mother of God and acknowledged that it was God who did great things for her.”
Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton
Sister Deborah Schneider, OSF, has been a Clinton Franciscan for many years and was a teacher before beginning her present work as activities director at the Jewish Community Center, Adult Day Services, in St. Louis. “The vows are the foundation of my life of prayer and service. They are a means to live out more fully my baptismal promises and with God’s grace to live the Gospel in so far as I am able,” she says.
“While the vows support and encourage my life of prayer and service, they challenge me to live a simple life and to be concerned with the welfare of those who are less fortunate than I am. Through the vows I’m committed to love God in a single-hearted way, which frees me to love and respect all others, especially those who are most unloved or seem unlovable. The vows call me to consider the mutual good of the entire community. They help me realize my dependency and the importance of community support in my life and ministry. Prayer is as necessary for spiritual life as air is to our natural life. It is through prayer that I find the strength to live out my religious life and give loving service to others. Prayer enables me to love my neighbor and accept God’s unconditional love for me. Prayer makes me a joyful receiver and giver!”
Has the meaning of religious life changed over the past 50 years?
“The meaning has not so much changed as clarified. For me, today, our lifestyle is just one way of living ‘religious life,’ one way of living out our baptismal vow to its fullest,” remarks Sister Paschal Hocum, OSF, now retired and a former faculty member at the Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, Calif., and former vice president of the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton. “The meaning our life has for me today is that our lives together in prayer and service are dear and precious.”
“Every baptized person has a vocation to live out their commitment,” continues Sr. Hocum. “The church recognizes this common vocation by having us renew our baptismal vows each year on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience help focus that baptismal call. The community lifestyle that goes with the vows sharpens that focus, supports a life of prayer and enables us to be involved in many forms of service.”