By Barb Arland-Fye
Sister Michael Ann led her squirmy class of first-graders with equal parts of praise and strict discipline. Chatter boxes (I plead guilty) learned when to speak and when to be silent. Sister Galen inspired budding writers in freshman English class and Sister Jane taught juniors and seniors in social studies class to see beyond the boundaries of their sheltered existences. As we conclude celebration of National Catholic Sisters Week, I think about these and other Sisters who have made a lasting impression on me.
As a child who grew up in the years following Vatican II, I witnessed the tumultuous changes that resulted in some Sisters leaving religious life and others pursuing ministries beyond schools and hospitals. Their branching out has led Sisters to serve people on the margins of society, in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, in prison ministry, and in environmental stewardship and multicultural ministry, for example. Fewer Sisters teach in schools or work as nurses in hospitals. A growing number of Sisters, well beyond retirement age, are engaged in a ministry of prayer and presence in their motherhouses.
Today, as editor of a diocesan newspaper, I have the privilege of building relationships with Sisters of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport; Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton; Discalced Carmelite Nuns, Eldridge; and Sisters from communities based outside our diocese. My daily prayer partner, Sister Laura Goedken, is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wis.
But many young adults of my children’s generation have not had the same opportunities to get to know Sisters as I have. That’s why the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, in coordination with the Women’s History Project, created National Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14.
“Catholic Sisters have been a source of inspiration for thousands of people, but their stories are not as well known as we would hope,” said Sister Mary Soher, OP, co-executive director of the Hilton Sisters Project, based at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn.
“This is an opportunity to share their stories and inspire this generation of young adults. To that extent we have created the SisterStory.org website that will host photos with short write-ups about Sisters and their accomplishments both now and in the past and be an ongoing source of inspiration as content continues to grow.”
In conjunction with the website, the project utilizes social media sites including Facebook pages: National Catholic Sisters Week and SisterStory; Twitter: SisterStory, NCSWeek; YouTube: SisterStory; Pinterest: SisterStory; and LinkedIn: SisterStory.
National Catholic Sisters Week is the first project of a larger three-year effort to increase vocations, funded through a $3.3 million grant from the Hilton Foundation, said Molly Dever Hazelton, the other co-executive director of the Hilton Sisters Project.
“We know that there are young adults being called by God to religious life, but may not recognize that call for what it is, nor realize the diversity of religious communities,” Sr. Mary said. “This is an effort to share the wealth and richness of the communities of Sisters that are serving the people of God so that when a young woman discerns a call to religious life she has a better chance of more easily connecting with Sisters to assist her in her discernment.”
I’m hoping National Catholic Sisters Week will inspire a new generation to pick up the baton and carry on the work of Sisters whose lives are dedicated to Christ through service to the people of God.
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in the United States, award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts will give a presentation at St. Ambrose University in Davenport , March 28, from 10-11:30 a.m. Her talk is titled: Nuns in American History – Women of Conscience and Courage. The event is free and open to the public.