Thursday, April 24, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I stumbles across a radio program to which I used to listen. It might be of some interest to you too so here is a link to the archived show. As you can see it is in three acts the last act (entitled Nuns Amok) is the one about which this post is concerned.

It recounts the destruction an order of Glenmary Sisters. Most interestingly for this program (which is not necessarily at all Catholic friendly) it traces their dissolution through the letting go of their vows one by one. First was obedience. They did not want to be answerable to “the Church” and so left and started an independent order of sorts and gave their vows to each other.

Without the support structure of the Church their ability to live in poverty and do the amount of charitable work they desired became impossible and so had to be abandoned. They had also done away with the habit and found that people related to them differently, the men particularly affectionately, and so the last vow, that of chastity, gave way to marriage.

By the end they had left obedience to the Church to obedience to the government agencies, had given up the freedom of poverty to focusing on making a living to survive and have families, and had left chastity for all to chastity with a partner. None of this is bad. In fact all of it is good. But is it a religious order? They still met yearly for prayer and meeting, but they had no common work, no common prayer, no common dress, no common meals, no common recreation, no common living spaces – in fact they only thing they had in common was this yearly meeting and that even rankled them to the point that even this last thread was cut. Now nearing the sunset years they are returning to live with each other in retirement.

At what point did they stop being a religious order? It might be easy to say that it was at the point when they decided not to be under the official umbrella of the Church but they were still in community at that point, much more so than some communities today. So when did they change the rules so much that they started playing a different game?

It is an interesting study but we will lose out on the lesson it has to teach us if we merely cluck our tongues and point out what we think are flaws in their journey. Rather it will be far more constructive if, in the face of this example, we each turn inward and offer to God those parts of us that are not living as authentic and radical a Christian life as we might wish these former nuns had. For 2,000 years the only way true and lasting positive change has brought life and vitality to the Church is when common men and women like you and me decide to every day convert our hearts and minds more completely to the message of Christ and strive to live it more fully lives. We have the example, the ability, the support of the Church, and the Spirit. We can do it.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, Fr. V! I have to admit that I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking of all the "orders" that seem to be heading down the same road as these Glenmary Sisters. I was judging them and when I got to the bottom of the post...well, it really hit me. It goes back to the idea that Fr. Kyle Schnippel over at 'Called By Name' posted yesterday. Let's strive for 'positive orthodoxy'! Thanks again for the excellent post!

uncle jim said...

you've given me the kernel i needed for a talk i've been chewing around in my head for a while.

good food to chew on here.

Anonymous said...

"At what point did they stop being a religious order?"

There is a reason why being obedient to our faith, the Church, and the Magisterium is first & foremost. As seen here, without obedience, obedience to God, everything else fails. We have to keep God first and foremost in our minds, hearts, and souls, otherwise our lives have no meaning.

Although they may resemble living in a community, there was no 'community' within them. But it's one thing to 'visit' someone once in awhile - it's another to actually be a part, an integral part, of each other's be a family.

What I find interesting - the Orders that are receiving the most Postulants are those that wear the full habits and those who follow closely to the Magesterium's teachings & traditions.

Fr. V said...

Thanks Wayne.

Cool Uncle Jim. I'm glad!

Anon. VERY good point. THanks

Liz said...

excellent blog today father!