Jot a Note to a Nun
I know that many of you are aware of the recent Vatican criticism of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization which represents about 80 percent of the American
religious orders of nuns and sisters. If the statement from Rome upset you, you are certainly not alone, as it seems to have ignited a national outcry of protest. While these issues are rarely simple,
sometimes a response to them might be so. One such suggestion has been offered by Fr. James Martin, the popular Jesuit author. It is a response that is truly elegant in its simplicity: tell how the
Catholic sisters have helped in your life. Initially, the idea was to tweet a quick line of gratitude as a way of showing support to women religious who have had a positive influence in the lives of
so many. This has grown into a tide of letters and emails to religious orders at a time when a little praise would probably go a long way.
That suggestion brought me back to a Sunday afternoon in June of 1982. I had just finished my second year in the seminary and I was going to stay at the Urban Retreat House in Bridgeport for the summer as a chance to “get my feet wet” with some ministry involvement. Sr. Ann Moles, a School Sister of Notre Dame, was one of the directors of the Center at that time. I knew Sr. Ann from my high school days, so after I moved in on that first afternoon, I went right to her and asked where I could begin. Should I sit in a on Battered Wives Support Group? Or Narcotics Anonymous? Run a little Bible Study for the ex-cons? I was up and ready for anything! She handed me a mop and told me to wash the kitchen floor.
“Every seminarian should know how to mop a floor.” she said. Suitably humbled, I never forgot that lesson or her words. If you want to learn about ministry, then learn how to serve. Learn
how to serve by quietly observing. The longer I live, the more brilliant and wise is her advice. I’ve had good experiences with religious sisters all my life.
In grammar school, the Community of Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ) not only taught me about a God who is Love, but were also brave enough to show a second grade class a picture of a nun out of habit (a very big deal in 1966!) and balanced enough to teach eighth graders that good grades were important, but so was staying after school to help with a fundraiser. In high school, women like Sr. Ann and Sr. Justine introduced us to the concerns of social action and places like the Merton House. In my college years, I met Sr. Daniela, who demonstrated how to run an active suburban Catholic school and retain a wonderful sense of humor as well as her sanity. In seminary, Sr. Nancy Swift, R.C.E., provided us with a sound foundation of liturgical theology, driving home the point that good liturgy expresses what the
Church believes. In my past parishes as a priest, women religious have been part of the core of ministry, from Religious Education to Youth Groups to caring for the sick. In recent years, the writings of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., at Fordham University, and Sr. Margaret Farley, R.S.M., at Yale Divinity School, have been essential in showing me a loving, Christian stance in some difficult pastoral areas. These are just a few in my life, but I am grateful to them all.
So join the fun: jot a note to a nun, send a sentence to a sister. Tell her how she made a difference. Let her know her life work is appreciated. But be careful: Sr. Ann still shows up here once in a while. She is “retired” and living in Wilton, but every now and then she appears at daily Mass. Last time was just before Christmas and she asked if our parish Giving Tree could possibly help a few more families in St. Charles Parish. “Sure, Ann, we have 25 now, how many more?”
‘Ummmm……how about 25?” she said, as she handed me the mop once again.