Thursday, March 13, 2008

God Bless You, Sister

I was a product of Catholic education. My parents were middle-class ethnic Americans who sacrificed so that all four of their sons could attend parochial grade school. Back then, the Sisters of Saint Joseph wore their habits and they predominated the faculty. A laywoman was secretary to the principal and another was school nurse. Before going to high school seminary in 1976, I had gone through eight years of Catholic education. First grade, I had Sister Dolorosa (aptly named); second grade, Sr. Ann Louis; third grade, Sr. Gertrude; fourth grade, Sr. Claudia; fifth grade, Sr. John Frances; then in sixth grade the tide turned and the nuns were outnumbered three to one. By the time I graduated eighth grade, just a token amount of sisters remained. My younger brothers fared worse with fewer nuns teaching year after year until finally only the principal and the kindergarden teacher were women religious. Gone, too, were the old habits. Modified veils were followed by lay clothing with a religious pin on the lapel. We coined the phrase RN for real nuns (those in traditional habit, veil and whimple); LPN for likes to play nun (those in modified habits, usually a dark dress and short veil); and CCG for Christ Career Girls (those who wore only secular clothing and barely had a cross or pin)

Look at those wonderful orders and communities which taught MILLIONS of Americans from the 1770's to the 1970's. We learned our catechism and our reading, writing and arithmetic. Sister instilled a reverential FEAR of the Lord. If you misbehaved in school, you got paddled in the principal's office only to get a worse beating at home when your father got in from work. We learned good manners, grammar, history, science, art, music, geography, spelling, etc. And we were in church not only every Sunday for Mass but also once a month if not more for school Masses and devotions (like the Rosary and Benediction).

Once the nuns stopped looking like nuns, many of them stopped speaking and acting like nuns, hence vocations began to drop geometrically. Vocations shrinked in those dioceses where they were most incognito. Traditional communities like the Nashville Dominicans Nuns and the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, who kept the habit and who continue to teach, continue to have vocations and they greatly influence a lot of people over a long period of time. Too often, the local parish school has one nun or sister as principal and one or two more as teachers. While MANY wonderful lay women teach for peanuts in parochial schools, it is not the same as having a total or at least a predominant staff of nuns teaching in every grade.

The suriving orders need to CONSOLIDATE so they can staff an entire school (or at least a majority amount) and be a WITNESS to the youth. Back to basics with the Catechism, solid discipline and lots of devotions give an invaluable patrimony to our Catholic boys and girls so they can learn to BE Catholic and to LIVE as a God-fearing Christian. Urban legends of Sister Mary Sanctuary Lamp beating kids with rulers is 99% of the time hyperbole. What most of us got was not red knuckles but properly formed consciences based on the Magisterium. Several generations owe a lot to the good sisters who taught us well how to be good Christian ladies and gentlemen and most of all how to be good practicing Catholics. They sacrificed a lot and got little in return (at least in earthly terms) but their labors were not in vain. I owe my priestly vocation to holy priests like Fr. Bob Levis and my late Pastor Msgr. Ennis Connelly and my cousin Fr. Stefan Katarzynski. At the same time, in a secondary but still important way, the nuns who taught me in Catholic grade school, the Carmelite nuns who lived behind the minor seminary and the prayers and example of the cloistered Dominican Nuns in Lancaster and Mother Angelica and the Poor Clares in Irondale (now in Hanceville), kept me going and preserved my vocation when times were tough. I remember them all in my daily prayers.

Sure, we had a few femme-nazi nuns who taught in the major seminary and wanted to be priests and who hated then Cardinal Ratzinger. These militant miscreants always had a sour look on their face. They were angry women who resented the Catholic Church not being in the mold they wanted it to be. Their communities are dying off, one by one, since they are not attracting many new vocations. Why would a young woman give up a family or career to dress like a laywoman and live with a small group of angry, bitter has-been hippies when she could join an order that has kept the traditional habit and where the community is filled with happy, orthodox and very prayerful sisters who help each other grow in holiness?


Anonymous said...

What strikes me is the number of women religious who left the classroom to minister in "more meaninful work" like social service agencies. All of their efforts, they hoped, would be directed in the service of the poor. Tell me, what greater service is there than education to help the poor and transform their condition.

I often wonder what these women think that if, in fact, they spend any time realizing that in order to go forward into the future with hope they need to return to some primitive roots which includes a uniform, mission not "specialized ministry," obedience, and living in community. Sadly, those women religious who want to retrieve some of these essential pieces of religious life are shunned or dismissed as reactionary. Yet, the reality is, no one is attracted by the cavalier bachelorette lifestyles presently in vogue!

Anonymous said...

Many of the comments about the schooling you received as a young man is truly missing from todays world and catholic schools. My parents were not devout catholics(now as I return to the church I wish they would have been) so I grew up in the public school system but the fear was put into you to do well or you were going to be sent to catholic school where a father or a sister would not put up with any BS but address the situation head on. Plus the homework load our friends who did attend had was always in our eyes at the time huge! Today my children go to catholic school but it is a joke, no nuns no priest and very to little religious studies and the religious studies that they do have are presented in a secular not a catholic way. Certainly these drop offs if you will in Catholic education standards has me concerned for the future and has left me unsurprised that so few of the young people today want to be priests or nuns or to even serve god in any manner.

Anonymous said...

this situation mirrors what happened in the secular world...women rejecting their God given roles, motherhood. feminism-the root of all evil.

Dan L. said...

I have four aunts who became nuns (sisters?) and one uncle who is a priest. Though they are all in their eighties (or nearly, and one deceased), they are a source of tremendous pride to me.

Father, it is a privilege to find your blog. I have especially enjoyed your participation on EWTN for quite some time.

Oh, I also will miss Mr. Buckley terribly.

I am 50, a grandfather of one, father of four. My wife and I are in a small house of 7 of us in Calif. I ask for your prayers, as I will certainly pray for you.

Have a holy Lent, and may God bless you,

--Dan L. and my blog is:


Anonymous said...

Thankyou, Father Trujilio, for saying what alot of us out here feel. We have two sisters in our parish that are from South America and they wear a habit. We also have a sister that does not wear a habit--just street clothes. The difference is so apparant!
I have seen convents close in this area (Boise -- run by a feminist nun agenda). It breaks my heart to see what has been lost. On the other side of the coin, there are the beautiful youth responding to vocations to the orders that wear the habit. You would think that the orders that went liberal would "get it" but no, they really are hardened feminists who have no clue what it is to be a real woman religious--they should have as their model, the Blessed Mother. Instead they track with the Steinems of this world.


Aeurella said...

God will bring the greater good out of this situation. As these orders die out, they will be replaced with those which will survive: orthodox, obedient, holy, Pope-loving nuns.

I have had my own experience working with sisters who acted like they wished they weren't. They seek power over men and love to protest.

May God give me the grace to judge the stereotype and not the women!

Aeurella said...

God will bring the greater good out of this situation. As these orders die out, they will be replaced with those which will survive: orthodox, obedient, holy, Pope-loving nuns.

I have had my own experience working with sisters who acted like they wished they weren't. They seek power over men and love to protest.

May God give me the grace to judge the stereotype and not the women!

Anonymous said...


A (now retired) Pastor at a former parish relayed this story to me a few years ago.

He has a lifelong friend who became the mother superior of a religious order. She confided in him that she was dispirited because of the lack of vocations to her order -- their average age was nearly 65 and the few vocations they received were women in their 40's.

Fr. Bill diagnosed the problem perfectly. He told her, "You have no vocations because you stopped preaching the gospel, you stopped living in community, you stopped wearing the habit. Basically you've become underpaid social workers who can't date and no one will give up their life to do that!"

I believe that the only true source of vocations is the Holy Spirit and He places His seeds in well tended gardens where they will grow best. If an order (or a diocese) refuses to preach the Gospel and live it out in a radically Apostolic way, why should we be surprised that the Holy Spirit doesn't entrust many vocations there?

There is no real vocations crisis -- but there is a VERY REAL crisis in Catholic leadership. Where you have real leadership you will have vocations (in your - and my - diocese for example).

Pray for vocations, but also pray that those entrusted with calling and forming those vocations will live up to their own.

Pax Christi

Lisa said...

I feel that the Holy Spirit wrote this for me to see. Your recommendation about religious orders joining together to ensure a strong religious presence in Catholic schools is very valuable. I hope that it will reach many listening ears.

"By this shall the world know, that you are my disciples: by the love you have for one another."

When religious are together and recognizable the faithful see that love and connect it to religious life. That is a powerful witness and a strong tool for awakening awareness of religious vocations as well as evangelizing through the gospel of one's own life.

I see you on EWTN sometimes, Fr. Trigilio. Now I'm glad I also found your blog. Feel free to stop by mine if you have a chance. You are most welcome!

God bless you.

Lisa said...

By the way, did you go high school at Delone in McSherrystown?

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