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Sisters' Stories

Mother Millea speaks about the visitation

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A little over a year ago, Mother Mary Clare Millea became the most talked-about nun in America almost overnight. In December 2008, the Vatican tapped Millea, a Connecticut native and superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to run arguably the most controversial "apostolic visitation" ever carried out in this country: A sweeping review of women's congregations, capping decades of tension about the state of the soul of religious life in America.

Sometime in the next few days, the first wave of letters will be reaching a sample of women's orders to say they've been selected for an on-site visit, with those visits slated to begin one week after Easter and to continue throughout the spring and fall of 2010. The visits mark "phase three" of the process, after exchanges between Millea and major superiors (phase one) and the collection of written responses to questionnaires sent to every congregation in the country (phase two).

The fourth and final phase will be the preparation of detailed reports on all 420 "units" of women's religious in America, meaning congregations as well as their individual provinces, to be shipped off to Rome, plus a comprehensive report at the end. What the Vatican may do with all that input, of course, is the great unknown.

Contours of the daily and domestic

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My life has been largely spent at home, caring for my family. It is a small world, but a rich and complex one, for all its short distances from stove to bed and bathtub to couch. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to these writers -- they are women -- who observe the contours and appreciate the significance of the daily and the domestic.

Anne Tyler’s characters rarely leave Baltimore, or even the houses where they were raised. In Tyler’s novels, the houses, like the city itself, become characters in the narrative. Those who do leave home remain bound by the ties, both glorious and grim, of place and blood and story. When elderly Daniel Peck begins to travel, in Tyler’s Searching for Caleb, it is not because there is any site outside Baltimore worth exploring. He’s looking for his brother, Caleb, who disappeared from their Roland Park home one day in 1912 leaving “no trace except for a bedroom full of hollow, ringing musical instruments and a roll-top desk with an empty whiskey bottle in the bottom drawer.”

How the remotely possible could become real

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Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own, expresses her amazement at reading, for the first time, a description of a friendship between two women.

“Chloe liked Olivia,” Woolf reads in a novel by a young woman. “And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature,” writes Woolf. “And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women were represented as friends. ... But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that; and how little can a man know even of that.”

The ones who were the face of Christ for me

The following is an excerpt from Free to Leave, Free to Stay: Fruits of the Spirit and Church Choice, by Jana Marguerite Bennett and Melissa Musick Nussbaum. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

*******

I was nearly 20 when I left the Methodist church of my childhood. My maternal great-grandfather was a circuit rider, one of the itinerant preachers who brought Methodism to Texas. I grew up less than a block from church, and I spent every Sunday there: first Sunday School, then the worship service, and then home for dinner. After dinner I was back for youth group and the evening service. Until I met my husband, I had never dated a boy outside my church.

Ethnic bias is no longer an option

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Facing the challenge of recommending five women writers who can provide us with salutary insights into ourselves as we live in a world full of international tensions, I selected five who assure us we don’t have the option of ethnic bias.

The most recent books by Alia Malek, Monica Ali, Marina Nemat, Jhumpa Lahiri and Jehan Sadat -- biography, autobiography and autobiographical fiction -- search inside the lives of immigrants to the United States and Europe from the Middle East, India and Bangladesh. Providing a fresh take on everything from raising children to living a good life, these books are authentic, engaging and well written.

Writing from a company of word-loving women

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Throughout her life, Mary Pierce Brosmer’s voice has been silenced: by her blue-collar family and the 1950s Catholic church, in the schools she attended and the schools where she taught. Once, at a public poet’s workshop, she read one of her pieces about childbirth fears. “So what?” was one participant’s response. “I don’t care for mother poems,” added another.

Lesser women would have given up. But not Brosmer.

Twice in high school she was accused of plagiarism by teachers who insisted the excellent essays she turned in couldn’t have been written by her. Discouraged but not defeated, she went on to become a high school teacher herself, but her against-the-grain methods drew suspicions from administrators who went so far as to ban her chosen textbook.

Frustrated with teaching the traditional male canon of literature, she realized she had become “a female impersonator and ... a ventriloquist’s dummy, having men’s words about women put in my mouth that I in turn mouthed to my students.”

Abp. Williams laments 'chaos' over women, gays

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LONDON -- Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams warned Anglican clergy Tuesday (Feb. 9) that their debate about female and gay bishops is causing “chaos” that must be resolved if the Church of England is to be unified.

In a key address in London, Williams pleaded with the General Synod -- the church's parliament -- to start listening to each other and stop pursuing a “zero-sum, self-congratulating” course.

Brother Fitzpatrick's Jan. 28 letter to Cardinal Rode

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Brother Fitzpatrick's Jam. 28 letter to Cardinal Franc Rode:

January 28, 2010

Franc Cardinal Rode, CM
Prefect of the congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of
Apostolic Life
Piazza Pio XII, 3
00193 ROMA,
ITALY

Dear Cardinal Rode:

I write to you again about your “apostolic visitation” of the women religious in the United States.

It is now public news that many US women religious have not complied with Phase II of your visitation, and that you have asked them to rethink their positions, return to your questionnaires and complete them as you desired.

It is clear, I think, that the apostolic religious sisters of the U.S. have treated your imposition of an apostolic visitation most seriously. They have taken the whole matter to prayer from the very beginning a year ago. They have sought the advice of theologians and canonists. They have consulted knowledgeable persons experienced in religious life and known for their prudence and wisdom. And they have come to their decisions according to their own charisms and concluded that they cannot in good conscience do as you request.

Brother Fitzpatrick's Nov. 16, 2009 letter to Cardinal Rode

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Xavier Brother Peter Fitzpatrick's Nov. 16, 2009 letter to Cardinal Franc Rode:

Franc Cardinal Rode, CM
Prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life
Piazza Pio XII, 3
00193 Roma,
Italy

Dear Cardinal Rode:

My topic is your “apostolic visitation” of the women religious in the United States. I ask you please to bear with me and to listen to what I have to say.

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