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Sisters' Stories

Then and now: A mission to educate women

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When Trinity’s board appointed me president in the summer of 1989, I asked them what I should know about dealing with our local bishop in Washington (then Cardinal James Hickey). A Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur trustee looked at me with her cool gaze and said simply, “Don’t worry about the bishop. Your job is to fix Trinity. Fix it, or close it.”

One of the oldest Catholic women’s colleges in America, Trinity had suffered steep enrollment declines and mounting financial problems in the 1970s and 1980s. My predecessor was the first lay president, the fifth president (permanent or interim) to come and go in the perilous ’80s. The trustees were skeptical of Trinity’s future; the previous year, placing bets that Trinity might not make it, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur trustees secured a change in Trinity’s bylaws to ensure that they would receive the proceeds from any dissolution of the college’s assets.

Image of family life out of sync with reality

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The results of one of the most comprehensive studies of the status of women in the United States were released Oct. 16. The conclusions drawn from the data in “The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Changes Everything,” by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, have the potential to change the discussion of public policy on a broad range of issues from the workplace to the family living room.

Thatís nunsense

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Earth and Spirit

The musical “Nunsense” and the comedy “Late Nite Catechism” hit local theaters regularly, poking raucous fun at the experience of growing up Catholic. Dressed in wimples and big rosaries, young thespians lampoon the indulgences, pious devotions and simplistic moral theology of our youth.

Confessing that I’ve made jests myself at the expense of that pre-Vatican II world, I wish to praise a Catholic upbringing and wholeheartedly thank those women religious who played a key role. Sr. Agatha Irene and her ilk may have, with help from the Baltimore Catechism and its hyperactive theological dualism, seeded hang-ups and an aberrant sense of guilt. But her kind also provided rich nourishment for a way of living, a spirituality that I have come to see as the pearl of great price.

Controversial questions stricken from religious study

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U.S. women religious superiors will no longer have to supply to the Vatican some of the most controversial information it had requested as part of a three-year study of religious congregations.

Information no longer being requested as part of the Vatican Apostolic Visitation, which began last January, includes the properties owned by the congregations, their most recent financial audits, ages of the sisters, and the ministries they are involved in.

Word of the change in procedures came in a letter dated Nov. 5 sent to the women religious superiors by Apostolic Visitator Mother Mary Clare Millea.

NCR obtained a copy of the letter.

Millea explained in her letter why she had dropped the request for the information.

Stonehill symposium played role in women religious study

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Speaking publicly for the first time about the apostolic visitation of U.S. women religious communities his congregation is conducting, Cardinal Franc Rodé said that he requested the three-year study to help the sisters and to respond to concerns for their welfare.

“This apostolic visitation hopes to encourage vocations and assure a better future for women religious,” Rodé said in a statement released by the Vatican Nov. 3.

Parish petition drive draws support for women religious

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Half the adults in an Oakland parish signed a petition after Masses Oct. 25 in support of U.S. women religious who are facing two Vatican investigations.

"They were very supportive. The response was very positive," said Fr. Brian T. Joyce, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill, Calif. "We announced the petition drive, had tables outside after the masses, and invited people to sign."

Joyce said the petition, which will be sent to Vatican officials, drew some 1,500 signatures, or roughly half the 3,000 adults in the parish.

After learning about the investigations, which Joyce described in a parish bulletin, Christ the King parishioners reacted in two ways, he said. They were supportive, and they were puzzled as to why the Vatican would want to investigate the U.S. women religious.

Joyce attempted to answer the latter question with essays he wrote in the parish bulletins dated Oct. 18 and 25.

Few dioceses admit willingness to pay for visitation

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Just two of 61 U.S. archdioceses and dioceses contacted by NCR said they would dip into local church coffers to support the Vatican's controversial visitation of U.S. women religious congregations.

NCR called and e-mailed every archdiocese in the country, as well as a sampling of 29 dioceses across time zones. Twenty-two archdioceses responded to the inquiry, while only seven dioceses did. Many refused to comment, while others cited the difficult economy as a reason they would not contribute to the three-year visitation process, which the Vatican estimates will cost $1.1 million.

Vatican asks U.S. bishops to fund $1.1 million sisters study

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The projected cost of a three-year study of U.S. women religious congregations is $1.1 million and Rome has asked the U.S. bishops to provide funds to offset these expenses, according to a letter by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and obtained by NCR.

“We have a projected budget of $1,100,000 for the three years which the total work of the apostolic visitations will require,” Rodé wrote in a July 14 letter. “I am asking you, my brother bishops, for your help in offsetting the expenses which will be incurred by this work for the future of apostolic religious life in the United States.”

Since the Vatican announced the study last December, it has never publicly stated how much it estimates the comprehensive inquiry will cost or who will pay for it. A Vatican document sent to the heads of U.S. women’s congregations last summer suggested that those chosen for on-site visitations defray costs by paying for and hosting visitation teams, “and, if at all possible, transportation costs related to the visit.”

Updated: Questionnaire for women religious

WASHINGTON -- Questions about membership, living arrangements, the ministries in which members participate and spiritual life, including the practice of prayer and the frequency of Mass, are included in a questionnaire sent Sept. 18 to 341 congregations of women religious in the U.S.

Distribution of the questionnaire opens the second phase of a comprehensive study of U.S. institutes of women religious ordered by Cardinal Franc Rode as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

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September 12-25, 2014

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