Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Gift of Professed Women

By Mary Erickson

This blog can serve several purposes it seems to me. We can use it to impart reflections on our personal spiritual journey or to shed light on something that seems important to say. What I hope to offer here is perhaps a bit of both.

I have been gifted since the early 1970’s with the sporadic influence of professed religious women in my life. Getting to know and appreciate the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary has been a blessing that accompanied me through two academic programs at Marylhurst University. The Benedictine sisters helped me forge my way through a two year spiritual direction program at the Shalom Center. For the last four years I have had the privilege of working with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia here at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. The experiences have had a profound effect on my life journey and my world view.

Watching with interest over the last year or so, I have seen and read the information related to the Vatican’s decision to investigate the women’s religious orders in the U.S. and find it to be fascinating that in the midst of such a tumultuous time for men religious related to the sex abuse scandal that the hierarchy of the Church finds time to engage in such an undertaking and can only ask why.

My personal study of the last one hundred years here in the US and the work of various religious orders has proven to me that the American Catholic Church owes it strong existence to the consistent hard work, tenacity and overwhelming vision of the sisters. Many of the orders risked all to send their sisters out to start schools and hospitals in areas that unaccompanied women had never ventured to previously. These women collectively built the largest private school and hospital systems in our country and it appears they were single-minded in their commitment to bring the highest quality healthcare and finest education to thousands throughout the US.

I believe that the work and the accomplishments of the sisters have gone largely unrecognized and unappreciated by many within the Church. My experience in working alongside sisters is that in many cases they are selfless, incredibly well-educated and dedicated to their vocation, their Church and their God. It has been my great honor to work with these women and to be invited to share their mission and vision for their ministry.

The motives of the investigation have been thoroughly discussed, debated and challenged by many supporters of the sisters both inside and outside of the Church. I wholeheartedly support these challenges and throw my hat into the ring of rising voices that are calling for Vatican officials to cease this effort and to publicly recognize that the truth wealth of the Catholic Church is not in the Vatican museum in Rome but in the incredible integrity and dedication of these very powerful women. We must all do our part to voice our support and love for the women that have played a monumental role in shaping our faith through their example and efforts. My life has been incredibly enriched by their influence and I remain steadfastly grateful for the gifts of their friendship.