Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Catholic San Francisco Article

Younger nuns envision a future much smaller, but still bright
July 17th, 2013By Valerie Schmalz
Catholic San Francisco

Some of Sister Chero Chuma’s friends back in Kenya think she wasted her visa to the United States – becoming a religious and joining an order of mostly elderly nuns in the Seattle area. 

“It is amazing when you feel a call and you respond to a call. It is not that you choose to do that,” said the Sister of St. Joseph of Peace who recently enrolled in the nursing program at Seattle University. “You want to say we are crazy joining right now,” said Sister Chero, whose order has a peace cross but no formal habit. 

Sister Chero was in California for a Giving Voice national gathering of about 75 religious from 30 different congregations at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont over the July 4 weekend. Giving Voice was created by women religious in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are members of orders with diminishing membership – orders they feel they were called to join despite that demographic decline. 

Giving Voice “provides a peer group in religious life for women religious who probably don’t have a lot of peers in their own congregations – strengthening their own sense of call in religious life,” said Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Kristen Mathes, 47, a founder of the group that began in 1997. 

“When I was discerning religious life, somehow through the Internet, I found out this group existed. The fact there were enough young nuns to form this group gave me the freedom to listen to the Holy Spirit,” said Sister Susan Francois, 41, a Sister of St. Joseph o f Peace, who entered at 34. 

A 2009 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found just 1 percent of all perpetually professed religious women were under 40. Five years ago the most common median age of religious women’s congregations was 76, according to the study commissioned by National Religious Vocation Conference.

“They’ll pray, and at 8 o’clock they go to bed,” said one young religious. 

The future is likely to be “inter-congregational” living, with religious from different orders sharing both living space and spirituality with each other, said Sister Susan, organizer of the Belmont event. 

The key is “being open to whatever God can reveal to us. We can’t imagine yet what new things are to come,” said Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Julia Walsh, a 31-year-old blogger and religion teacher at Aquinas High School in La Crosse, Wis. Her order will celebrate 135 years of perpetual eucharistic adoration in August, she said. While her congregation’s average age is in the 70s, there are eight in their 30s, 10 in their 40s and 10-15 in their 50s, she said. 

However, most of those in Giving Voice are one of two or three below 50. The CARA study found approximately half of U.S. vocations were to traditional congregations that make up less than 20 percent of orders and affiliate with the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. The other half were to some of the 400 orders affiliated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious – most of which do not have habits and have much less structured community prayer. 

“I think the Holy Spirit knows we need both because both are a valid way,” said Sister Susan. “One is a more devotional, pious way, meeting that traditional religious need. Some are called the way I am called to be in the world for the world but to live simply.” 

For St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Sarah Heger: “When I decided to enter, that was home, that was where I belonged.” The fifth grade teacher, who graduated from Fontbonne University run by her order in the St. Louis area, and entered in 2005, says Giving Voice provides a peer group she can call on around the country. “Religious life is going to look so different,” said Sister Sarah. “To know there are people in that place of transition with me is just awesome.”     

From July 19, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco. - See more at:

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