In response to last week’s crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Fr. James Martin, S.J. took to twitter to celebrate and show solidarity with Catholic Sisters  during their time of trial,  inviting Catholics to share with the twitterverse the ways in which Catholic Sisters have impacted their lives.

The response was overwhelming.  Thousands of people tweeted messages chronicling the various ways in which Catholic Sisters have made their lives better–people spoke of Catholic Sisters being the reason they first fell in love with or remain committed to Catholicism; people spoke of Catholic Sisters being their teachers, mentors, and inspiration; people spoke of Catholic Sisters saving their lives and giving up their own.  This campaign even made it to the pages of the Huffington Post.

We at WIT participated in this campaign via our own twitter account but we also wanted to do something a bit more formal for our blog.  We encourage all of you to join in this celebration of Catholic Sisters in whatever way you are able: on twitter under the hashtag “WhatSistersMeanToMe,” on facebook via your status message, in a letter to a Catholic Sister who has played an important role in your life, or in good old fashion conversation with your circle of friends.

What Catholic Sisters Mean to Me (WIT Edition)

My preschool teacher, Sister Anita, was a Catholic Sister and she taught me about God’s love and the beauty of creation.  She also taught me kindness and compassion; after my parents and grandparents, she was my first teacher.

Sister Madeleva Wolff established the first institution to grant graduate degrees in theology to Catholic women. Without her pioneering action, most of us could not be “in” theology.

Augustin Cardinal Bea consulted Sister Rose Thering’s research into anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in Catholic teaching for the drafting of Nostra Aetate.

The first time I attended an intimate conference in my area of academic specialization, it was sisters who reached out to me, invited me to sit with them, and ensured that I felt welcome as a junior scholar.

Catholic Sisters made sure I knew that I was always welcome at their retreat center, regardless of whether I was participating in a formal retreat, because we all need places of peace and solace. Even thinking about their retreat center makes me feel more grounded.

The sisters in my life have modelled how to respond to setbacks with grace, poise, calm, and more charity than I can fathom, yet they’ve still never given up on too-often-angry me, or left me feeling that my anger was unreasonable or immoral.

Catholic Sisters like Dorothy Stang teach us how to be disciples even in the face of death.

Catholic Sisters like Helen Prejean inspire me to love even those who seem the most unworthy of it.  Her book “Dead Man Walking” continues to challenge me, reminding me of the radical nature of Christian discipleship like few other works can.

A Catholic Sister once stood up for me when a male colleague started saying some very sexist things to my face. She literally stood up.

When I first heard Sister Jeannine Grammick speak and saw her pray with a man who had launched into a homophobic diatribe, I got chills down my spine because I knew I was in the presence of a holy person.

My great aunt is a Catholic Sister.  We would go on long walks through my neighborhood when I was a child.  She spent most of her time on those walks answering my questions about God.  She never made me feel like my questions were stupid or unimportant.  Looking back, I realize that she was one of the first people who taught me how to think theologically.

Although my grandmother was not raised Catholic, she attended a Catholic college.  The Sisters she met there inspired her to become Catholic.

A Catholic Sister provided spiritual support and moral guidance to my family during the last days of my grandfather’s life.

Professor Janet Ruffing, a Mercy Sister, is one of the reasons I am still Catholic.

Seeing what Catholic Sisters like Elizabeth Johnson have made it through gives me the resolve to stay in the church.

Though she has never met me, sister Mary Margaret McBride is the person who taught me that misogyny is real. I did not identify myself as a feminist or think much about the status of women until she was declared excommunicated for authorizing the termination of a pregnancy to save a woman’s life in a Phoenix hospital. I realized that woman could have been me.

Sisters Lynn Osiek, Sandra Schneiders, and Barbara Green were among the first Catholic women to become biblical scholars.

One morning I was sitting at mass crying because I was very depressed, and a nun came up to me and gave me a Miraculous Medal and said she and her sisters pray for everyone who wears it. I still wear it, many years later.

Every time they are in the news, Catholic Sisters teach me what the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love actually look like.

People like Sister Terry Dodge remind me of what our real responsibilities are:

My family has a history of being taught theology by Catholic Sisters in a way that inflames our hearts for good theological inquiry.

If it weren’t for the good work of Sisters throughout the United States and around the world, living the gospel and modeling a way to stay in the Church that is incomparably better than blind obedience or apathy, I’m not sure I could stay. As it is, they give me hope.

Sister Anita Baird is the founding director for the Office for Racial Justice in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Sisters were the backbone of my high school education, providing me an environment to grow as a thinker and the courage to break through shyness and engage in classroom discussion.

In high school I had a close relationship with my theology teacher, Sister Joan, who inspired me to love theology as a discipline.  One time when I came to her asking for dating advice, she said I shouldn’t really worry about dating too much because, as she put it, “you are one of us!”  Although I didn’t become a sister, I think that her inclusive attitude helped to see myself as a theological agent and, in some way, model my life after hers (as a teacher of theology).

Sisters have taught me, mostly through example in my theology programs, what it means to love the Tradition, holding oneself accountable to the entire Tradition, despite the often painful life in the Church.

One of the most vibrant, prayerful, and welcoming liturgical communities I have been a part of is comprised largely of Sisters. The presence of these Sisters in various phases of their lives and ministries contributed a tangible sense of wisdom and joy to our common worship.

My burgeoning ecological consciousness was vastly enriched and expanded by a short stay at a farm run by Dominican Sisters of Peace in Ohio. They creatively practice sustainable agriculture in their suburban territory and help educate children from nearby urban areas about food production and environmental responsibility. Ketchup is made from tomatoes! Carrots grow in the ground! Hooray for composting toilets!

2 thoughts

  1. As a student at Albertus Magnus College, I met Sr Monica Kiefer, OP who showed me that Sisters were REAL PEOPLE. I have been a member of her Congregation – the Dominican Sisters of Peace – for more than 50 years…

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