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Pleasing line up

I have been writing 12/12/12 today on various letters, etc. Though I attribute no meaning to the triplication, there is something felicitous about the line-up of the numbers on this date.And was anyone here at last night's Center on Religion and Culture's Forum: "Call and Response: How American Catholic Sisters Shaped the Church Since Vatican II"? It too was a pleasing line-up, but rather different than I expected. Inspiring! Not acrimonious; the word b...... was not uttered during any of the presentations.

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I was there, Peggy, and mightily impressed by the thoughtful, generous and irenic stance of all the sisters, different as they were in age and perspective from one another, and more relieved than surprised that they hewed to the subject at hand, as there was more than enough material there for one evening.I'm delighted to have been there.

I was there too, and I had the same reaction as Mary Butler. The word "grounded" came up once or twice in the panelists' discussions, and it occurred to me that "grounded" is the word I'd use to describe most if not all of the religious sisters I've known. Their reflectiveness, humility, and good nature always impresses me, and obviously stems from a solid foundation of faith and prayer. I definitely saw that on display last night. (Also, what a turnout!)

"Not acrimonious; the word b was not uttered during any of the presentations."What's wrong with "blessed?"

They were blessed! But that's not the word!!!!The word b...... is in the plural and the dots represent the exact number of letters.

Jim Welby, fellow parishioner and Upper West Side Neighbor has written up last evening's discussion for those who couldn't make it from California.Jim Welby: First let me mention the participants: Moderator: Christine Firer Hinze (theologian, Fordham U.), Doris Gottemoeller, R.S.M. (Vice President, Catholic Health Partners and Former President , Sisters of Mercy of the Americas), Maria Theotokos Adams, S.S.V. M. a new religious order founded by an Argentine priest back in the late 80's (Director of Studies, Immaculate Conception Province), Miriam Ukeritis, C.S.J. (Psychologist and CEO, Southdown Institute), Mary Johnson, S.N.D. deN. (Sociologist, Trinity Washington U.), Maria Cimperman, R.S.C.J. (Theologian, Catholic Theological Union).First, whoever put this group together wisely chose not only different religious orders but also sisters with varied expertise, and sisters of varying ages (meaning some who were pre-Vatican II sisters, some coming of age during the council and some arriving on the scene years after Vatican II). The other thing to say was that despite the Vatican mandate to investigate U.S. sisters, this was not a moment of confrontation with the powers that be, but rather a peaceful attestation to what the sisters have taken on over these 50 years. We know most of what they have accomplished in terms of the parochial school system, founding hospitals, and social services (even before V.II). They pioneered higher education for women and, as was pointed out, there were two theologians on this panel and there was a time in the not so distant past when sisters and lay people were not allowed to study theology in any of the Catholic colleges or universities, so they set up their own college to overcome this obstacle until finally both sisters and lay people were allowed to study theology in Catholic colleges and universities. Another interesting point made was that in 1950 Pope Pius XII asked that sisters throughout the world address the question of whether their religious habits were appropriate for the modern era and whether their form of dress was an obstacle to reaching out to ordinary people. Secondly, he proposed that they seek to become professional in whatever endeavors they were involved in. This gave rise to the Sister Formation Movement where these issues were tackled and so, one might say that for 12 years the sisters were well on their way to reforming before Vatican II was proclaimed. The document on Religious Life of V.II challenged them to go back to the sources, namely the intent of their founders. Another important event for the sisters was the Synod of Bishops of 1971 that stated that justice was constitutive of the preaching of the gospel. It is no wonder then that their ministries expanded, embracing social activism and missionary work, exploring fresh currents in spirituality and theology and championing human dignity and rights.Finally, it was pointed out that there are 1,200 women in formation in various religious orders and 40% of them are women of color. Sr. Mary Johnson, sociologist, said that they are studying how these women chose the orders they are in. Some orders are doing extremely well in this count while others have a few aspirants and yet others have none. Sr. Miriam Ukeritis, psychologist said that sisters are at the cusp of figuring out what their next step is; there is much enthusiasm to move forward and there is a lot of hope for the future. In the question and answer period, the one question that stood out had to do with the Obama health care issue and the inclusion of the contraceptive piece that must be adhered to by 2014 and how to handle this delicate topic. Sr. Doris Gottemoeller, Vice Pres., Catholic Health Partners, responded by saying that they were still trying to work this out, but in the end, if it was still not resolved, they would accept it "under protest" until some arrangement is made that is satisfactory to all parties.There is much more, but these are the more salient issues that were presented at what was a memorable, hopeful and peace-filled gathering. As you can imagine, the auditorium was packed with sisters from many different orders. Jim Welby

" the word b was not uttered during any of the presentations."That's a relief. I've never thought it very respectful to refer to religious sisters as "broads".

Heres another fine presentation by another extraordinary woman religious: Pat Farrell, OSF. (When I went to check the list of speakers at last nights gathering at Fordham, I half expected to find her name there.) Pat was president of LCWR this past year, during all of the back-and-forth with the Vatican. The link is to the talk she gave at the LCWR assembly. Looking at the words which Peggy and Mary and Mollie have used about the presentations last night at Fordham -- inspiring, thoughtful, generous, irenic, grounded, reflective, humble, good-natured -- Id say that all of them could be applied to Pats talk. And heres a beautiful piece David Gibson did about Pat for RNS.

JP: Broads has only six letters....!!!!

".... there are 1,200 women in formation in various religious orders and 40% of them are women of color."This is a paradigm change. In the US what are the numbers for Catholics of color? How important is it that there should be an increase in religious orders? Was not the message of VII that all should seek holiness so that holiness in all was more of a goal than a separated segment? In that sense vocations may not be that important.

"Centered" was the word that came to mind as I listened to the presentations. I particularly liked the presentation by Sister Doris Gottemoeller. She cited evidence showing how church authorities began introducing change in the women's religious orders in the 1940s, how that was followed through in Vatican II ... and how the orders were responding to what the hierarchy wanted as they went through a period of experimentation and change. It was very solid and, as I said, centered. The only thing that left me unconvinced was the attempt to pass off some of the controversies the orders have been involved in as a creation of the news media.

I got a private email telling me that my attempted funny above wasn't actually very funny. So sorry if it was offensive.

bishops?

bishops? it is!!!!JP: Hardly the worst B word you could have come up with!!! Sorry to say, I guess, that I didn't find it offensive.

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.