Thank You, Sister

My football coach in 1955 was a very young Sister of Mercy-evidence that Hollywood did not always make things up-named Paulinus Oakes.

She taught at St. Peter’s grade school in Jackson, Mississippi. Besides teaching us how to hit with pads, Sr. Paulinus instructed us in English, history, and the love of God, with a distinctive combination of toughness and good humor. She recruited some of us for the priesthood, and urged all of us to a life of service. More than half a century later, Sr. Paulinus Oakes still serves the Mississippi poor and ill at St. Dominic Jackson Memorial Hospital, owned and run by the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois.

Like so many other women religious of her generation, she remains faithful to her calling, even when the world in which she pledged her fidelity has shifted under her feet and every human support for her vocation has eroded, even when many of her colleagues-for reasons she fully understands-have left religious orders. Sr. Paulinus would resist being a symbol for anything. She is too vibrantly herself to stand for something else. But because she showed me the human face of God’s care in a time when I needed it more than I knew, she embodies for me the story of female religious orders in this country: Despite the losses she and her community have suffered, she continues to bear her distinctive, irreplaceable witness.

Sr. Paulinus and many other women...

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About the Author

Luke Timothy Johnson, a frequent contributor, is the R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Two of his most recent books are Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Yale) and Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans).