We’re highlighting a few new pieces on the homepage: The editors on the importance of letting Cardinal Burke speak his piece, Robert Mickens’s latest Letter from Rome, and, featured today, “‘I Want to Be a Sister,’” Helen Maher Garvey’s account of her years in a religious community, from the day she understood she was “called to a different life—a life of consecrated celibacy and one of ongoing mystery, revelation, and love,” to Vatican II, to her presidency of the Leadership Council on Women Religious, and up through the present day. An excerpt:
The twentieth-century process of renewal began as early as 1943 with Pius XII’s encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, encouraging the study of Scripture. Later, in the 1950s, the creation of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women (CMSW)—later the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)—prepared the way for the aggiornamento culminating in the council. Mandating a chapter of renewal for each congregation, the council documents found eager responses from most women religious. Formerly an event characterized by confidentiality and compliance to rules, the chapter of renewal became an assembly of women engaged in a search for meaning. Truth, open debate, and exploration of issues of the moment shattered age-old customs.
Such explorations, I learned, could be disorienting and even painful. Conflicting values sparked controversy. … In such moments naïveté and hurt walked together with exhilaration, joy, and commitment. The process both thrilled and scared women religious, rocking the foundations of religious life. The effort to rediscover the true spirit of that life triggered profound changes in the governance of congregations. … On the local level, leadership by the superior shifted to group decisions made at house meetings. At first those decisions related to ordinary household matters such as schedules and events; later, the agenda came to include matters of social justice, such as participation in protest marches for peace or civil rights.
Everyone made mistakes and learned painful lessons. … I can remember leaving school at dismissal time to travel to Union Theological Seminary to hear Hans Küng speak, and another time Yves Congar. We were also struggling with the far more practical issue of the change of dress. Many a sister-in-law or parish friend spent hours in the convent helping us redesign habits into black suits—perhaps the most unfashionable outfits ever to see the light of day.
This change in apparel mirrored far more profound changes for women religious in the late 1960s and early ’70s. For those who needed the discipline of order and security of certitude, the new environment seemed chaotic. Yet many others embraced the challenge of a renewed life. …
You can (and should) read the whole thing here.