Upon reading Tom Roberts' blog on the future of religious life

by Mary Ann McGivern

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My head is spinning with multiple thoughts on the future of religious life.

In the opening of New Wineskins, Sandra Schneiders says there will always be men and women drawn to a communal, spiritual life. I found comfort in those words and I stopped worrying about the future of religious life. It has been a good life for me, and I do not know God's plan for the future.

I joined Loretto to do the work as well as participate in a sacramental kinship. Our founders saw work to be done in rural Kentucky in 1812.

We've been working ever since, mostly in schools but also in cholera epidemics and caring for orphans, taking the Santa Fe Trail west and helping to open the frontier, refusing to sign a loyalty oath during the Civil War.

In 1918 Loretto became "canonical," that is subject to Canon Law and the oversight of the Roman Curia instead of the local bishop. The Vatican narrowed our mission from doing the work that we saw needed to be done to teaching in parochial schools.

Within 50 years, Pope Paul VI instructed us to return to our original charism, which we did, working to end war, unionize farm workers, teaching and housing women and children with disabilities and who were survivors of violence, providing spiritual direction, visiting prisoners -- always learning, always teaching.

Loretto will be 200 years old next year. We had 1000 vowed sisters when I joined 52 years ago. Now we are a little less than 450, half with canonical vows and half co-members with individual contracts. All of us are aging. But when we began, we were only three. In another hundred years, who knows!

For 30 years I lived as a sister within the Catholic Worker community in St. Louis. That's a vibrant young Catholic community, most members in their 20s from St. Louis University, perhaps a different part of the Church's future from those who traveled to Spain for World Youth Day.

That was the starting point for John Allen's news story which mentioned a sisters' survey in passing and then Tom Roberts' blog that looked more closely at the survey data, comparing more conservative and more liberal communities.

Outsiders are eager to drive a wedge between sisters' communities. But three of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity live and work just a few blocks from where I lived with three other sisters plus another dozen women and men at the Worker (not to mention all the guests).

Cardinal Carberry had invited the Missionaries of Charity here, telling them no one in St. Louis was working with the poor. I admit that stung a little, but it wasn't the sisters' fault. The work is there, and not enough people to do it. We share food donations and call on one another for space for women when we were full up. I'm grateful to know they are there too, doing the work. I trust that their lives are as full of grace as mine has been.

And I am grateful for all those young Catholic Workers across the country, praying together, holding discussions to clarify thought, publishing journals, and doing the corporal works of mercy -- feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, burying the dead.

It's not a matter of which religious style will win out but whether we trust in the Spirit of God acting in each of us. And always the measure is whether we are standing with the poor, like Jesus who was born in a stable and died on a cross.

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