My 30-year investigation of women religious: the results

by Kate Childs Graham

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On Dec. 16, the Vatican will release the results of its five-year investigation, known as an apostolic visitation, of U.S. women religious.

Not to beat them to the punch, but over the past 30 years, 4 months and 22 days, I have conducted my own informal investigation of women religious in the United States. And I am proud to release the results of my investigation, which include four key findings, today.

Inordinate propensity to serve others

After my senior year of college, I spent two weeks with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pa. I was a counselor at a peace camp the sisters held for children in the local community. There, I witnessed how relentless women religious are to serve others. They taught lessons of nonviolence, determined that future generations should carry on the legacy of the likes of Gandhi and Rosa Parks. They were unyielding in their efforts to provide a safe space for the children, who seemed to never stop smiling throughout the week. And on one day, the sisters even allowed the children to run amok with paint in the style of Jackson Pollock.

Intense inclusivity

The last people I expected to attend my wedding -- a same-sex wedding, I might add -- were women religious (though not really, as we invited them). Imagine my (lack of) surprise as I walked down the aisle and saw two full rows of sisters, singing along with the opening hymn. They raised their hands during the blessing. They managed to get in nearly every photo taken of the ceremony. And they even had the gall to follow us to the reception and wish my partner and me well. They were free from judgment before Pope Francis made it cool.

Excessive inclination toward consensus

My first job out of graduate school was on the justice team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. There, I saw firsthand their inclination toward consensus. The sisters held meeting after meeting after meeting. And at those meetings, boy, did they love to talk. Except, of course, when they were prayerfully silent. When a hard topic came up, they didn't sweep it under the rug; they worked through it. They wanted to ensure that all voices were heard, that all ideas were considered.

Extreme advocacy for justice

The day before I started college, I stayed with sisters on the St. Mary-of-the-Woods College campus. When I walked in, I was introduced to a Sister of Providence who told us she was headed to prison. She had "crossed the line" at the School of the Americas Watch protest in Fort Benning, Ga. Later that year, I rode in a van with a group of sisters to that same protest. They just wouldn't stop fighting for justice.


Smaller findings include severe happiness (I've never played a card game that included so much laughter) and exorbitant longevity (a nun bowling at 99 years old? Come on). Therefore, it is my recommendation that we thank these justice-seeking, humbly serving, consensus-building, inclusive, happy, long-living sisters for all they have given our church and our society.

[Kate Childs Graham is an activist in the progressive Catholic movement. A graduate of The Catholic University of America and the U.N.-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, she is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @kchildsgraham.]

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