It's high time for women religious to take ownership of the narrative that has dominated their vocation for the past half-century, said St. Joseph Sr. Mary Pellegrino.
As president of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, she made an emphatic call to almost 800 women religious Aug. 10 to begin shifting the focus from diminishment to communion. The address, which was both challenging and comforting, was part of LCWR's annual assembly, held Aug. 8-11 in Orlando.
By highlighting the power of storytelling, Pellegrino noted the need to make room for emerging, more accurate information and experiences that are disrupting the age-old stories surrounding religious life.
"This is hard work, long work, and undefined work," she said, but, "I can think of no other time in my life when the need to be honest toward reality has been so urgent."
Before tackling the diminishment narrative that seems to stalk religious life, before making way for a newer narrative on communion, Pellegrino took a simplified yet careful look at the path that led them there. How did diminishment become the foregone conclusion?
The "golden age" of religious life happened around World War II, she said, and soon after the Second Vatican Council and its call for renewal of religious life in the 1960s, it was all downhill, according to the prevailing account. Sisters left schools to take secular jobs, swapped habits for street clothes and became feminists.
"Now they're all old, signaling failure. And religious life is dying. The corrective in this narrative is a return to the past," Pellegrino said.
By equating orthodoxy with numbers, this narrative diminishes every vocation, all of the church, and God.