Book collects essay series on women religious

Sr. Sandra Schneiders says it’s a book she “never intended to write.”

In 2008, when news first broke of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of U.S. women religious, the retired professor, a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, wrote a private e-mail to colleagues, giving her take on it.

“I am not inclined to get into too much of a panic about this ‘visitation,’ ” she began the e-mail. “I think if we believe in what we are doing (and I definitely do) we just have to be peacefully about our business, which is announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Although the e-mail wasn’t meant to be made public, it was forwarded to others. Before too long, NCR found itself with a copy and, with permission, published it on its website.

In retrospect, Schneiders’ words, which open the first chapter of her new book, Prophets in Their Own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church (Orbis), might sum up American sisters’ response to the Vatican’s visitation.

A collection of essays first published in NCR, Prophets in Their Own Country delves into the reflections the visitation has occasioned among sisters throughout the country on their mission and vision of ministry.

Both those unfamiliar with the NCR series and those who read every word of it will appreciate seeing Schneiders’ thoughts, a profound examination of what sisters have meant and will mean to the global church, put together in one volume.

If nothing else, the book, published now two and a half years since the announcement of the Vatican’s investigation, gives readers occasion to consider what lessons it might teach.

As Schneiders puts it in her conclusion: “It may well take considerable time, even after these investigations are a vague and distant memory, to fully realize what we have learned from the experience. At the very least it should make us newly aware that religious life is indeed, as the council called it, a gift -- to the church itself, to those called to it, to those in other states of life in the church, to those to whom religious minister -- and that such a gift should not be taken for granted.”

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