Young women religious from across US make their voices heard

The voice of youth is more powerful than ever — members of the under-25 set are quickly rising to the top in multiple industries, making sure they leave their mark on the world as soon as they can, but what about the younger voice in the Catholic Church?

World Youth Day may be just around the corner, but there is another group of young people ready to ensure that they are doing what they can to impact society.

Women religious under the age of 50 gathered at Loyola University Chicago July 21-24 as part of the Giving Voice Conference. Giving Voice is an organization dedicated to providing a place for young women religious to speak about issues that are important to them and to converse with one another.

Women religious particpate in a circle of conversation. (Photo courtesy of Giving Voice)

Many attendees at the sixth national Giving Voice Conference were the youngest members of their religious communities, and have only experienced religious life since the Second Vatican Council.

The keynote speaker was Sister Sandra Schneiders, a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a “rock star” in the world of religious life, as one conference participant explained. Sister Schneiders is a respected theologian who has written several books on religious life.

“We are in a kairos moment that, if we seize it, could really galvanize into a whole new era of American religious life,” Sister Schneiders said during the conference.

A press release from the Giving Voice said that these young sisters “recognize they will be called to leadership in their communities and in the church in the coming years.”

Sister Susan Francois, a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and one of the conference planning team members, told Catholic News Service that the sisters who gathered in Chicago do not fit many people’s stereotypes of Catholic nuns. “Most of us do not wear religious habits, although some of us do,” said the 38-year-old. “That’s not what matters to us. What we share is our desire to follow Jesus and serve God’s people in need.”

“We are a strong, talented, creative, passionate group with energy for making a difference in the world,” said 30-year-old Presentation Sister Jessi Beck.

16 Responses

  1. Great model for encouraging youth… thanks for sharing

  2. lts quite intresting to see Catholic youth raising up,our voices for the voice-less.In our communities and world at LARGE.
    WE HAD DONE THE SAMETHING,HE IN ZIMBABWE AT ST PETERS CATHOLIC CHURCH MBARE.Group of youth clean streets,pioneer cementry,hosipals and filling pote holes.Wearing t-shirts wretten,CATHOLIC YOUTH IN ACTION community service is a priority.VOLUNTARY work,social teaching of the church.Now we are in soup kitchen.ASSISTED BY FR:KONRAD LANDSBERG.I was the co- ordinetor of the programme.KEEP UP GOOD WORK CATHOLIC YOUTH.world youth day is around the corner,lets shine. DAVID BAMUSI MALOYA.

  3. I relish in the fact that younger persons are taking such an important role in where the Church should be going. As an African American priest I am hoping this group who feels God is calling them to something special at this time make CERTAIN African Americans are not just not just “told” you are invited, but that you “must” be part of this movement or the Church will NEVER be what is should be! In the past we have been invited to be part of a movement that is supposed to enhance the Church, but the invitations have been hallow. When we responded we were ignored in too many instances and we never returned. The same “force” that was used to keep us OUT of the main stream of the Church in the past “must” be used now to make us a true part of the Church!

    In 2002 in an article in DELIVERANCE NEWSLETTER, published in a special edition of the National Black Catholic Congress, I tried to speak to this topic. Those interested might get a better idea of what I am trying to say at this time.

    Fr. August Thompson

  4. At Ordination here in June my 5 year old daughter was so excited to see Sisters in religious habits. We attend Sunday Mass and always sit in the row in front of many wonderful Daughters of Charity ( most of whom are older and none of whom wear a traditional habit). But upon seeing these young sisters in their distinctive white habits and veils she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm and went running toward them for hugs. They were so sweet and kind to her. All of our Religious are treasures but truly these wonderful young sisters are a powerful witness to the love of God to the youngest members of society.

  5. Just a note – I think you put the wrong picture in this article, that looks like a group of lay Catholics. Here is an example of young religious.
    http://bylovealone.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/sisters-of-mary-aspirants-2010.jpg

  6. This sounds like a good opportunity for them, and brava. But I wonder: of all the women who are vowed religious under 50 (50!?!), how many belong to orders affiliated with LCCW? And how many affiliated with the more conservative federation?

    I’m the sort of person who says both have their place in the Church, but I think we need to be accurate about which way the wind is blowing.

  7. Great summary of the power of our gathering last weekend, thanks! As for the comments about what makes a “real” women religious & how people prefer we look different than lay people, I understand where you are coming from. I think habits are quite cool, but when it comes to building the reign of God, it seems to me that diversity and compassion are more important than looks. Hmmm…

    Anyway, I thought you all might be interested in the blog post I wrote about the conference: http://messyjesusbusiness.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/in-gods-time/

    < Peace and Gratitude, Sister Julia

  8. The future of religious life in the US is bright indeed! As of this year, our US provinces will have over 30 young women in the first for years of formation. Thank you, Lord for your generosity….thank you, young women for your example of faith!

  9. Is that the right picture?

  10. Yes that is a picture from the conference. It is a picture of an intergenerational conversation between some younger Sisters and some of our wise elders that took place at the conference.

    God is calling young women to religious life, both to communities that choose to wear a habit as part of their witness as well as to communities who do not wear a habit but witness in different ways. I firmly believe both are needed in our contemporary society. Most of the Sisters who attended the conference, as I said in the article, do not wear habits, although some do.

    Please pray for vocations!

    Blessings of Peace,
    Sister Susan

  11. The picture shows a bunch of women over the age of 40 and does NOT represent the majority of new religious who wear habits and who are committed to how Pope Benedict explains the Second Vatican Council. Sister Schneider is the progressive voice advocating schism from Rome. Is this article saying that these sisters agree with Sister Sandra? A church separated from the Church of Rome.

    What a biased article! Come on, whatever happened to objective journalism. We know that young women do not join hablitless congregations or if they do, they certainly do not remain. Why should they remain with congregations whose majorities are in the verge of extinction.

  12. Your comment leaves me deeply sad. I’m convinced comments in that vein are more schismatic than a difference of clothing. God calls for service to those in need – that, more than cloth, is what God wants. Our younger sisters need encouragement in their unshaken commitment to follow the Gospel in meaningful service. Having lived both styles of religious life, and having wholeheartedly embraced the Vatican II Gospel imperatives, and looking at this young sisters’ efforts toward communication and collaboration, all I can say is FINALLY! Bravo!

  13. I am sad to see people still associate sisters with habits of cloth. The cloth habit does not make the person… The acquired behavior pattern regularly followed by religious is the habit.

  14. I agree with Adam! However this isn’t just about what women religious wear, It’s more about whether they see themselves as part of the Roman Catholic Church or not. Many have already declared they see themselves gone beyond the Church? Okay, well that said, I say they should keep on going.

    I’m not interested in debating about habits, time will tell if women religious who no longer see themselves as part of the insitution that Christ himself established survive? I am confident that the Holy Spirit will and is taking care of this issue as we choose to debate it. Orders will die out, others will rise to take up the challenge in today’s world within the Church and it’s teachings. Vatican II changes for the most part have been set aside by many congregations while they have done their ‘own thing.’ Vatican II didn’t create Gospel imperatives and congreations that are attracting members today are living these challenges out in a new and old way all at once.

    Sr. Kasandra

  15. As an African American priest, 85 years old, I have been looking for some coments from African Americans. So far I have seen none that I would think were African Americans.

    Why was I looking for that? Well, I feel too many African Americans are now giving up on the Catholic Church! I can so well remember my first years in the seminary and the priesthood and the open hostility towards those who attempted to become Catholic laity, priests, Brothers or Sisters. I have often spoken out as to this kind of hostility to our vocations. Yet, we still pushed ahead to be part of the Catholic Church. When I was ordained in 1957 I received a newspaper clipping from someone in Pennsylvania that said I was now one of 50 Negro priest in the United States. Yes, only 50!

    In the year 2000 in some statistics in PARISH CONNECTION, a publication by the Office of Black Ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, which drew its data from CATHOLICISM USA: A PORTRAIT OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES (Maryknoll: Orbis Books 2000) we find this quote:

    “Among the ordained and self-professed black Catholics, there are, according to the research, 13 African-American Catholic bishops, six of whom are diocesan bishops. In addition there are 75 African-American Catholic pastors, 250 priests, 300 sisters and 380 deacons. According to one estimate, there were 2,000,000 black Catholics in the United States in 2000.”

    When we take into consideration that those statistics represent from the time of my ordination, 43 years of history for the Catholic Church, it would seem we are doing a very poor job among African Americans of recruiting and keeping, especially, spiritual leaders and members of the Catholic Church.

    To read more of my thoughts on this subject you might find them in DELIVERANCE NEWSLETTER – a Special Edition of the NATIONAL BLACK CATHOLIC CONGRESS IX 2002. The title of the paper is WHO’S IN CHARGE OF THE BALL?

    We are in a crisis and I am not sure we are willing to acknowledge that!

    Fr. August Thompson

  16. I love the idea of the habits…but in reality…they are too hot! Hugs.

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