by Rita Piro
CSJ, RSM, OP, SC, OSB, SND, OSF, DW, CSFN and more…Whatever the post-nominal letters that follow their names, they all signify the same thing: a Catholic sister ministering to the people of God.
Last week in the United States, we celebrated National Catholic Sister Week. At one time, women religious were ubiquitous in our diocese. Their presence in our schools, parishes and neighborhoods was welcomed and respected. Even non-Catholics sought to count the sisters among their friends, business associates and neighbors. For many, the life of a sister may seem anachronistic and irrelevant. If so, it may very well be because they do not know many of them.
Educated from grade school through graduate school by three of the largest congregations of women religious in the U.S., I have spent almost all of my adult life in co-ministry with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood. Daily I work side by side with sisters who are old enough to have taught me as a young child, yet who continue their ministry as educators with the same fervor and dedication as when they were first starting out as novice teachers.
Each day I interact with sisters from varied congregations who are spearheading initiatives and leading pro-active programs in criminal justice, anti-trafficking, race relations, gender equality, child care, sustainable living, immigration and numerous other endeavors that seek to bring all in union with God.
As they have been since their inception centuries ago in other lands, these varied communities of sisters are especially concerned for the poor, the disenfranchised and those living on the margins of society.
Communities of religious sisters were among the first to embrace technology as a means of connecting with God’s people. Sisters took to Twitter and Facebook as easily and successfully as they did to blackboards and chalk. Nearly all religious communities maintain interactive websites that permit anyone to journey with them through prayer, petition, readings, reflections, videos, photos, streaming liturgies and prayer services, and more.
Many so-called “retired” sisters are just as active in and dedicated to their ministries as auxiliary helpers as they were in their years as full-time workers. Those sisters who are no longer able to physically meet the needs of others through active ministry are blessed with the presence of their sisters in community who joyfully care for them with love and compassion as they remind us of the dignity of all life.
For the sisters, it is and always has been about relationships – with God, with each other and with the greater world. In honoring them, we should not be content to simply remember them fondly, waxing nostalgic about habits and rosaries, choirs and Christmas pageants. Rather, we must affirm their presence in our world with our support – spiritually, physically and materially – as they put forth the mercy, compassion and outreach so necessary today.