Bearing down on the Sisters


By: Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I still remember the Maryknoll Sisters. I still remember them walking around the Maryknoll campus in Loyola Heights, in their black-and-white habits with the peaked cap and large rosaries hanging from their waists.

Most of them were Americans, and there was even a rumor circulating that one of the prettiest nuns had won a beauty contest in her home state before she heard the call. They never seemed to age. But a friend, who also grew up among religious women, explained: “Of course they never aged. All the parts that reveal a woman’s age—neck, forehead, hair, knees and hips—were concealed!”

The Second Vatican Council took place just before I stepped into high school, and pretty soon the forever-young nuns in their black-and-white habits were no more. In their place we saw old (or aging) women, their graying hair finally exposed, the monochromatic habits replaced with decorous dresses albeit in colorful prints, but the ugly shoes (or utilitarian sandals) still remained.

What didn’t change was the nuns’ spirit—a combination of daring and openness, even with hard-headed young women, and a devotion to serving the poor and the needy. Maybe this was why before I graduated and left the green and idyllic campus, the nuns had already left the college, choosing to serve the poorest communities in rural areas, and leaving the education and formation of cosseted girls from middle-class homes to the capable hands of lay teachers and administrators. …

Recently, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement saying it was appointing a bishop to oversee the affairs of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which gathers most of the major women’s religious congregations in the United States. The reason? The nuns’ alleged refusal to “toe the line,” issuing statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” More on this last statement later.

Anyway, the American Catholic columnist Garry Wills, reacting to the Vatican’s action, wrote in his blog for the New York Review of Books: “The Vatican has issued a harsh statement claiming that American nuns do not follow their bishops’ thinking. That statement is profoundly true. Thank God, they don’t. Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from that of bishops. The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless. Nuns have preserved Gospel values while bishops have been perverting them. The priests drive their own new cars, while nuns ride the bus (always in pairs). The priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility.”

My sentiments exactly.

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