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What’s A Nun?

Catholic education has changed in the past fifty years. The scarcity of nuns probably has something to do with it. The content and teachings in Catholic schools is the same, but the face of it is different. No longer are guests greeted with a nun in full habit or even a modified habit. Nuns are no longer on the scene at all in most Catholic schools.

Recently a teacher friend of mine in a Catholic school talked to her class about my book, Monastery to Matrimony, A Woman’s Journey, telling them that I had been a nun. Their response was, “What’s a nun?”  We were both surprised. After a brief reflection, we realized that of course they would not know.  They had never seen one.

The number of nuns who left their religious communities in the 60s and 70s, including me, resulted in the closure of numerous Catholic schools, especially elementary schools. Some remained open when the laity stepped up to  fill the void. They do it with great sacrifice monetarily. They teach for the love of teaching and the love of their faith. People of parishes make sacrifices to support the schools to fill the financial gap left when the cheap labor of the nuns was no longer available.

A religious life as a nun is still a viable vocation. Many women are joining religious communities in their late 20s, 30s, and even 40s. Many are answering a call that they resisted their early years. They come from teaching, the corporate world, legal profession, and other diverse occupations. However, the numbers are not adequate to fill personnel needs in schools, nor does the diversity of their talents fit an education model.

From my perspective of the twenty years I spent in the Benedictine community of St. Mary Monastery, www.smmsisters.org, I can truly say it is a good life, a life of service and one to be considered for women seeking a prayer life and complete dedication in God’s service.

The harsh customs depicted in my book are no longer practiced in todays communities. For example, today sisters would be allowed to spend time with family as needed at the death of a family member.

Catholic education will continue and it will grow thanks to the dedicated laity. The number of Catholic nuns will grow, but they  will be participating in various works while standing up for the poor, the neglected, the sick, and those suffering injustice.

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2 Responses to “What’s A Nun?”

  • In my forty years working in schools, both as a teacher and a counselor, I experienced many of the changes in Catholic education. Most of the changes have been needed and have improved Catholic education. Schools have learned to do behavior management rather than punishment. They learned to value of seeing and stressing the good in people rather than just the sinfulness and need for suffering from mistakes. One of the good things that has remained is the practice of renewing contracts every year. I have often been asked why I thought a Catholic education is so often better than a public one. Clearly, it was not about money–Catholic schools rarely match the salaries of public schools. But knowing that every April a decision was made as to whether you would be re-hired created an atmosphere of giving all you had to give to the job of nurturing and educating children. That creates better education for youngsters.

  • admin:

    I would add that the sincere dedication of Catholic school teachers to their profession and to the Christian development of youth is exemplary.

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