Book says young women attracted to orders whose members wear habits

03 Jun 2009

By The Record

New book says habbit-wearing orders do better in the vocation stakes.

By Roxanne King

DENVER (CNS) – While the last 40 years have seen an overall drop in the numbers of women entering Religious life, a new book released by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious says orders that are more visibly countercultural seem to be flourishing.
The council represents the superiors of more than 100 Religious communities of Sisters whose members wear an identifiable religious habit. A canonically approved organisation founded in 1992 to promote religious life in the United States, the council notes that the average age of its member communities’ sisters is under 35.
The book, titled The Foundations of Religious Life: Revisiting the Vision and published by Ave Maria Press, is a project of the council and explores why the orders represented by the council are gaining numbers and how they are living out the vision of consecrated life described by the Second Vatican Council.
The book, released on May 16, consists of essays written by six Religious Sisters representing five orders. The topics they address are: religious consecration, the spousal bond, the threefold response to vows, communion in community, and mission.
The Washington-based council is one of the two major organisations representing heads of women’s Religious orders in the US The other is the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
“We wanted to write something that says, ‘This is who we are and why we live this way,’” said Sister Prudence Allen, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, who wrote the book’s chapter on community life.
The other authors are Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, a founding member of the Sisters of Life; Sister Mary Elizabeth Wusinich, also a Sister of Life; Sister Paula Jean Miller, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist; Sister Mary Dominic Pitts, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn.; and Sister M Maximilia Um, a Sister of St Francis of the Martyr St. George.
The introduction and conclusion were written by two canon lawyers, Sister Mary Judith O’Brien, formerly of St John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, and Sister Mary Nika Schaumber. Both are Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich.
“The book seeks to answer the question of why Religious institutes are needed in today’s society,” Sister Allen told the Denver Catholic Register, newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese.
“We’re hoping everyone will read it and love it,” she added with a laugh.
Sister Allen is a professor of philosophy at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver and author of the multivolume work “The Concept of Woman.”
Other Religious sisters of the Denver Archdiocese who belong to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious joined Sister Allen’s interview with the Denver Catholic Register to discuss their enthusiasm for the book.
Young women want to be challenged to live the religious life, said Nashville Dominican Sister Mary Gertrude, principal of St Vincent de Paul School in Denver. The Nashville Dominicans are among the orders experiencing the greatest success attracting new vocations, according to news reports.
“It’s very much a radical call to live and give yourself completely to Christ,” she said.
“There is a real identify to who we are and what we are about. We want to put Religious life in front of young women today,” said Mother Paul Magyar, superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver.
She said that the new book also should affirm existing vocations.
“I think it will help to strengthen the Religious vocation that is already there,” she added. The book shows that “we are faithful and happy in our vocation.”
Copies of “The Foundations of Religious Life: Revisiting the Vision” can be ordered from