Sisters making mainstream headlines

This story appears in the Sisters Making Mainstream Headlines feature series. View the full series.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

I’ll give you three guesses for naming the No. 1 mainstream media story this week concerning women religious.

Actually, you don’t even need three.

To the point

The Vatican’s report on the apostolic visitation released Tuesday accounted for most of this week’s news about nuns and merited the same type of headlines from the mainstream media that it did from the non-secular press. They were gushing.

A sampling:

“Vatican report praises 'selfless' American nuns” (NBC News)

“Vatican praises Roman Catholic nuns in U.S. after investigation” (The Los Angeles Times)

“Vatican tries to mend fences with American nuns” (NPR)

“Vatican extends olive branch to US nuns in conciliatory report” (

“Vatican report cites achievements and challenges of U.S. nuns (The New York Times)

“Vatican report on U.S. nuns is conciliatory” (The Hartford Courant)

“Michigan Catholic nuns celebrate upbeat Vatican report” (

And, my favorite headline: “American nuns get Christmas card from the Vatican; Cautious Optimism Here” (St. Louis Public Radio)

The Detroit Free Press was one of a handful that actually asked local women religious for their response to the report.

The Free Press spoke to Sr. Mary Nika Schaumber, director of novices for the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Alma, which was visited by one of the teams that carried out the report.

Schaumber called the report “completely complimentary to different services sisters have contributed and continue to contribute to our country.”

It's not condemning in any aspect, Schaumber said of the report, “but the church really wants to draw religious to more closely identify to itself so we can be true witnesses to the people we serve in the different variety of ways.”

The Free Press also spoke with Sr. Elise Garcia, communications director for the 740-member Adrian Dominican congregation, who was interviewed in 2009 when a Vatican team visited the order.

She said she told investigators that “even though there are a much smaller number of us, we're much more diverse in age, in ethnicity and nationality. That's a real blessing for the future of religious life and the needs of our world today.”

WKBN TV in Youngstown, Ohio, also sought out local women religious for their thoughts on the report, several of whom said see the report as proof that Pope Francis is concerned about women in religious life in the United States.

Sr. Mary McCormick, the General Superior of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, talked to the TV station about the parts of the report focused on finding ways to attract more young members into religious life, an important issue for an order that now attracts only one to two new members every couple of years.

“Part of this is helping young women see the kinds of work we get involved in and enabling them to kind of share life with us,” said McCormick.

Speaking of that work . . .

The Ecumenical News website and other news agencies recently reported on anti-trafficking work of women religious in India.

Members of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate have helped put 30 human traffickers behind bars over the last four years. Some of the women detailed their work for journalists at a Vatican news conference on Dec. 10.

The women disguise themselves in street clothes and accompany police in nighttime raids of brothels in India’s West Bengal capital of Kolkata, the city where Mother Teresa worked.

The raids have helped free girls as young as 12 from their captors, according to news reports. “In one night, we saved 37 girls,” said the order’s Sr. Sharmi D'Souza.

Sometimes, she said, police who have been bribed by the traffickers refuse to go with the sisters on the raids, but the women don’t let that stop them. They just go to someone higher on the chain of command who takes action.

"We never go alone,” she said. “But we need our pastors to come along with us, our bishops, our priests to support us, because if they are with us we can still do more.”

The story noted that Feb. 8 will be the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking.

Considering the cloister

Greg Garrison for in Alabama recently took readers behind the walls of the Dominican Monastery of St. Jude in Marbury, home to seven women religious living a quiet, contemplative life in the rural area.

There he talked to them about the Latin chants that the women sing.

'"We've retained a lot of the Latin chants,' said Sister Mary Jordan, one of the younger nuns, who came from Cincinnati and joined in 2006. The music just fits the Latin words, she said. The music was written in the 1200s and it's important to continue it in that tradition."

Garrison reported that when the monastery opened in 1944, it was a rare pocket of interracial coexistence in the South.

Mother Mary Joseph, the order’s prioress, moved to the monastery in 1947 when she was 17. She is one of several African-American women who have lived at the monastery since it opened.

"Our founding mothers were inspired to start this for girls of any race,” said Jordan, who runs the web site that helps recruit future sisters.

Read the rest of Garrison’s story here.

Your odd news for the week

A story by The Huffington Post calls our attention to one Michigan woman’s “interesting” – it’s the only word I can think of – appreciation for women religious.

Sally Rogalski began making nun dolls in 1945 as a young girl. Today, more than 525 dolls she made live at the National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods.

Each doll's outfit represents the real habits worn by more than 217 religious orders in North and South America, including dioramas of the nuns at work.

Rogalski and her husband, Wally, donated the entire Catholic Shrine Doll collection to the Cross in the Woods parish in 1964 with one stipulation: No one will ever be charged to see them.

Adding it to my bucket list.

[Lisa Gutierrez is a reporter in Kansas City, Mo., who scans the non-NCR news every week for interesting pieces about sisters. She can be reached at]

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained an inaccurate quote by Sr. Mary Jordan, as published by GSR has replaced it with the corrected version.