Sisters making mainstream headlines

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

The new year is off to a quiet start in most places except for Ireland, where a story concerning a religious order and a notorious pedophile priest has ruled headlines in recent days.

Sad stories from Northern Ireland

Witnesses in one of the largest investigations of its kind in the United Kingdom have told of being abused by a priest while they were in the care of a religious order in Northern Ireland.

Details of the abuse going back decades have been given to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, reports The Telegraph in Belfast and several other Irish news outlets following the story this week.

The inquiry panel is investigating alleged child abuse in institutional homes in Northern Ireland spanning 73 years, up to 1995.

The Rev. Brendan Smyth, a serial molester later convicted on dozens of child abuse charges spanning more than 40 years, is now known to have visited two south Belfast residential homes operated by the Sisters of Nazareth.

"Sexual abuse of children was perpetrated by the now notorious Fr. Brendan Smyth,” said the inquiry’s senior counsel, Christine Smith.

Sr. Brenda McCall from the Sisters of Nazareth, which ran the Nazareth House and Nazareth Lodge, both closed, reportedly gave a statement to the inquiry.

Smith quoted the statement: “She states that the congregation accepts that Brendan Smyth did abuse children while they were in our care and continued to abuse some after they left our care.”

Smith said that testimony concerning the sisters themselves was mixed, with some witnesses lauding the sacrifices they made for the children they cared for and others referring to the women as “at best indifferent.”

Thirteen institutions are being investigated by the panel, which will make recommendations to public officials about how to compensate alleged victims.

From the frontline

More news out of Ireland, this time a lot less inflammatory.

The Sunday Independent in Dublin writes glowingly of the work of three Irish women religious who have been spending days and nights in the fight against Ebola in northern Liberia.

The story takes readers to the morning of March 25, 2014, when the women first heard a radio report about a “mysterious disease that was spreading quickly and killing people within days of them falling ill.”

Nine months later the three Holy Rosary missionaries – Sr. Mary Mullin, Sr. Bridget Lacey and Sr. Anne Kelly – are still there.

“We just gave up what we were doing and took on Ebola,” Lacey told the newspaper.

The virus, which was in decline until it came roaring back in the fall, has devastated both families and the land where the women work. They’ve also lost co-workers, including four priests.

Said Mullin: “They're the real Ebola heroes you know.”

The women are raising money for survivors and the families of those who have died.

An Oscar for Ida?

If you haven’t yet seen “Ida” – a Polish film about a young woman about to become a nun who discovers that she is Jewish – here’s good news from, a Christian news website.

The movie is now available on Netflix.

We’ll know next week if the Oscar buzz surrounding the film was legitimate. Academy Award nominations will be announced on Jan. 15.

Many critics who hailed the movie believe it will score a nomination for Best Foreign Language film.

Slow-dancing with Jesus

I really like this story from The Times-Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., which talked to local women religious about Lifetime’s reality series, “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns.”

The story begins by describing a scene from the show where one of the young women, 27-year-old Christie, has a dream that she is slow-dancing, rather romantically, with Jesus.


Maybe not, said Sr. Mindy Welding, vocation director at Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton, Penn., who told the newspaper that Jesus just might present himself that way.

“Christie is a young woman who talked about dating on the show and is very flirtatious,” said Welding.

“Jesus will come to you and speak to you in ways that you understand. If he came to her in any other way, she may not have understood that Jesus was calling her for religious life.”

Read other thoughts on the show from Welding and her colleagues here.

Hint: They liked it.

From sorrow, healing

One of the saddest stories I read last year was the report of two women religious in Ireland who drowned last August while swimming together in the ocean.

Emergency medical workers could not resuscitate Srs. Imelda Carew and Paula Buckley, members of the Presentation Sisters.

Now the Irish Examiner reports that their families have contributed toward the cost of a defibrillator that might help save the lives of others who get in trouble on the well-known beach area in Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula.

The town of Inch is raising money to buy the much-needed equipment.

When the sisters got into trouble, the nearest defibrillator was in a town nearly five miles away. It reportedly took 25 minutes to get it to the beach on the day of the drownings.

Their families will be invited to a special ceremony later this year.

She’s ‘the boss’

The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly based in England, reports that Sr. Yvonne Pilarski has taken charge of two Catholic parishes in the south of England, stepping in because the area lacks enough priests.

Her official title is “pastoral administrator,” which, from the sound of it, means she does just about everything except say Mass – the administrative work, taking Communion to the home-bound, visiting the elderly.

“I’ve seen the congregation treating her exactly as if she was their parish priest,” says the Rev. Paul Hardy, who says Sunday Mass at one of the churches, Christ the King in Milton Keynes.

“They’ve taken it very well – she is obviously their resident person and that’s how she’s treated. If she wants something to happen, it happens. She is very much the boss.”

Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton appointed Pilarski to her new roles in the fall, marking the first time that a woman religious was put in charge of a parish in the diocese.

“We can’t replace priests who die or retire any more, and this is a way forward,” said Hardy.

[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]