Sisters making mainstream headlines

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Could a little indie movie about a young woman’s life-changing journey before she becomes a nun win an Academy Award this year? It came one step closer on Thursday. Read on.

Where are the headlines?

I know that readers of this column likely did not miss the news that Sr. Donna Markham is the first woman to be chosen to lead Catholic Charities USA in the organization’s 105-year-history.

But what about mainstream news consumers? Wouldn’t they be interested in knowing that too?

Apparently not. From what I can tell only a handful of secular news outlets reported the news including The Washington Post, which ran the account written by Religion News Service.

Shame, shame, shame.

The 70,000 employees of Catholic Charities agencies across the country serve 10 million people every year. The highly regarded Dominican’s appointment comes just as the Pope is calling for women to have more high-profile roles in the church.

Sounds like news to me.

So where are you, mainstream media?

O.K., let me hop down from my soapbox now.

Back in the water

When second chances roll around in life, it’s usually best to grab them, which is exactly what Sr. Rebecca McCabe in Australia is doing next month.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that McCabe, from the Sisters of Mercy in Parramatta, is a former Australian swimming champion who missed competing in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles after she tore a tendon in her shoulder.

Now, 30-some years later, she’s training to compete in an important long-distance race, the Cole Classic, which she last swam, and won, in 1984.

The full-time physiotherapist has been walking, swimming and doing yoga to prepare.

“When they first meet me sometimes I have to earn people's trust because they think 'you're a nun, is there something odd about you?'” she told the newspaper.

“When they get to know me and see that I lead a very healthy, professional life they realize that it's not as odd as they first thought.”

A swimming sister? Nothing remotely odd about that to us.

Oscar news

The current Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic, “Selma,” focuses on the drama of one day, March 7, 1965, when state troopers in Alabama beat non-violent protesters marching for voting rights.

Reviewers generally liked the movie and it had some big-time buzz around it leading up to Thursday’s Oscar nominations.

Earlier this week WROC, a TV station in Rochester, N.Y., interviewed Srs. Barbara Lum and Sister Josepha Twomey, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who were both in Selma on that so-called “Bloody Sunday.” (GSR interviewed Lum last year.)

Both of them were nurses at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, the only hospital in a nine-county area that would even treat black patients.

The day of the protest, “There were injuries from being struck on the head with billy clubs, so their scalps were open and they needed suturing,” said Lum.

Twomey became emotional as she talked about how the protesters dealt with the attack “with beauty, dignity and grace.

“That the people smiled and accepted, knowing their hearts were breaking and they were scared to death – the dignity was always the thing that got me.”

 “Selma” received a Best Picture nomination, and “Ida,” a Polish film about a young woman about to become a nun who discovers that she is Jewish, was nominated for best Foreign Language Film.

We’ve mentioned the movie a couple of times recently because critics months ago touted this tale as Oscar-worthy. They were right.


(The Academy Awards are on Feb. 22.)

Finding strength in numbers

Catholic men and women who have left their religious vocations are banding together in India to support each other.

The New Indian Express reports that a congregation of lay people – the Kerala Catholic Church Reforms Movement – is hosting a unique meeting next month for men who left the priesthood and women who have left their orders.

“It may be the first time in India, perhaps in the world, that such an organization is being formed,” said the group’s Reji Njellani.

“Men and women who give up their religious life are often harassed by the faithful, the Church and even by their family members. Society views them as if they have committed an unpardonable error. Family members think a priest or nun who leaves religious life is a disgrace to them.”

He said that so many men and women find their secular lives so difficult that they leave the country, suggesting that about 50 percent of those who give up religious life leave India.

One of their hurdles: They can’t find jobs.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council supports the group’s effort to organize.

“It is good if they can form a platform of their own and maintain constant interaction with like-minded people. It would be even fine if such movements can do something good for society,” said the council’s deputy secretary, the Rev. Varghese Vallikkat.

‘We don’t talk about death’

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s story about the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne providing free hospice care to cancer patients – some homeless, some from prison – is your must-read story this week.

Writer Kristen A. Graham takes us inside Sacred Heart Home in Philadelphia where the sisters have been caring for the dying for 84 years. No one is ever asked to pay.

They don’t accept insurance monies or government support, and they receive no revenue from any parish. They operate off of a small endowment built up over the years; the sisters have even returned checks to families who tried to pay.

I love this quote from Sr. Mary de Paul Mullen, Sacred Heart’s nursing director: “Isn’t that a miracle? We rely totally on the providence of God to exist.”

Click here to read the story and learn how 19th-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, founded this order of women religious carrying out this extraordinary work.

She’s skating along in life

This story from The Montreal Gazette about an ice hockey-playing sister gets my love of puns flowing pretty strongly, but I will restrain myself.

Sr. Chantal Desmarais, 51, plays recreational hockey on Sunday nights wearing a No. 7 jersey, referencing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Her teammates call her “Sis-TER.”

She’s been playing in a recreational women’s hockey league for the last 15 to 20 years. She’s only 5-foot-3-inches tall, but, “I’m pretty strong physically,” she insists.

“So often when I slam into the boards everyone thinks I broke myself in half. But I get up and continue as if nothing happened.”

She doesn’t keep track of how many games she’s won because that’s not why she plays.

“Sport is meant to set you free, not stress you out,” she said.

But, she made sure to point out, hockey isn’t her greatest passion in life.

That would be the Lord.

[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]