The history of black women religious in the United States is replete with shocking examples of racism, racial segregation and marginalization, perpetuated by their white religious leaders and peers. At their peak around 1965, there were about 1,000 African-American sisters, but there are only about 300 today.
The Nun in the World symposium - Religious life needs to be put in its proper historic context, said Congregation of Jesus Sr. Gemma Simmonds: The huge numbers of women religious in the 1950s were a spike never before seen in the history of the church – not the baseline by which things should be measured – and religious life is much more responsive and individual since the reforms of Vatican II.
The role of women religious in the Catholic church continues to vex not only sisters themselves but the scholars who study them. Friday, Notre Dame Sr. Mary Ann Foley told the audience at an international symposium on Catholic sisters that Pope Francis said: “The distinctive sign of women religious is prophecy” – or the ability to scrutinize current events and discern God’s call to answer them.
GSR Today - Even at a symposium studying the effect of the Second Vatican Council on women religious, it is difficult to overstate the effect the council had. Fifty years later, Catholics are still discovering – and often arguing over – those effects, how the council documents should be interpreted and what the whole business means.
Women religious have a long, long history of following the radical call of the Gospel, a history that was only renewed – not begun – by the reforms of Vatican II. And following that call has almost always caused tension with church leadership, political leaders or those resistant to change, according to speakers at a symposium on Catholic sisters in the world. “The radical call to the poor can enforce some anachronistic beliefs,” said Anne O’Brien, associate professor at the University of New South Wales, as she was describing the backlash when sisters embraced liberation theology. O'Brien is among the scholars presenting at this week's “The Nun in the World: Catholic Sisters and Vatican II” international symposium in London.
GSR Today - When you hear things like the pope saying, “Who am I to judge?” and his calls for walking on the margins, one might even be tempted to believe that the very things women religious were being criticized for by the Vatican may soon become the blueprint for the church as a whole, and that when historians look back on this period, women religious will be seen as having led the way, instead of going astray.
More than 100 people will gather in London this week to study the intersection of recent history and current events for women religious. “The Nun in the World: Catholic Sisters and Vatican II” starts Thursday at University of Notre Dame’s Global Gateway campus and includes discussions about the church's role in transnationalism.
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