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American Women, American Nuns

With guest host John Donvan

We’ll talk with three young career women who have made the choice of their lives and found their calling—as nuns.

Nuns gather in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, April 26, 2014. Pilgrims and faithful are gathering in Rome to attend Sunday's ceremony at the Vatican where Pope Francis will elevate in a solemn ceremony John XXIII and John Paul II to sainthood. (AP)

Nuns gather in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Saturday, April 26, 2014. Pilgrims and faithful are gathering in Rome to attend Sunday’s ceremony at the Vatican where Pope Francis will elevate in a solemn ceremony John XXIII and John Paul II to sainthood. (AP)

For those few women who do it — it’s not a job, exactly — and it’s much bigger than a lifestyle choice. But those few who do hear the call can’t help but say yes. They become nuns. But the women joining the sisterhood today are not your grandma’s novices. Some came from jobs in the corporate world. They’re networked and networkers. They had other options. Who are these women in today’s America who choose to take the triple vow: of chastity, obedience and poverty? This hour On Point: the modern American nun — what is she thinking?

– John Donvan

Guests

Sister Josephine Garrett, novice with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Sister Colleen Gibson, novice at the Sisters of St. Joseph. Global Sisters Report columnist for the National Catholic Reporter.

Danielle Gagnon, a novice-elect at the Sisters of Mercy.

Sister Patricia Dowling, vocation director at the Sisters of the Bon Secours.

From The Reading List

The Atlantic: Why Would a Millennial Become a Priest or a Nun? — “The number of young people entering religious life in the United States is on a steep decline. Mark Gray, a researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), explained that the number of men who start out at seminary and continue on to get ordained as priests has decreased dramatically over the last 45 years. Gray described this process — deciding to enter religious life, going through seminary, and, finally, getting ordained — as a sharp funnel that’s getting sharper all the time. ”

Huffington Post: Mary Beth Baker Really Wants To Be A Nun – But Her Student Loans Are Keeping Her Out Of The Convent — “There’s only one thing standing between Mary Beth Baker and the convent of theDominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn. — and it’s $25,000.”

Global Sisters Report: Party of one — “I began my two-year novitiate with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia in the fall of 2012. That beginning meant the end of many things. At the age of 26, it meant leaving behind my major possessions, relinquishing access to my personal savings and leaving my job ministering at an inner-city parish’s community center.”

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  • Ed75

    Wonderful! (See G.K. Chesterton, the nun as the wild free woman of the Lord.) Unfortunately there are two groups of nuns in the U.S.: The LCWR represents sisters communities who, after decades of heroic service, turned away from full obedience to the Church around 197, adopting some feminist ideas incorrectly. Lots of problems and unhappiness, but they are getting few vocations, and it looks like the Vatican, while investigating them, is kindly going to allow them just to age out.
    The other half are communities with younger nuns who are fully obedient to the Church and are getting many vocations, for example the Nashville Dominicans and the Sisters of Life and the CFRs, and others. Women are called to this life, some are more active and some more contemplative, some are JPII vocations, but I can’t help but think that some are motivated by the diseased state of our society, and that they want to rescue themselves and others from it. Heroic.

  • Ed75

    But it is, of course, the happiest of lives, that of priests and men and women religious. (Even Nietzsche said that the happiest vocation in the world was that of the Catholic priest, and by extention that of brothers and nuns.)

  • X Y & Z

    In the times we live in, it’s nice to see an uplifting story like this.

  • J__o__h__n

    Would any of them prefer to be priests? Are they happy with being inferior?

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      I would use another work other than ‘inferior’ – ‘sidelined’ or ‘held back’ or ‘minimized’.

      • J__o__h__n

        I don’t use euphemisms.

    • Coastghost

      Your assertion of “vocational inferiority” is highly suspect and highly debatable. (I speak not as a Roman Catholic.) Women aspiring to priesthood can become neo-pagans, like NPR’s own Margot Adler.

  • X Y & Z

    Nuns hold a very important place in the Church, their roles are just as important as any priest’s.

    • J__o__h__n

      Not as important as any Bishop or Pope.

      • Coastghost

        Mother Teresa was “just a nun” and arguably led a more significant ministry than many a bishop of her era.

        • J__o__h__n

          She was a fraud. She took money from Charles Keating. No one ever got well in her so called hospitals while she went to actual hospitals herself. How much real power did she have in setting church policy?

          • Coastghost

            How much “real power” actually resides in the “real power” you’re obsessed with?
            How much “real power” resides in monastic practices of humility, or obedience, or poverty, or chastity?

    • JS

      Why not let them be priest then? I see no harm, and no contradiction in Jesus’ teaching to allow this. It only interferes with Catholic dogma.

      • Coastghost

        But why accept dogmatically (in your sense of the word) your assertion of a contradiction between Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels and the historical development of Catholic tradition, dogmatics, and ecclesial polity?
        Your assertion of a discrepancy between the two is anachronistic, to say the least.

        • JS

          I see nothing in Jesus’ teachings that would preclude women from being priests.

          I used Dogma in the sense of an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church, and not in any negative connotation.

          • Coastghost

            You keep arguing as if some discontinuity between Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels and the historical development of Christian doctrine and dogma within the Catholic tradition occurred: what is your evidence for this assertion?
            As historian of Christian doctrine Jaroslav Pelikan pointed out repeatedly in his five-volume Christian Tradition, much of the formal teaching of the Church in its opening centuries consisted of distinguishing their communities both from the Jewish milieu they emerged from and from the pagan milieu they were emerging into. (I’ve never heard word one of any female priests active in the Jerusalem Temple cult of the first century CE.) The ONLY priestesses I’ve ever heard of active in the late Classical era were all pagan devotees.
            While construing themselves faithful interpreters of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, early Church leaders seem never to have taught, believed, or confessed ordination of women to the emerging Christian priesthood.
            Again: if a woman’s crying ambition simply is to become a priestess, she can do so according to whatever neo-pagan rite she chooses: as you do properly note, Jesus never prohibited that.

          • JS

            All I am saying is that there is nothing in Jesus’ teachings precluding women from serving as priests. He neither forbade it nor required it, hence there would be no need for a discontinuity between Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels and the historical development of Christian doctrine and dogma within the Catholic tradition.

            The Church could just as easily developed with women priests, following the example of Jesus’ acceptance of women disciples.

          • Coastghost

            You CONTINUE to posit discontinuity between the Jesus of the Gospels and the historical development of Catholic tradition, with no argument but your own surmise and supposition.
            (You seem committed to indulging in fanciful history: the Church could just as easily have succumbed entirely to plague in the fourteenth century, but THAT didn’t happen, either.)
            The Church COULD NOT have developed with priestesses, not in the context of its historical emergence and self-definition, and that it DID NOT remains a durable part of the Catholic Church’s institutional and doctrinal history.

          • JS

            Just so you know, I am not anti-Catholic and have been attending Catholic Mass every Sunday for most of my life. I have a strong connection to my parish and the Catholic school my children attend. I do not speak as an adversary of the Church but I do question some Catholic teachings.
            Now, to my point tat you have yet to address: There is nothing in Jesus’ teachings that preclude women being priests. If there is, show it to me.

            I am not talking about the development of Catholic tradition and posit no discontinuity. Many aspects of Catholicism developed through the ages and have no immediate basis in the teachings of Jesus.

            It is a durable part of the Catholic Church’s institutional and doctrinal history, and an unfortunate one in my opinion.

          • Coastghost

            Exactly: “in your opinion”.
            Your insistence upon imposing an anachronistic “fix” to what you perceive as a contemporary problem of Church polity amounts to a rebuke of Christ for not having had the foresight to explicitly call for a female priesthood and a rather startling denial that the Holy Spirit led the Church through the disputations that led to the creedal formulations of dogma in the conciliar age.
            If Christ embarrasses you because He was not a She and did not speak of God as Mother and Himself as Daughter, you might do well to pursue your logic outside the Church.
            If Jesus’s self-identification as eschatological Son of Man is a stumbling block to your faith, you might want to become a Protestant.
            If Jesus’s failure to ordain the Syro-Phoenician woman or the woman caught in adultery (or his Mother, or Mary or Martha, or the other Mary) to any priesthood just doesn’t suit your theological opinion, perhaps you crave a Goddess much more than any God addressed as “Abba”.

          • JS

            Wow, that was a stretch. Jesus embarrasses me now? And I rebuked him? lol

            Why so much animosity?

            You seem to be arguing with me about something someone else said some where at some time, for I do not know why you brought up Christ as a She or God as Mother.

            And you bring up a lot of stuff unrelated to what I said, but have yet to point to a teaching of Jesus that precludes women as priests.

            “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female…all are one in Christ Jesus.” – all are one in Christ, just not in the Church, lol

          • Coastghost

            Sorry, but you’re misquoting the Greek of Gal. 3:28a (which I will not attempt to reproduce or transliterate here in its entirety), thus your translation is no more reliable than your exegesis. (For one thing v. 28a directly continues the thought of v. 27′s citation of baptism without the use of any connecting conjunction. For another, this verse is usually taken as an allusion to Gen. 1:27, which in Paul’s construction here is curiously negated.)
            Paul does not use in v. 28a the “ouk/oude” (“neither/nor”) construction for the “male/female” distinction that he had just used in making the “Jew/Greek” and “slave/free” distinctions: the “ouk/kai” construction (“not male and female”) indicates that the three clauses are not equal in Paul’s mind in suggesting “abolition of differences”: id est, the first two clauses refer to the outcome of baptism (parity of Jew and Greek, slave and free) whereas the third relates directly to the latter clause of v. 27, “you have put on Christ”, and thus refers to the very act of baptism itself and may thus well constitute a Pauline polemic against prevailing mystery cults of the period featuring consort deities or hermaphroditic deities.

          • JS

            So, why the animosity to something I held all along to be my opinion?

            I am not misquoting the Greek, but accurately quoting the New International Version of the Bible. You should know that it’s not my translation, but theirs, so your beef should be with them.

            “thus may well constitute” – doesn’t sound very definitive to me

            The different use of “neither/nor” and “not” does not necessarily give accurate insight into Paul’s thoughts. And your interpretation as to which each phrase was referring to is simple that, an interpretation.

            Again, why the animosity? I offered no offense or criticism? The Church has changed and evolved throughout the ages and I see nothing wrong with seeking further change in line with Jesus’ teachings.

          • Coastghost

            You’re imputing animosity where it does not exist: I’m in no position to excommunicate you, anathematize you, or hurl you into outer darkness, and I would do none of these things simply because we disagree.
            Even though you yourself may not be obstinate, I was responding to the obstinacy of your argumentation, such as it is, which seems tacitly to remain tied to your willingness to “improve the Gospels” and imposing your preferences and your anachronistic criteria upon the founders of faith.
            I’m no exegete myself: my views on Galatians were drawn from the detailed commentary of Paul N. Tarazi. Tarazi is a highly competent and quite well informed exegete of both OT and NT texts. Exegesis is very demanding work, so any deficiencies in presentation of his views are all mine.

          • JS

            I impune animosity due to your use of Capitals, commonly used to denote shouting.

            “his views”, or his “interpretation. Since we don’t have Paul’s original writings we are working off copies, or more likely copies of copies of copies. Interpreting value to a “nor” or “not” here or there is hardly authoritative.

            If I was to say, “I am neither Greek, nor slave, and not a woman”, the use of “nor” then “not” is no indication (not necessarily) of my ranking of the three criteria.

            I have no desire to “improve” the gospels, which seems to be you view of what I am doing just because I disagree with you.

            Still, nothing in Jesus’ teachings precluding women priests. If I am obstinate about that it’s because you have not addressed it yet.

          • Coastghost

            I have indeed addressed it: I simply continue to fail to agree with your readiness to invoke or impose anachronistic historical criteria.

          • JS

            I impose no such criteria.

  • J__o__h__n

    Some of Jesus’s best friends were women. That’s close enough to equal.

    • notafeminista

      Oh come now. You don’t actually believe Jesus existed do you?!

      • J__o__h__n

        I think he lived but almost all the biographical details are mythical.

        • notafeminista

          As in fictional or as in idealized?

          • J__o__h__n

            fiction

          • notafeminista

            If I understand you correctly then, Jesus existed and everyone lied about the sum and substance of his existence.

          • J__o__h__n

            It is more likely than not that someone named Jesus existed. Most of the claims made about him are recycled from other myths. I wouldn’t describe it as a lie as I don’t think there was a conscious effort to make up lies. It is a myth that evolved.

          • notafeminista

            But the heart of it, you think none of it is true – or even has a grain of truth.

  • J__o__h__n

    Host, you didn’t challenge the nun who made the ridiculous claim that the Church is inclusive of gays.

  • Win Grace

    As an Episcopalian I wanted to reiterate the importance of women in the religious life. The Episcopal Church also has religious orders for women and even an order for lay women as well. I must say also when I was discerning ordination for myself many years ago now, the women who were most supportive of me were the women of St. Joseph at the college where I was working at the time. I will be forever grateful to them.

  • X Y & Z

    The Church is welcoming to all. Certain lifestyles which the Bible condemns, precludes some from participation in Church vocations.

  • Jeff Wallace

    Thank you so much for having such a wonderful discussion! I am happy that On Point is willing to have these conversations. Thanks again for taking my call! And thanks, most especially, to all the sisters who were on the program. You are a beacon of God’s love for all people in the world.

  • Andre

    What was the name of the song that was played at the end of the show? I think John said emmanuel? And if so who composed it and in what year? Thanks

  • J__o__h__n

    When is the infomercial for Scientology? I’m sure it will be as informative as this hour.

    • stef_a_no

      Suum cuique #america

  • X Y & Z

    Great episode On Point. Thanks.

  • twenty_niner

    Hopefully, they’ll convert a few nutjobs…

    “a 25-year-old pregnant woman was brutally beaten and stoned to death on Tuesday outside the high court here by her father and brothers for marrying the man of her choice”

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Pakistan/In-Lahore-pregnant-Pakistani-woman-stoned-to-death/articleshow/35636065.cms

  • harverdphd

    Proving yet again that social justice should not be the reason one enters the clergy….

    • http://www.different-lens.com turtledovemom

      Check out the Catholic Social Teachings. The “conservative” religious men and women that I know are quite committed to this listing of points.

  • Jonnie

    If these ladies think a dead Jew, who may or may not have lived in Palestine around 2000 years ago, is the creator of the universe then I’m the creator of the multiverse. It’s really sad so many billions live their lives under these religions delusions and at the end, when they’re staring up at the lid of their metal box waiting for something to happen, it never will. I often wonder what they are thinking about then [if they could].

    • notafeminista

      Good that we have you to save us from ourselves.then. What ever did humanity do before you arrived to enlighen us all?

      • Jonnie

        Wallowed in ignorance and superstition.

        • notafeminista

          How annoying it must be that several billion of us refuse to listen to you.

          • Jonnie

            It’s only annoying when believers of one sort or another try to push their beliefs on me or into the public square. If they could keep their delusions to themselves and their fellows, I could care less. Oh, believers are also annoying when they fly airliners into skyscrapers killing thousands but I’m sure you agree that annoys believers too.

          • notafeminista

            Try to push their beliefs on you in the public square? I was unaware you lacked the ability to walk away.

          • JS

            I am starting to think there are people out there without the ability to turn off radio stations or TV shows, and so they complain about whats on instead.

          • Jonnie

            Back to my point, why do non-brights believe that a Jew who may have lived in Palestine a few thousand years ago (or his “father,” though somehow they’re supposed to be the same “person”) created the universe? Because he said so? Charles Manson said the same thing and he too has followers so maybe it’s actually he who created the universe. I mean, what’s the diff…there both the ravings of mad men and in one case, his own people turned him over for execution and in another he’s locked up in prison. Or do you think in a few thousand years, billions of people will be calling themselves Mansonites?

          • notafeminista

            What on earth makes you believe there wasn’t? Moreover, if you believe that the “non-Jew” socalled (as if it mattered to you whether this individual was Jewish or not) – did not exist at all period, why have you spent what is obviously a significant amount of time thinking about him? For you, it would be like thinking about Scooby-Doo…and I suspect you do not.

          • Jonnie

            I’m having trouble decifering your lasted post. As to whether this Jesus personage ever existed, there is no proof in the historical or archiological record of his exists thence other than his mention in he gospels. There are also mentions of Zeus in ancient Roman writings and Thor in the Norse tales…do you believe these beings also actually existed? There is as much proof of their existence as there is for this “Jesus,” namely none.

            As for the Jewish character of the supposed Jesus, I just find it ironic and funny that “Christians” worship a Jew (I know most non-brights don’t even realize that their Jesus was a Jew) as their god and the creator of the universe.

          • notafeminista

            Why do you obviously spend so much time thinking about someone you know did not and does not exist? Do you spend equal amount of time thinking about the Tooth Fairy? Seems your mental energy would be better spent elsewhere.

          • Jonnie

            Because the delusional beliefs ofthe religious affect my secular life on a minute to minute daily basis that’s why. Their beliefs infect the body politic of my nation and unfortunately my planet like some virulent form of the ebolla virus. They affect the science that is taught in my public schools, they affect the scope and kind of science funding and research undertaken by my government, they affect the social and moral codes enacted by the members of my supposedly secular government. In addition, the priestly castes of many of these sects are serial pedophiles and child rapists and this affects me and members of my society as well. For these and many other reasons I have to push back against archaic and infantile religious beliefs in society at every opportunity.

    • Regular_Listener

      But Jonnie, you are a true believer yourself – a true believer in the philosophy of common sense scientific materialism – a point of view that is no more provable or valid than a spiritual/religious one.

      • Jonnie

        Regular: It’s called empiricism buddy, that’s what I believe in. That and the thinking and reasoning ability of the human mind. That which we can see, touch, smell, and hear we know is real. Also, that which we can reason , based on testable and repeatable experiment, we can know to be true. It may take a book of hundreds of pages to prove, but we know that 1+1=2.

    • Ed75

      You remind me of doubting Thomas in the Gospels: ‘I will not believe until I put my hand in his side and in the nail marks in his hands…’, i.e. empirical evidence. And Jesus provided the empirical evidence. So what empirical evidence do we have?
      There are saints whose bodies when disinterred have been uncorrupt. We have the Shroud of Turin, the Tilma in Mexico City, the Veil of Montepello.
      Also, one reason we were given the Eucharist, I think, is that it is physical: it can be seen and touched, empirical. The body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, so we’re not left with ethereal ideas only.

      • Jonnie

        Believe me, it’s just bread or crackers and not very good wine or grape juice, depending in denomination. Why anyone would even want to symbolucally eat the flesh and drink the blood of a dead person is beyond me; let alone believe it is actually real and want to do the same! Just more proof that those who labor under religious beliefs suffer from serious mental illness and should be institutionalized. I mean, when Jeffrey Dahmer did we locked him up didn’t we?

        • Ed75

          You’re missing the Resurrection. As seen in John 6, until it was understood better, many people had problems with the idea of the Eucharist. “How can we eat your body and drink your blood?” (And why would we want to?) But it’s not the body and blood of a dead person, but the body, blood (soul and divinity) of the resurrected and ascended Jesus, which is material but different. (Of course only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have the full sacrament of transubstantiation, the Protestant churches have varieties of symbol/God residing on the bread and wine, etc.) As Mark Twain said, ‘I put no stock in dead men’, and that’s the whole question, is he dead?

          • Jonnie

            So how can you believe in a “religion* wherein the main denominations therein can’t even agree on what the fuck’s going on in their main “sacrament”?

            And, I’d be a little careful quoting Mark Twain there buddy, as he was a staunch atheist, who also penned the aphorism: “‘Faith’ is believing in something you know ain’t true!” LOLOLOLOL

            But keep trying Jesus Freak…just stop making it so easy.

  • Carla

    What wonderful women, the world needs more like them, and yes, more “discernment”

    • X Y & Z

      I always like reading your posts. I hope to see many more of them.

      • Carla

        Thank you very much. I have listened to On Point for years and like Tom Ashbrook, which is why I want to raise the flag that he is too biased (Tom Leftbrook). He can do better, I think. Also, I wish other commenters would follow community rules about being polite. The commenter below is an insult to a serious show like On Point.

        • X Y & Z

          I agree with everything you blogged. I remember when O.P. used to be critical of Bush, then Obama became President, and the criticism stopped.

          I like reading your blogs because they’re witty, factual, relevant, and professional. Every liberal that I’ve seen take you on, lost the argument completely.

          Keep up the great blogs, I’ll be reading them!

          • Carla

            thanks a lot, your kindness is appreciated because – I may have thin skin – some of the personal attacks in response to my comments didn’t just roll off my back. I don’t bother with a lot of facts and figures here; it’s a forum for opinions, not preaching and teaching; I’m not trying to impress with my knowledge, and I know I’ll never change a hardcore liberal’s mind. I’m only here to let Tom know not all his fans agree with his bias. (Or at least let him know we are not fooled into thinking he is balanced!) I have been listening since Bush’s days too, and have also noticed what you mentioned, that Obama gets a pass when Bush certainly never would have. I am always muttering under my breath when I detect the entire NPR organization’s bias left. I took to this forum since it’s one of my favorite NPR programs.

            Regarding this particular show, I think it’s interesting that there is still a lot of caution in welcoming a woman to the sisterhood. It is still important that she be certain it is her calling. These women are not duped into joining, even given a dearth of new members

          • X Y & Z

            Don’t let the liberal trolls and haters get you down. The best thing to do is to ignore them completely. Don’t dignify their attacks with a response. As long as your professional and cite credible sources, the only thing the trolls can can do is hurl insults, which makes them look childish and desperate. I’ve also heard and read that a number of liberal bloggers are paid to blog pro-Obama propaganda online, as well as attack and bully bloggers who are critical of Obama’s many failed policies. I don’t know if any of the liberals bloggers on this site are paid, but I honestly believe that the story has merit to it.

            I do not consider NPR to be a credible news source. CNS News is my preferred news source, along with Zero Hedge and RT. I only go to NPR ‘News’ and On Point to get the liberal slant on things, as well as a good laugh!

          • Jonnie

            Maybe you two should get a room?

          • X Y & Z

            - hit ‘flag as inappropriate’ for this
            juvenile comment,
            Check.

            - hit ‘collapse’ for this juvenile comment,
            Check.

  • Regular_Listener

    What, only Christian nuns? Why no Buddhist nuns? Or nuns/religious women from other traditions?

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