An interesting article from the Sacramento Bee. What is most significant to me in this article is the story of Andrea Jaeger. I am impressed and inspired by her. Her story (read more about her in the Sports Illustrated story linked below) presents a good image of women religious today. Thanks, Andrea … you rock. P.S. Colts v. Bears … go BEARS!
A new tradition: The average age of nuns is 70, but a younger generation of women is turning to the religious life
January 20, 2007
By Jennifer Garza
Bee Staff Writer
–To Andrea Jaeger, the dream she had one night last year was clear. She should be a nun.
And that is how the former tennis prodigy, known for her intensity on and off the court, started on the road to sisterhood. On Sept. 16, Jaeger became an Anglican Dominican nun.
“This is what God is calling me to do,” she told Sports Illustrated [click for the SI article on Andrea] in an interview earlier this month. Jaeger quit tennis in 1987 after a series of shoulder injuries and donated all her winnings to start a foundation that helps needy and sick children. This is now her ministry.
While Jaeger’s transition from tennis star to nun may have taken many by surprise, her decision to enter religious life is not unusual. After years of little growth, several religious communities are reporting an increasing number of women answering the call. The numbers are still small, but they are a ray of hope for religious orders worried about their future.
Who are these women choosing the religious life? These new nuns are a paradox — they are likely to embrace traditional dress and teachings, but they also are savvy about the latest in technology, pop culture and fundraising techniques. They feel as comfortable wearing their habits and living in a convent as they do writing about what it all means on their blogs.
While Jaeger comes to the religious life from the Anglican tradition, many of the new Roman Catholic nuns are the so-called “JP2″ generation. They grew up admiring the seemingly tireless Pope John Paul II, the first pope to venture beyond the Vatican’s walls. And like him, they seem determined to break stereotypes.
“People are surprised when I write about biking or drinking wine,” says Sister Julie Vieira, whose blog, “A Nun’s Life,” gets about 500 hits daily. Vieira, who works for a Catholic publishing company in Chicago, started the blog last summer as a way to educate.
“There’s a lack of understanding about what it means to be a religious today. I want to show there are all kinds of nuns.”
Vieira’s blog is one of many written by sisters about life inside a convent.
In blogs such as “the ear of your heart” — described as the adventures of a canonical novice in a Benedictine monastery out in the boonies — the nun writes about her exercise “addiction” as well as her love for Christ. On another, “Musings of a Discerning Woman,” a new sister talks about movie night at the convent (“Field of Dreams”) and the importance of meditation.
Blogs, mentoring by e-mail and online questionnaires where young women can choose a community in the same way they would a date are just a few of the innovative ways some religious communities are reaching out.
These efforts appear to be paying off — for some.
“The numbers are increasing for certain communities, and we’re excited by what we’re seeing … at the same time some orders are not receiving any new members,” says Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference.
Bednarczyk’s group created Vocation-network.org, the online questionnaire he says has received thousands of hits in recent months because of publicity.
This interest is happening just in time. The number of Catholic nuns in this country dropped from 173,865 in 1965 to 79,876 in 2000, according to the Web site for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
The numbers have remained steady over the years in the Anglican community, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States. “For us, it’s always been about the same growth, there’s no big tsunami,” says Sister Teresa Martin of the Community of the Transfiguration in Eureka. “But then we’re much smaller than the Catholics.”
Many Catholic orders receive only a few new members a year. The average age of a nun in the United States is 70.
Newer orders that focus on a specific ministry and place a strong emphasis on community life are the ones that appear to be growing, according to Bednarczyk.
Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is one. This Catholic order started with four members in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1997, mostly with the financial backing of Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza. There are now 72 nuns in the community with an average age of 24.
The religious order has impressed a Granite Bay couple so much that they’ve donated 38 acres in Loomis, valued at about $3 million, to the community.
They hope to build a convent for 100 nuns, a chapel and, one day, a high school for girls.
“We have 12 children who are all happy and healthy,” says Joan Cordova, 80. She and her husband, Fred, 86, own several businesses and feel blessed. “It’s time to pay back … and this is the way we want to do it.”
The couple picked this order because, among other things, they liked the group’s adherence to traditional practices such as structured prayer hours.
“I like what the order stands for,” says Joan Cordova, who is overseeing the renovation of a house on the property where the nuns will live. The first three nuns are to arrive in September. “We are happy to be doing this for them.”
The head of the religious order attributes the growth of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist to several factors. The order sponsors three annual spiritual retreats at which possible candidates can see what religious life is like. The group’s leaders follow up with e-mail.
“Our vocation director corresponds with them, answering their questions,” says Mother Assumpta Long. “After a while, they feel more comfortable.”
Of course, the communities also receive women in mid- career, as well as widows. But it is the interest among the younger women that has surprised church experts.
“For a long time, people thought that women weren’t going to choose this way of life because they had other options,” Bednarczyk says. “And that’s true to a certain extent … but we’re also seeing women — ones with energy and from all walks of life — entering.”
As a symbol of their decision, many are wearing the traditional headdress. Bednarczyk compares it to the growing interest of young Muslim women in wearing the hijab, or veil.
“They’re wearing them as a statement of their faith and their decision. It’s pretty radical.”
Jaeger, the former tennis star, is aware of life outside her religious community. Now 41, the woman who once screamed at linesmen is ministering to children for her foundation, www.littlestar.org. She constantly raises funds for the group, which helps terminally ill and needy children.
Like many of her peers, Jaeger keeps up with pop culture and sports. She does not follow tennis so much anymore, she told Sports Illustrated. But she does watch football. There’s a good chance Sister Andrea will watch Sunday’s game between the Patriots and the Colts. And she’s picked her team.
She says she’s praying for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.