A Nun's Life welcomes guest blogger Sister Belinda Monahan, OSB. She is member of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago.
In 1962, the year the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago reached its largest size, we had 197 vowed members with a median age of fifty. We staffed seven schools and parishes in the Chicago area and several more in Colorado. Over 200 students graduated from our high school in Chicago and nearly 30 from our boarding school in Colorado. We currently number 33 members in vows, with a median age of 79 and much of the community is retired from active full-time ministry. This trend of decreasing size and increasing age is widespread among communities and congregations of women religious in the United States. Why, one might ask, would anyone choose to enter a religious community now, in the face of such numbers?
My answer is quite simply that religious life for me, is not about numbers. Religious life for me, is not about doing--it is, instead, about a way of being in the world; a way of being that I learn from the oldest as well as the youngest Sisters in my community. It is a way of being that does not depend upon strength as a labor force to make its presence known in the world. It is a radical call to follow Jesus and to make his presence known in the world.
I was born in 1970, eight years after the "boom" in my community. Growing up, I was not exposed to large numbers of Catholic Sisters in schools or parishes or other institutions. When I first felt called to religious life, I was not drawn to communities because of their size or because of their shared ministries. Rather I looked for a community that would support me as I listened for the voice of God in my life and challenge me when I failed to do so. For me this meant finding a community in which the Sisters were similarly focused on seeking God and living out that relationship with each other and in the world.
The Sisters in my community--and many other Religious communities--continue to do that, even as communities get smaller and the women in them age. It never fails to give me a lift as I sit at the desk in my office, to see Sr. Vivian, at 104, daily wheel herself outside to feed the squirrels; a ministry she took over when Sr. Mercedes died at 102. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a woman who mixes a small measure of yeast into a large amount of flour to make bread. Despite changes in size and age of communities, women religious continue to be leaven in the world.