Where exactly do women religious fall in to the church hierarchy? The Nuns discuss!
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Deborah in Washington asked, "If a sister is a teacher, and a priest also teaches at the same school, is the priest necessarily her supervisor?"
The very quick answer to this is if they are both teachers and don't have any other role at the school, like one's not the department chair or the principal, then of course they are considered equals. A priest is not a supervisor simply by virtue of being a priest.
No, but if she was the principal at the school as well as a teacher, then he would report to her as the principal. I think it kind of goes to that idea. It's an older idea, that the ordained, that priests somehow have that more elevated status in the church compared with the laity and Catholic Sisters and nuns are laity. Within the Catholic Church, there is a hierarchy, a hierarchy of officials like the Pope, the bishop, the priests, the deacons.
And interestingly enough, you know, women aren't part of that hierarchy. Sisters, therefore, are not part of that hierarchy. So I think we tend to think that anything not in the hierarchy is therefore, somehow, a second-class citizen and in the Catholic faith, that is simply not the case.
Marcia in the chat room makes a good point, that in the past, pastors were considered the highest authority in a parochial school. And she adds, but the role of the principal was called into question. And in the past, principals were ultimately accountable to the pastor.
I have to tell the online community of one of the stories in our IHM congregation. So early on in the history of the IHM community, it was a time when both our founders of our community had gone in other directions. And so instead of a sister being appointed as the head of the community, a priest was appointed as the head of the community, and this priest led the community for a good number of years. So finally, at one point, the leadership among the sisters were like, you know, our original foundation is that our leader was the Mother Superior, it was one of our sisters. And we need to get back to a place where one of our sisters is the leader of the community. So through a variety of negotiations, et cetera, the priest did step down and a sister assumed the role of Mother Superior. And when the sister was able to take her official role as Mother Superior, she made the statement, "The congregation is the work of the Spirit, not of man." And I think she meant that very literally. One of my favorite stories, I mean, it just shows the grit of the IHM sisters.
For many, many years, not having one of our own sisters the leader of the congregation, to hang on to that spirit says something. To hear full episodes of A Nun's Life podcasts, visit the podcast page at anunslife.org/podcasts.