Numbers don’t tell the whole story! Though Sisters’ numbers may be lower than they were in the mid-20th Century, their influence for good is greater than ever. Host: Sister Rejane Cytacki.
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This Random Nun Clip is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry. I'm Sister Rejane of A Nun's Life Ministry. And our guest today is Sister Mary Pellegrino, Senior Vice President of Plante Moran consulting firm. Mary and her consultant team work to ensure that religious institutes realize their potential and meet the challenges of the day, through the lens of their mission and charism.
You know, for a long time, the narrative about religious life in the United States has been a narrative of diminishment. And it's just been this comparative narrative about, "There's fewer sisters than there were in the past. The sisters are growing older. The communities are growing smaller." And it's a relative narrative, that really kind of idealizes this moment in history, this anomaly in history of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, those decades when religious communities were growing larger, when we were seeing women religious enter communities in the United States that had really been founded by immigrant sisters. So we had this narrative that religious life was continually growing, and in order to be effective, it had to be big. There was a lot going on socially during those times, as well, and within the church. The church itself was growing. We were seeing parishes grow, we were seeing school systems grow. And so this narrative about looking at religious life now and saying, "Oh, it's diminished"-- you know, that not the whole story. We are smaller than we were in the past. But that bigness was an anomaly. And so when we look at religious life, maybe back at the beginning of the 1900s, late 1800s, it was small. We were not seeing those large communities and large groups of women entering, like we were seeing in the 40s and the 50s. So just understanding that comparative history, I think, is really helpful. There’s a lot of reasons I think, for not only sisters, but just generally in our culture, that we really kind of approach life through a sense of scarcity. It's a sense of, "Well, there's not enough. We don't have enough. There's not enough money, there's not enough people, there's not enough of us." So that's really the scarcity narrative. And what I think is really a much truer narrative right now is that very when you take the comparison out in terms of numbers, and size, and when you really look at the impact that women religious have had in this country and continue to have, one of the most significant resources that we bring is our influence. And that's what I kind of frame is social capital. It's these networks of relationships that we have and that have been built over decades. And so while there may be fewer sisters overall in the United States right now, and there might be fewer communities and we might be older, the amount of influence that we have is probably more significant than it's ever been historically. And I think we see that, and I think we see that in the ways that sisters really position ourselves in the public forum around issues like immigration, human trafficking, health care. You know, the ways that we use our relationships, and we kind of use our social capital to really influence what is happening locally, wherever we are--and collectively, what's happening nationally, wherever we are. And I also see that globally as well. So to me, it's not so much a story of how many are there of us, and how young or how old are we. But it's really a story of where will we put our influence? And where will we exercise the influence that we have in service to mission?
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.