Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Elderly nuns keeping the faith

A couple weeks ago Barbara Nicolosi over at her blog Church of the Masses had a great post about the demise of religious communities. It highlighted some of the problems that are facing nuns today. I'd like to write about another aspect of it: elderly nuns keeping the faith.

On a recent trip I stayed overnight at a large motherhouse of Dominican nuns and met the most delightful sisters. Several of them were in their nineties and were sharp as a tack. They have reason to worry about their community, since in the last 10 years 95 sisters have died and not one vocation has entered. But these nuns were so joyful, so prayerful and full of faith that I went away feeling that there is reason to hope despite the dark clouds.
Sr. Gerard, 92, looked so serene with her white hair coming out of her veil and her bright, sparkling eyes. When we said goodbye to her, she was watching the Mass on EWTN. After saying goodbye, she turned around with an afterthought and fairly shouted, "Isn't the new pope great!"
Sr Dolorata, 98, was more frail but still insisted on walking down the hallway herself. No wheelchairs for her! She's almost blind. She was sitting at a breakfast table by herself as I stood nearby waiting for the toaster to pop. Suddenly she called out, "Banana!" So I obediently got her a banana and cut it open for her. Another sister said, "She's a powerhouse of prayer. She prays all day and intercedes for everyone."
We also visited several sisters in their Alzheimer's unit. Even though their minds are slipping away, they still radiate a joyful serenity and peace. One was walking around with her rosary beads, praying. She may not know what day it is, but she still remembers those prayers. Even though these sisters know their community faces serious problems and may even be coming to its end, they're still keeping the faith and doing what they can. I believe that God will surely hear their prayers and the sacrifice of their lives will draw down many graces. They're living out the paschal mystery. It's easy see God's grace surrounding religious communities when they're young, vibrant, drawing vocations, and seemingly flourishing. But God's grace is just as present when they're living out their own version of Calvary, even more so than in the "good days." As Mother Teresa once said, God doesn't call us to success but to faithfulness.


Joanne said...

Sister, in your travels, maybe you could thank these older sisters for us? Right above my monitor, I have a prayer card from the SSJ motherhouse with the picture of a 102 year old sister who prays for each of us every day. (They taught at my high school, and I make occasional donations to support the motherhouse.) It really does mean a lot to me that these wonderful women, leading largely hidden lives, are devoting so much of their time and energy to our best interests.

I've been thinking often lately on the decline in vocations. I wonder if it means we need to rethink our role as laity. Is enrollment in lay vocations (i don't know the correct term, things like third order Franciscans, Benedictine oblates, etc) rising?

We should be looking for more opportunities to serve the hurch, to make up for the vanishing numbers of nuns, I think. In addition to praying for more vocations.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Hi Joanne,
I will be seeing those nuns again soon, so I will tell them what you said and thank them.
Your point about the laity is very important. We're trying to develop this ourselves with our Pauline Cooperators (fellow blogger Rae Stabosz is a cooperator). There are many dedicated lay people out there who are very eager to grow spiritually and help the church. They'll be an even more important force in the Church's future.

Jack Bennett said...

What a great witness these sisters (and one like yourself Sister Lorraine) are for the world.

Sixtina87 said...

WoW SIster. I couldn't help but smile about the SIsters you were talking about and remember how wonderful they are. We meet so many idfferent people each year. i was at a home for the elderly last weekend in Stouhgton Wisconsin and I couldn't help but to realize how peaceful the residents are and how much they made me laugh. A elderly lady took my hadn, lookeda t me and told me that she loved me!!! I smiled an I told her that I loved her too. Also you said the community is close to closing, I know a religious Sister who is on leave and her community had to close about 3 years or longer. She is happy but still talks about how sad and hard it was on the elderly Sisters to move that were in the community. I hope that the commmunity won't have to go through that, and I hope they get a few new vocations.

What is the communities name?? Are they active or cloistered?? I'm interseted in knowing more about their community, like always!!!

xaipe said...

We can't always recognize "success." Look at today's Gospel! Jesus predicts his passion, death and resurrection. James and John want the front seats. They think it's "success" they're defining. Jesus tells them it really means drinking his cup.