Where would we be without our nuns?
Courtney Riley O’Brien
Our great country, a beacon of hope for so many people around the world, a shining example of freedom and opportunity, would not be without the sisters who came here and laid the foundation for so many of our society.
Dedicating last February to prayer for nuns and consecrated women, Pope Francis said: “What would the Church be without nuns and lay consecrated persons? The Church cannot be understood without them.”
I believe that the Holy Father is alluding to the nature of religious women who are so devoted to service to others – perhaps the most important social role of the Catholic Church in our world. Women’s religious orders have long shaped the way the church serves those in need. They have been pioneers in social services, health care, education and more recently evangelism, social justice and environmental protection. Simply put, women religious see a need and mobilize to address it.
The history of women religious in this country is impressive and a testament to God’s providence. In the early 19th century, America was expanding geographically and populationally, but charitable organizations were scarce. Catholic sisters, most of whom have traveled here from other countries, got to work to lay the foundation for the educational, social service and health infrastructure we have today.
Women religious built America’s largest private school system, founding and operating more than 10,000 schools, colleges and universities across the country. They created America’s not-for-profit hospital systems and were responsible for building and furnishing more than 800 hospitals nationwide. And at a time when anti-Catholic sentiment was extremely high in this country, the sisters were credited with transforming many hearts, minds and attitudes through their remarkable and non-discriminatory service to those in need. In fact, during the Civil War, 20 percent of nurses were Catholic sisters, and because of their exceptional care for wounded soldiers, Americans began not only to trust and respect Catholics, but to appreciate them.
As I ponder Pope Francis’ question, I go further and ask myself, what would America be without religious and lay women consecrated? Our great country, a beacon of hope for so many people around the world, a shining example of freedom and opportunity, would not be without the sisters who came here and laid the foundation for so many of our society.
And so it is in our little part of Christ’s Vineyard here in the Archdiocese of Boston. Many of the religious orders with long histories in this country have also had a profound impact on our Archdiocese and the communities within it. The Sisters of St. Joseph, Ursuline Sisters, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Carmelites, Marist Missionary Sisters, Daughters of St. Paul, Sisters of Charity and many more are responsible for ensuring care, education and physical and spiritual health our communities for generations.
This weekend is your chance to donate to our retired sisters in parishes throughout the Archdiocese. This collection helps meet the needs of the nearly 1,500 retired sisters who have dedicated their lives in countless ways to building and serving our Archdiocese. Unfortunately, approximately 80 percent of the sisters’ healthcare and pension expenses are not covered by Social Security benefits, so every single donation makes a difference in the lives of these incredible women who have transformed not only lives but our world.
COURTNEY RILEY O’BRIEN IS SENIOR DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS AT BOSTON CATHOLIC DEVELOPMENT SERVICES.
– Father Edward Riley is a faculty member at St. John’s Seminary and Spiritual Director of the Fatima World Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Boston. He also serves as the liaison for the Archdiocese Office of Homeschooling.
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