By Sister Ann Stango, S.C.
Those of us sisters and priests who entered our communities or the priesthood before Vatican Council II were taught the history of the Church in the diocese where we were stationed.
I was, and still am, in awe of the partnerships that existed between the superiors of the religious orders and the bishop and priests of the diocese. From my reading of history, in many cases, two sisters were assigned to help the pastor found a new parish. Their activities included physical work in the church, founding a school, providing religious instruction to all the children of the parish, visiting the sick and prisoners, founding hospitals, orphanages, and going to the foreign missions in the name of the Church.
Mostly what I remember is how the priests, especially the ones in my parish, encouraged vocations not only to the priesthood, but also to the religious life. Through their counseling and one-on-one involvement in youth groups and schools, the priest often was able to ''spot'' a young man or woman whom they thought might be a good candidate for either a religious order or the priesthood. That certainly happened to my friends and me. Through our priest's recommendation, we were helped to enter various religious orders where we have since served the Church with joy and distinction.
Over these past years, especially after the Vatican Council ordered the Religious Communities to ''modernize,'' ''to go back to their roots,'' the Council gave us a 10-year period to update our rules and way of life. We did this, but it seemed that the close relationship we had with the priests faded. We obeyed the Church, we modernized, we brought our rules and regulations up to date and we submitted all these changes to Rome, where they were approved. But, in many ways these were not accepted by some bishops, priests and parishioners.
Not only did the sisters have a hard time with the mandated changes (which by the way were never mandated for the seminaries or the life of the priest), it seems to me that the priests no longer wanted to steer young women to the religious life. I think that maybe this attitude is still there, and I am sorry about that. The Church is losing extremely capable and vibrant young women who would be very happy in a religious order, and I'll tell you why!
We are a true sisterhood! We respect one another. We help and support one another. We get to know and love each other's families, and watch each other's nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers grow up and live their lives.
At the same time, we are also changing and growing. We study and get degrees in various subjects according to our needs in ministry. Over the years I studied and received degrees in math, theology, health care administration, and a doctorate in ministry. I taught in grammar school, high school and college.
I lived and worked in a low-income housing development during the late 1960s. I was an adviser on a seminary staff for 10 years, was a vice president and hospital administrator, and now am an education specialist in ethics, ministry and spirituality for a large Catholic hospital in Florida.
I went from living and working in Connecticut to New Jersey to Washington, D.C., and now Florida. This has been and still is an exciting life, all working in and with our Catholic parishes and ministries. Who else can do this without the support and encouragement, both spiritually and financially, of a religious order?
Sisters are women who have chosen not to marry, or in recent years, who had married but now, as widows, are happily working as professed sisters under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They wanted to serve the Church, but not alone. Some of these latecomers have children! We did not start that trend. It started for us in Baltimore in 1800 when the bishop invited Mother Seton to start a community of sisters in his diocese, and to ''bring along your children.''
Many parish schools have disappeared for a variety of reasons. Catholic people miss the nuns, but we are still here, and we are willing to work. But the priests and people need to encourage their daughters to think of religious life, not only in terms of serving God, but also in terms of professionally prepared women who can do almost anything in the service of the Church.
In my religious community of the Sisters of Charity we have sisters who are medical doctors, canon lawyers, and civil lawyers, social workers, administrators, nutritionists, nurses, spiritual directors, college professors, high school and grammar school teachers, sacristans, missionaries, and retired sisters who still work, and others whose workdays are filled with prayer for those of us still ''in the field.''
We are wonderful people to be around. We pray together, especially on community days, laugh easily, cry as well, and enjoy sports, music, theater, TV, reading, vacations and time with our families and friends. We welcome any Catholic woman who wants to find out if she, too, can live this life.
We miss the encouragement of our brother priests, and invite them again to get involved with our vocations, as we are with vocations to the priesthood. We need you. And, as we are told continually, the Church needs us. Speak up for us. Some young girl or older woman may find a wonderful home in the Church with us because of you. TP
By Sister Ann Stango, S.C.
SISTER STANGO, a Sister of Charity, writes from Clearwater, Florida.