A while back I began a Christmas hobby. Given a traditional French nativity, or crèche, as a gift, I began to collect new pieces.
In France as well as in Italy, along the Mediterranean coast, Nativity scenes include not just the Holy Family, the shepherds and the magi, but everyone in the village, literally the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. This custom has a powerful lesson. Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, came for the salvation of people through all the centuries that were to come. So, every Christmas, each of us should rejoice as if it we were at the stable to adore the newborn Lord.
I add to my collection whenever I visit a little shop near the great church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. The shop specializes in these figures.
Several years ago, at last having found a figure of a priest and then another of a Franciscan friar, I asked if they had a figure of a nun. The salesperson looked at me with some puzzlement in her eyes. At first, I thought it was a problem created by my poor French and her imperfect English. Then I realized that she did not know what a nun is.
It was hard to believe that anyone French, let alone a Catholic, did not know about nuns, considering France’s great Catholic history and all that women religious, such as St. Catherine Labouré and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, contributed to it.
(Visiting Paris recently, returning from a meeting in Rome, I acquired a figure of a Daughter of Charity! I was glad. The Daughters of Charity have added so much glory to Catholic history.)
I fear that many Catholic Americans, especially younger ones, would also be at a loss if something were said about nuns. They rarely see a woman religious. It is nothing less than a tragedy that the number of sisters has so plummeted in this country, as in France and in much of the Western world, in the past 50 years. Without women religious over the years, the Church would be poorer, to say the least.
Fortunately, however, some communities are thriving in this country. At the recent bishops’ meeting in Baltimore, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn., told me the strikingly high number of young women presently in formation for her community. This sister, by the way, was on her way to Sydney, Australia, where St. Cecilia nuns have been working for several years in education and in Catholic campus ministry.
Then, I received a newsletter from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Mich. On Aug. 1, they received 18 novices. On Aug. 28, 10 women entered to begin their preparation for the novitiate. When school started, sisters from this community assumed duties for the first time in Marin County, Calif., and in Worthington, Ohio.
Not surprisingly, both communities hear from bishops almost every week inviting them to come to these bishops’ dioceses. Even though new members are many in each community, not every request can be met, but these sisters are moving into new places every year.
Some readers also may remember an Our Sunday Visitor story some months ago that featured communities of women religious that are attracting candidates. God be praised, it is not just a story about these two Dominican congregations.
This appeal of communities of women religious, despite the decline, has a message for women who may be thinking about what to do with their lives. Want to see a genuinely fulfilled, joyful woman? Look at the nuns in these communities.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.