Friday, July 14, 2006

I thought about it, and I disagree...with myself!

And it is Bastille Day.

Hey! The French Revolution wasn't a good thing you know. Marie Antoinette was a very devout Catholic and nothing at all what proponets of the revolution said about her. But that is not my point here. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondolet had a few sisters guillotined in the revolution, along with many other nuns and priests. Martyrs all.

My last post consisted in a bit of "nun bashing" - it did a disservice to the faithful Sisters who still exist. (I'm not talking about the radical feminists among them in this post, who had aroused my anger. Nor am I talking tonight about the 'mean' ones I experienced.)

Today a lovely Sister came into the Store with her sister. I know these two well, they are parishoners at St. Louis Church in downtown St. Paul. I knew the one is a Sister, I assumed she was a Daughter of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who, from their original foundation in France, always wore secular clothing to hide from the revolutionaries, and they continue in secular garb today, not living in community, but among the laity. I was astonished to find out she was from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondolet, an order to whom all Catholics in the mid-west owe an enormous debt of gratitude. If it had not been for these early 'pioneer' Sisters, we would never have had the schools and hospitals, or one local college in particular, that we grew up with and in some cases still have today. Nor would I have been properly instructed in the faith!

Realizing this elegant woman of tremendous intelligence and piety was a member of this order, living with her sister in an asisted living facility, moved my heart to repentance for what I had posted earlier. I remembered the good Sisters I did know and who were so kind to me. Why is it the 'mean' ones had stood out so much? I apologize.

I remember when the habits were discarded, some Sisters who insisted on keeping them had their veils literally torn off their heads and were told that they must conform to lay clothing under obedience. They did. That's an extreme however. Some Sisters simply obeyed and went with the lay clothing rule, even undergoing fashion consultations and make-overs. Nevertheless, when these orders were founded, they had adopted the fashions of the times, albeit widow's weeds. The modern Sisters felt it imperative to return to dressing in accord with the times - hence lay clothing. That's not necessarily a bad thing, they were returning to their original foundations in that respect. More deeply, I understood the habit doesn't make a Sister, and a Sister isn't a museum artifact. St. Catherine of Genoa once told a friar, "If I thought that habit would make me holy, I'd rip it off your back and wear it myself!" Granted, the 'neo-reformers' of some orders went to extremes by their misplaced zeal in returning to their roots, but there remained many good Sisters, while complying obediently, never lost their fervor or dedication to their vocation, and remain very faithful to the original charism of their particular orders.

Here is a brief history of the origins of the Sisters of St. Joseph:

The roots of our Congregation are found in the town of Le Puy, France. Around 1650, the Jesuit priest, Father Jean-Pierre Medaille gathered together women who wanted to grow in prayer and service. Father Medaille provided wonderful writings to shape the Sisters’ spirituality.
As the Community flourished in its early stages so did the political unrest in France. During the height of the French Revolution the Sisters were disbanded, many seeking refuge among relatives. Five of our Sisters were guillotined because they remained faithful to the Church giving shelter to the priests who refused to make the oath of allegiance to the revolution. With the end of the revolution, the remaining Sisters who had been imprisoned were released, and one of them, Mother St. John Fontbonne reorganized the Community members in Lyon in 1807.
In 1836 the Sisters established their first North American house in Carondolet, just outside of the present day St. Louis, Missouri.

Since that time the Sisters of St. Joseph have spread out in numerous directions throughout North America and the world. Our particular branch of the family tree moves from Carondolet, to Philadelphia (1847), to Toronto (1851), to London (1868)."

The St. Paul, Minnesota federation trace their foundation (look at them now!) to the same origins. May God bless them, especially the sisters who had no choice but to adapt, while remaining faithful to the Magisterium.


  1. I really liked your article but I have one thing to say. Your quote from St. Catherine is good but it should not be used to take away from the importance of religious garb. The habit is a sacramental and every part of it has meaning much like the vestments for Mass. Sure the Mass doesn't consist in "the trappings" but it would be so much less without them and I would dare to say, perhaps less grace would come to us. Why? Obviously nothing lacking in God's sacrifice but because of our indifference. An empty, barren Church fails to glorify God. A habitless nun (who is supposed to wear one) fails in the same way.

  2. But what about obedience?

    I don't always understand the "mortify your inclinations" discipline either- however religious are expected to do as they are told, whether it makes actual sense or not- & I'm not talking about anything criminal here! I always loved the nuns garb from ages past- but OBEDIENCE is more the issue in this case- in my opinion anyway.

    I vaguely remember how things used to be- a lot of things changed, when they were fine the way they were! But again, obedience is a big part of change- like it or not-

    My goodness- having to listen to those strumming guitars while sitting in an actual cafeteria for YEARS on end wasn't easy:p!!!

    But this is what many of us had to do after the beautiful church we grew up with was sold...

    Sad but true. I guess a type of necessary mortification- altho I will say sitting in the back of the cafeteria, reading the readings ahead of time, then staring at the mesmerizing Crucifix for the remainder of the Mass, did keep my mind off of the urge to dribble a basketball!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Geez Terry,

    I lost my comment-

    Wanted to post that I believe it was incorrect referring to Mass attendance in a cafeteria year after year as a "mortification"- it was a "discipline" maybe- but please pardon my poor word usage.

    The one thing I can say about the SEEMINGLY lack of the proper reverential atmosphere in a cafeteria, is that you definitely learn that God is, indeed, everywhere!

  5. sorry again- the comment wasn't lost- but i deleted it anyway...

  6. Being in the Army, I wasn't stateside when much of the "habit removal" took place.

    But my Mom's oldest sister was a Benedictine nun and a president of their college. She retired from the president job in 1967 and the order gave her a sabbatical to visit Rome and the mother house of their order in Germany and to do some study in Europe.

    She already had an M.A. and a PhD from the University of Chicago in the 30's, no mean feat under their President Robert M. Hutchins and professors like Mortimer Adler, standards of excellence, who founded the Great Books Program.

    She came to visit near where I was stationed and I drove her around to the Mother House and some other sights for a weekend. I found her a hotel in Munich that was owned by an order of nuns and went to pick her up on a Friday.

    As she came down the stairs, my only thought was "Sister has legs."

    Her sabbatical was her first appearance in public without the wimple the full veil and the ankle length habit. They all really liked that. Much less hassle.

    But it didn't take long for the rebels in the convent to drop the habit entirely. The family never discussed the switch with my aunt, but as vocations virtually disappeared from a very large convent, all knew there was great sadness.

    She eventually did go to "civvies", but always wore a black veil, holding on to visible evidence of her 75 years of professed life as a "Bride of Christ." She died 18 months ago at 96.

  7. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Wanna laugh? Or cry? Margaret joined a mainstream teaching Order in the early 1960s, just before things began to fall apart. It was the custom in that particular Order to let the Mistress of Novices choose the names for the young women taking the holy habit as novices. The year before Margaret joined, the good Mother of the Novices decided that because it was the Provincial Superior's Golden Jubilee year, and her name was Mother Rose Amata, everbody in that "promotion" would be called Rose! They had Rose Anthony, Rose Dominic, Rose Gabriel, Rose Patrick, Rose Fabian, Rose Vincent, Rose Angelo, Rose Margaret, Rose Catherine, Rose Veronica, and Rose Therese . . . everybody but Rose Rose! When Margaret's turn came she dreaded what would happen. It was announced that her promotion would receive the holy habit on a feastday in June that coincided with Fathers' Day. The same Novice Mistress decided that every girl in the promotion would receive her Dad's name — with INE on the end to make it feminine! Margaret's Dad was Joe. There was already a Josephine and a Josepha in the Order, so Margaret became Sister M. Josette. Her companions did not fare so well. There was a Sister M. Albertine, a Sister M. Benjamina, a Sister M. Jamesine, a Sister M. Jametta, a Sister M. Francine, a Sister M. Haroldine (!), a Sister M. Johnine, a Sister M. Johnice, a Sister M. Pauline, a Sister M. Petrine, and a Sister M. Vincentine. (Sister M. Haroldine later had a nervous breakdown and became an alcoholic. Margaret wondered if the wacko name had something to do with it.)
    In 1969 the Order decided to let the Sisters return to their baptismal names or change the ones they were given. By that time nearly all the INES were gone. So too were most of ROSES. Margaret hung on as Sister M. Josette and wore her modified habit until 1972. That year, pressured by Sisters senior to her in religion, Margaret went into secular clothes. She wept over it. By 1975 there was no more community prayer. The superiors justified this by saying that, like the Jesuits, they were supposed to be apostolic, not monastic. No more silence. No community meals on weekends. The TV was on until the Late News every night. On weekends all the Sisters disappeared to visit family or friends or to go for mysterious getaways. Some Sisters began socializing with priests. Others made friends in Orders that were even more progressive. Most weekends Margaret found herself alone in the convent with Sister Aloysius Gonzaga, ninety-something at the time. She stayed every weekend because she believed that Sister Aloysius Gonzaga shouldn't have been left alone in the convent. Sister Aloysius Gonzaga died in 1976. Margaret had lost a good friend. There was no more religious life left. Margaret moved into an apartment. She got herself a cat. In 1978 she was dispensed from her vows. She continues to live with her cat. She prays. She teaches in a Catholic school. She remembers what was and, in spite of the nuttiness of certain aspects of it, sometimes wishes things hadn't changed.

  8. I have to comment on this.

    I think we do owe the original Sisters of St. Joseph a debt of gratitude, and the sister you described as seems she was one who remained loyal to the foundresses' charism and thus, the charism of the order.

    But it seems that the majority of the current sisters have lost their way drastically and they have lost their charism. Unless they convert and return to their charism (which means...away from their promotion and belief in the New Age, away from their promotion of homosexual marriage, etc), then they will die out FOR GOOD.

    It is good to remember where they come from and encourage those sisters of this order that may continue to exemplify the original charism.

    Obedience can be a tricky thing; yes, it is important to be obedient to one's superior, but when the superior is promoting a very obvious disobedience to the Magesterium, and thus to God, then it is time to step up and defend Christ.

    Father Corapi discussed this issue once and he suffered by being thrown out of his order.

    We need to pray for the existing Sisters of St. Joseph, that they abandon the nonsense they have embraced and fully return to their roots and to Jesus Christ, with whom they claim to be espoused. Let them live this for they face extinction if they do not.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.