Visitors to Washington DC might be surprised at first to encounter a monument to nuns and sisters entitled Nuns of the Battlefield. It was erected by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1924 to honor the some 600 Catholic nuns and sisters who during the Civil War nursed soldiers on both sides. It bears this inscription:
THEY COMFORTED THE DYING, NURSED THE WOUNDED, CARRIED HOPE TOTHE IMPRISONED, GAVE IN HIS NAME A DRINK OF WATER TO THE THIRSTY
Anti-Catholic propaganda prior to the Civil War often focused on alleged lurid misdeeds involving nuns, the completely fictional account written by Maria Monk being a typical example, thus combining both bigotry and near pornography. A convent was burned by an anti-Catholic mob in 1834 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, their minds poisoned by just such allegations.
Nuns and sisters prior to the Civil War would not wear their habits outside of their convents for fear of insult or attack. Then, in the words of Lincoln, the war came.
Nuns on both sides swiftly volunteered to served as nurses, and they proved superb at this task. Mary Livermore, who served on the United States Sanitary Commission and who would later win fame as an early fighter for the rights of women, wrote this tribute after the War:
“I am neither a Catholic, nor an advocate of the monastic institutions of that church . . . But I can never forget my experience during the War of the Rebellion . . . Never did I meet these Catholic sisters in hospitals, on transports, or hospital steamers, without observing their devotion, faithfulness, and unobtrusiveness. They gave themselves no airs of superiority or holiness, shirked no duty, sought no easy place, bred no mischiefs. Sick and wounded men watched for their entrance into the wards at morning, and looked a regretful farewell when they departed at night.”
Soldiers were impressed both by the quality of the nursing they received from the nuns and their good cheer and kindness. Generations of bigotry melted away by the ministrations of these women of God. A Confederate chaplain recalled this incident between a soldier and a sister:
“Sister, is it true that you belong to the Catholic Church?”
“Yes, sir, it’s true. And that’s the source of the greatest happiness I have in this life.”
“Well, I declare. I’d never have suspected it. I’ve heard so many things . . . I thought Catholics were the worst people on earth.”
“I hope you don’t think so now.”
“Well, Sister . . . I’ll tell you. If you say you’re a Catholic, I’ll certainly have a better opinion of Catholics from now on.” Continue reading
Mary Anne Marks graduated from Harvard University at the top of her class. You may have heard of her, she is the one that gave the salutatory address all in Latin.
She received a standing ovation.
In addition to graduating with a Classics and English double major with honors, she will be entering the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
You may remember these nuns from their appearance on the Oprah Show earlier this year in February and how they dazzled the audience as well as Oprah Winfrey herself with their simple devotion and love of Jesus in the Eucharist.
What has been an open secret is now backed by empirical evidence:
The most successful institutes in terms of attracting and retaining new members at this time are those that follow a more traditional style of religious life in which members live together in community and participate in daily Eucharist, pray the Divine Office, and engage in devotional practices together. They also wear a religious habit, work together in common apostolates, and are explicit about their fidelity to the Church and the teachings of the Magisterium. All of these characteristics are especially attractive to the young people who are entering religious life today.*
As I have been reading through the website of the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) I came across this nugget of information [Emphases Mine]:
Myth #4: Women entering religious life want to wear habits.Fact: Both men and women seem to be drawn to habited communities. About two thirds of the newer members say they belong to a religious institute that wears a habit. Among those that responded affirmatively, a little more than half indicate that the habit is required in all or most circumstances.
Interestingly, almost half of the men who belong to an institute that does not wear a habit say they would wear it if it were an option [and those that don’t wear habits are obviously being disobedient and committing a mortal sin], compared to nearly a quarter of the women respondents.
Ann Carey of The Catholic World Report wrote that the study found several “best practices”:
- Involving membership and leadership in concerted vocation promotion efforts.
- Having a full-time vocation director.
- Using new media like the Internet.
- Offering discernment or “come-and-see” opportunities for potential members.
- Exposing young people to the idea of religious life from grade school through young adulthood.
What stuck out and confirmed what I’ve always thought in attracting people to religious vocations, as well as bringing in converts to the Catholic faith is:
“the example of members and the characteristics of the institute…have the most influence on the decision to enter a particular institute.”
As Saint John said in his epistle:
Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever. (1 Jn 2:15-17)
The rest of this posting will be an excerpt of Ann Carey‘s article on The Catholic World Report where she sights some examples of booming traditional religious orders: