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Column: Women religious are critical to the vitality of the church

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

The Archdiocese of Kansas City has been blessed throughout its more than 150-year history to be served by many heroic consecrated religious Sisters.

Our elementary schools, our high schools, our Catholic colleges, our Catholic hospitals, and so many of our ministries of charity are the fruit of the remarkable service of these women who espoused themselves to Jesus and spent their lives unselfishly serving his people.

We have had a rich variety of religious Sisters who have served in the Archdiocese. Four religious communities, who have been here for many years, actually have or had mother-houses or provincial motherhouses in the Archdiocese: the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, the Servants of Mary Ministers to the Sick, and, until recently, the Ursuline Sisters of Paola.

This past year marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Mother Xavier Ross and the first Sisters of Charity in Leavenworth. Bishop Jean Baptiste Miege, our first bishop, when he was traveling in South America raising money to retire the debt on the cathedral in Leavenworth, instructed his vicar general in a letter to give greetings to the Sisters of Charity, noting that inviting and welcoming the Sisters of Charity to Leavenworth may have been one of the few good things that he had done for the church in northeast Kansas.

Actually, Bishop Miege was an extraordinary bishop who, with dedication and great skill, laid the foundation for what would become the Archdiocese of Kansas City. However, it is true that his decision to invite the Sisters of Charity to Leavenworth was an inspired act that has had an enduring positive impact on the church in northeast Kansas, especially in the areas of Catholic health care and Catholic education.

Last fall, Donnelly College honored the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison for their crucial role in the founding of the college and their continuous service to Donnelly students for the past 60 years. The speeches of a few Donnelly alumni pro- vided touching testimonies of the impact of the Benedictine Sisters — not only on the formal education of Donnelly College graduates, but upon the development of the values and virtues that have allowed them to succeed in their professional and personal lives.

This past year, a group of friends of the Servants of Mary Ministers to the Sick — more popularly known as the Sisters, Servants of Mary — initiated an event to honor and to raise funds for this remarkable group of religious women. Their apostolate, caring for the seriously ill in their homes and providing support and rest to the families of the sick, has transformed times of great suffering and trial for many families into moments of grace and opportunities for deepened faith. The remarkable success of this event was evidence of the deep love and respect for the Sisters, Servants of Mary within our community.

On October 21, 2008, the feast of St. Ursula, the merger of the Ursuline Sisters of Paola with the Ursuline Sisters of St. Joseph in Maple Mount, Ky., was announced. The Ursuline Sisters of Paola have served the people of the Archdiocese for more than 110 years. For most of that time, their special charism has been in the field of Catholic education. Like the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth and the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, the Ursuline Sisters have served as teachers and administrators in Catholic elementary schools, high schools and colleges. One of the most important and beautiful contributions the Ursuline Sisters have made to the Catholic community of northeast Kansas has been their ministry to families of children with special needs.

The Ursuline Sisters are in the process of selling their motherhouse in Paola. In June of this year, 12 of the 23 Ursuline Sisters of Paola will move to Maple Mount. The current plan allows for at least eight of the Sisters to contin- ue living and serving in the Archdiocese of Kansas City.

Sister Kathleen Condry, the former provincial leader of the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, has sought my counsel and kept me well-informed about the process resulting in the merger of our Sisters with the Ursuline Sisters of St. Joseph. While I understand and support the wisdom of the decision to merge, the selling of the motherhouse and the departure of most of the Sisters is a significant loss to the people of the Archdiocese.

The necessity of this merger is part of the much larger picture in the United States of the declining number of women religious. The notably fewer consecrated religious women in the United States, and the much lower number of young women who are in formation to serve the church as religious Sisters in the future, should be a cause of concern for all Catholics.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, popularly known as the Little Flower, described her understanding of her life as a cloistered Carmelite nun as “being love in the heart of the church.” Following St. Thérèse’s image, fewer women religious diminishes the church’s ability to make the love of Jesus tangible and real in our world.

As challenging as it is today for young men to respond to the Lord’s call to serve his people as priests, it is even more difficult and countercultural for young women to enter the convent to explore a possible vocation as a religious Sister. Just as every Catholic has a responsibility to pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood, so every Catholic has a responsibility to pray for and encourage young women to consider a vocation as a religious Sister.

Next week, I want to continue this reflection about the importance of consecrated women religious for the vitality of the church by sharing with you some thoughts about some of the communities of religious Sisters who recently have come to serve in the Archdiocese of Kansas City.

Stay tuned!

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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