Do the American nuns have a future?

Print More
RNS photo by Sally Morrow

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

ST. LOUIS (RNS) Catholic sisters gathered at their annual assembly intensified discussions on Thursday (Aug. 9) aimed at thwarting a Vatican takeover of their group, but hanging over the meeting was an even larger, existential question: Do the nuns have a future? By David Gibson.

  • rita

    Let me see if I understand..the author believes the number of vocations is equal when 80% of the progressive orders have the same number, in formation, as the 20 % traditional, orthodox communities?

  • Fr. JC Maximilian

    The author really does need to take a remedial math/statistics course. If LCWR have 80% of the women’s religious orders as members while the CMSWR have only 20% of the orders, but both are getting the same number of new members in terms of raw numbers, 500 per year, then the orders in CMSWR are doing much better; on the order of 4 times better. I had a personal experience that bares this out. I visited the joint novitiate of Dominican sister outside of St. Louis a number of years ago. They represented 22 communities of Dominican sisters throughout the US and they had 12 novices that year; a bit over a half a novice per community. That same year the Nashville Dominicans, a single community that is more traditional (CMSWR order), had 14 novices. 14 novices/community for a CMSWR order vs. 0.50 novices/community for LCWR communities. Not hard to see which tree is bearing more fruit there.

  • Gil

    I agree. The comparison of vocations is willfully ignorant of the truth. The truth is that the communities that focus on Christ and obey the teachings of the Church are doing well. Some are growing so fast, they can’t build housing fast enough. These communities do all the charitable work of the liberal communities AND live a faithful witness, and help people even more because of their witness. Their virtuous life is an inspiration to all.

    The LCWR communities that grab the headlines are so far away from their Christian roots that they unrecognizable as Christians. Their communities recieve almost no vocations, only an occasion middle-aged woman with a troubled past who is looking for some stability. Although reform is important now, practically speaking there will be almost none of these nuns around in 20 years.

    The differences couldn’t be more stark. Wake up people!

  • TuAutem

    Ooh, touché! The faithful religious communities _only_ have 400% more vocations than the LCWR ones. Fair point, sir. Fair point.

  • serafino

    You don’t need a degree in the sociology of religious to know what works here. Prayer, a community life, a religious habit, loyality to the teaching authority of the Church (Pope and faithful bishops in communion with him) will win the day. The LCWR communities will soon be gone and be only footnote in the history of the Church warning others what religious should not be.

  • Muchomas

    Cooked stats! “…[traditional and liberal orders] are drawing the same number of vocations: Each has about 500 women in various stages of becoming vowed sisters.” Yes, but since the LCWR is 4 times bigger thatn the CMSWR (80% vs 20%), that means that the CMSWR has 4 times the rate of vocations! They are eating the LCWR for lunch when it comes to vocation rate, it is not even close. The conservatives are right on that one. The Truth shall set you free!

  • Muchomas

    Doh! — I see someone else just made the same observation. Should have read all comments first, sorry.

  • Juan Oskar

    I can’t trust a nun/sister that doesn’t wear a habit.

  • Sister Christa

    The LCWR group should be home praying before the Blessed Sacrament for the guidance to do God’s Will and not theirs. The keynote speaker set the tone the group wanted God is not pleased with these women vowed to Jesus Christ to whom they are espoused. I know several Sisters who do not want to have any association with LCWR. Many religious women who do not wear a habit are women of prayer and faith who support the Teachings of the Catholic Church! I am one of them! Please do not judge those who wear the habit against those who do not. It is living the commitment and being true to the vows we espouse to Jesus Christ. Fidelity, Integrity and Prayer are key ingredients that need to be lived out daily. I believe many religious women who are supporters of the LCWR are women of faith and prayer! Rather than criticize the LCWR let us pray for them!

  • Michele

    I find it interesting that, Jennifer Gordon, calls herself a “nun/sister”, and that she also states “as a relatively new and relatively young sister, I am frequently asked what I think the future of religious life will look like”, she then states, “each time I respond that I really don’t know”, however she “thinks” “it will look a lot like the view from the top of Victoria Falls”, and that “it looks like standing at the edge.”

    I came upon an article regarding “Victoria Falls” in Zambia. I find it very telling that at the lip of Victoria Falls is a pool of water called “Devil’s pool”, and in the fall due to the river being at it’s lowest and slowest, a natural retaining wall made of rock allows swimmers to jump into this “Devil’s pool”.

    How frightening that Jennifer Gordon, used this image; and yet how telling where her state of mind is at, that she would use the analogy of “standing on the edge”, yet conveniently left out “looking down from the Devil’s pool”. God forgive them, they know not what they do. Please Lord, have mercy on this country. Amen

  • TheraP

    The statistics related to young women entering an order is correctly stated. It simply means that when a young woman feels called to religious life today in the US she is as likely to enter an LCWR order as its counterpart. It’s not a contest. It simply means that God is calling half of his new recruits one way and half the other way.

  • SteveB

    Interesting phraseology. Aren’t all eccliesial communities already under “control of the bishops” in that the Catholic Church’s teaching authority rests in them? In what way does the LCWR believe it is not accountable to the bishops? To whom do they believe they are accountable? What church did they believe they were making vows of obedience to?

    “The Vatican announced in April that a team of bishops would take control of the LCWR in order to make the nuns hew more closely and publicly to orthodox teachings on sexuality and theology.”

  • Captain Dg

    I don’t know if the America magazine article addresses this, but the average age of sisters in more conservative orders is widely reported to be lower than in the LCWR. This favors the future of conservative orders for this reason alone.

  • Peter

    If someone is going to be a nun. Then be 100% Nun. Wear a habit. Don’t have an excuse and wear “Distinctive clothing.”

  • Proteios

    80% or 20%. If equal numbers oF recruits enter each. They will be 50/50 soon. This of course depends on the at. With the lcwr being more aged, these numbers may begin to flip as the nuns pass on. Regardless, I favor the traditional approach. I still value all those who help others in many ways. Still these new age nuns sound like episcopalians.

  • alan

    If the LCWR are to call themselves Catholic they must be obedient to the Church and it is through this submission of will that grace is poured out to attract women to the holiness of the orders.
    I think those in the LCWR should either do as the Church asks or leave for their example turns many young women away from vocations for they might as well be social workers.

  • Todd Flowerday

    The tension between religious who choose an apostolic life outside of the cloister and bishops, clergy, and other bystanders is not new. It has been going on for centuries. The LCWR stands in a long line of tradition that persecution, suspicion, and even the execution of women who sought to serve God in religious life in the world, out in the open, for all to see. The petty insults and name-calling, alas, is also not new.

    Many LCWR congregations welcome secular women and even men into their apostolates as associates, third-order folks, and such, in a variety of commitments and descriptions. How should these folks be counted?

    It would be more accurate to say that the charism of an order trumps population. It would also be an offense against discernment to suggest that a 50% dropout rate on either “side” suggests failure. These are merely end results of discernment. Hardly a reflection on those who continue their journey of faith. Certainly not a reflection on one or another ideology.

    It could be that those who insist on dictating what a religious community should be, including bishops perhaps, have offended deeply against the virtue of prudence. MYOB might be an apt suggestion.

  • Anita

    How sad that these liberal nuns think they are representing Jesus. What they are advocating and teaching is as far from Jesus as it can be. They need to use Mother Angelica of EWTN as an example to follow. In her total obedience to Jesus and the authority He gave the Pope, her ministry is still flourishing, more than ever, though she is unable to participate because of ill health. That is a real nun, not the counterfeit liberal ones.

  • Diane

    Nuns do have to obey the Bishop, especially the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. It’s the Vatican which called for this reform . All Catholics have to obey the teachings of the Church which come through the Magisterium. I don’t know why these LCWR nuns think they have an exemption. They’re Catholic aren’t they? The Magisterium has an obligation to their calling to insist that these LWCR nuns hew to the teachings.

  • Francis Donovan

    What happened to the vows of poverty and obedience?

  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    Todd Flowerday,

    Unless you are experienced with life inside a cloister as opposed to outside, please do not confuse “tension” with “mission”. We know nuns in both areas; their lives are not in “tension” with their Bishops, nor with the Pope.

    Presumably, nuns take three vows, the same as religious brothers and priests. The hardest one is OBEDIENCE, because we are all human, and thus “know better” than our superiors. It is here where LCWR is failing, some might say miserably. Also, if you would care to view a video interview with their keynote speaker for this conference, you might gasp in disbelief over her confused and incoherent explanation of what she believes about herself…….and she is providing “guidance” to the members of this conference?

    Lastly, let me take one last shot… unkind one, I will admit, because I have many friends who are Jebbies. I seem to recall that the Jesuits take a FOURTH vow, one to fight for the Pope. The authors and editors in America magazine have violated this vow (if it is even still actively taken) by questioning the painstaking and patient review of LCWR.authorized by JP2 and B16.

    Peace be with you. Pray for the LCWR, that they may become faithful Catholics.

  • Todd Flowerday

    Jim, I don’t see the sisters as creators of tension. It seems to be the bishops who have misdiagnosed the situation, and badly misread the LCWR. It is possible for both bishops and sisters to be faithful Catholics (as I believe), and to be in conflict. It surely happens in my family. And I suspect it likely happens in yours.

    A simple disagreement or misunderstanding between a husband and wife does not demolish the sacrament they share. Most spouses live the obligation to work out problems. The first step is hardly ever going to be, “I’m right. You’re wrong. You’re going to do it my way.”

    Obedience is a charism lived out in a community. It is not a pledge to be lived out in submission to every believer who disagrees with the individual. The LCWR was founded at the request of the Vatican. The sisters have the power to dissolve the group, end the discussion, and conduct meetings and workshops as they wish. Pretty much nobody can stop them.

    I suspect Archbishop Sartain does not wish it to come to that point. From what I know of the man, he does have a respect for religious life, and an understanding of the difference between cloistered life and apostolic life in the world. I suspect that the three bishops and the LCWR leadership are going to work something out. At this point, the former have much more at stake, much more to lose, and the sisters seem willing to keep the talking gong. So I’m pretty much praying for everybody to stay faithful to the needed dialogue and communication, which to this point, has been tragically mangled by the CDF.


    When I was in elementary school through even my high school (74 years old now), nuns are always known to be present, recognized, looked upon by their HABITS. We as kids could be running, screaming, fighting but if a nun with a habit passes by, everybody stood still. Just them being inside their habits puts us in a holy atmosphere. The second time I saw a nun while in college was that she is wearing her habits short and it made me frown. Today, she does not have a habit and her hair is trimmed like a man and speaks like a man. There are no nun, nun.

  • rev. daniel c. hesko

    I have noted the RNS usually favors the liberal opinion. I am a priest 30 years and just like the traditional womens communities, secular new priest vocations are far more conservative than 30 years ago. As a young priest I was an oddity for wearing a cassock, today I am just one in the crowd.

  • A Henneberry

    My soul proclaims the greatness of the earth mother,
    and my spirit rejoices in the media’s adoration.
    For C-Span, CNN, and the New York Times have looked with favor on sister celebrities.

    Henceforth, all generations will call us blessed crying, “We’re All Nuns now!”
    For the Huffington Post has done great things for us
    And we’ve sold lots of t-shirts.

    The goddess Gaia pours out blessings on all who march for the wetlands
    in every generation.

    She has shown the strength of her arm at the School of the Americas
    and has scattered the patriarchal old men in Rome who dare to correct us.

    She has filled Youtube with videos about us
    and thousands like us on Facebook and Twitter.

    She has come to the help of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious
    remembering her promise to promote women’s ordination, the new age, and global warming,
    the promise she made to our mothers, women who play mass pretending to be priests forever.

    Glory be to Gaia, Sophia, and Astarte,
    As it was when we first lost our faith, is now when we’ve lost our minds, and will be forever in hell if we don’t repent.


  • Lorena

    A congregation of nuns who are 100% faithful to the Catholic Church teachings. Visit their page.

  • FrMichael


    Outstanding parody!