Women religious is today's preferred phrase. It encompasses both those
who have chosen to live as nuns as a member of a cloistered community, and
those who live as a sister -- a part of a congregation that engages in active
They've chosen a life dedicated to serving God's people. And they are women
who usually engage in a particular ministry that matches their own interests
"The choice of ministries today is limitless! While some sisters continue
to be involved in institutions of education and health care, many are active
in parish and diocesan administration," says Sister Linda Roby.
"Still others choose to concentrate their efforts in specific areas that
promote peace and justice and the dignity of each human person," she says.
Sisters are found in many walks of life, as spiritual directors, genetic
counselors, attorneys, communications specialists, chaplains, social workers,
doctors, psychiatrists, nurses and more.
Sister Maureen Skelly works with Mt. Manresa Jesuit Retreat House. "You
even find them doing ordinary stuff like working at the telephone company
where you wouldn't expect to find them," she says. "You can bring the word
of God wherever God leads you."
Sister Mary Christelle Macaluso of the College of St. Mary is a professional
speaker who calls herself Fun Nun. She agrees. "However, whatever ministry
we take is not with the intention of getting more of the material things in
this world, but with the intention of serving others and bringing them closer
to God," she says.
Sisters devote much of their time to prayer, to the spiritual healing of
the sick and the poor and to spreading the message of love, peace and joy.
In between, they may work 40 hours a week at a regular job and spend their
evenings and weekends with their vocation.
"Though ministry is a very important aspect of our lives, it is not our
only focus. Prayer and spiritual growth build and sustain a personal relationship
with a loving God. Our vows of simple living [poverty], celibate loving [chastity]
and prayerful listening [obedience] are the foundation of our lifestyle and
of our life together," explains Roby.
Skelly enjoys her work as a police chaplain, offering a compassionate ear
to police officers with problems or concerns. However, she's also comfortable
as a fund-raiser, working in the office of a retreat house or planning retreats
for the poor and less fortunate.
"I give retreats for men and women, ordinary people, and I offer some 12-step
program retreats in which I incorporate tai chi and Reiki. I am also a Reiki
master. All of this keeps me very alive," she says.
Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) communications director
Jenean Merkel says things have changed significantly for women religious in
the past 40 years.
"One way in which it has is the way sisters find their ministries. While
some are still 'placed' and many others are 'sent' or 'affirmed' in their
ministries, the sisters themselves take an active role in discerning what
it is they want to do and where," she explains.
"On the whole, she will be working in the nonprofit sector and may be able
to do the kind of work she could not afford to do without the support of a
religious community -- working in a rural area helping to develop people and
communities, staffing a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, serving as a missionary
in this country or abroad," she says.
What's also changed for women religious is the rule of wearing a habit
or uniform. While some communities still wear veils or some type of habit,
many have worn regular clothing since the late 1960s.
"The habits we were wearing in the 1960s, although quite unusual as far
as dress goes, were normal clothes for ordinary women in the Middle Ages.
Somehow, through the years, we forgot that we needed to keep up with the changing
fashions, so we had a lot of catching up to do," says Sister Linda Herndon.
She says some communities wear habits so their sisters will be more visible.
"Habits also make life simpler, in that a person does not need a great variety
of clothes. This can be a sign that all the sisters are the same -- that some
aren't richer than others," she adds.
Sisters are known for working with those who have special needs. Herndon
believes they'd be open to accepting a woman with a special need.
"I am not aware of any sisters who entered our community with special needs.
We do have our elderly sisters who are in wheelchairs, or are nearly deaf,
some are blind or nearly blind and they are all included in all kinds of activities
with those of us who are not disabled."