Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
Religious life has a future
But religious say commitment is hard for today's youth
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Gone are the days when formation houses of religious congregations were bursting at the seams.
But does this mean religious life is fading away?
There may be fewer people joining different congregations, but many believe this institution within the Church will not disappear.
"I don't see religious life simply fading away," Sister Aline Roulston of Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception told the WCR.
Religious life is a special state of life, said Roulston. She has been with her congregation for 53 years.
"I have offered my life to God. It's a special dedication," said the soft-spoken sister.
Roulston believes living in a community is a special gift because of the presence of interdependence there.
"I am not here just to have a job. But I'm here to make life better, not for myself necessarily, but for the society as a whole. And I believe I can do that better with other people than just by myself."
In a community, sisters learn to be interdependent, while people in the world are often very independent.
"We're here to live for one another. And I probably wouldn't be able to use my gifts to serve others if I was living on my own."
The congregation is not finding many vocations these days. Back in the 1950s, many joined. At that time, teachers and social workers were needed.
"I think people found joining a sisters' congregation a good way to become teachers and social workers," Roulston said. "Women at that time did not have the prominence in the working field that they do today."
She believes God continues to call people to be religious. But society has changed and so have women.
People easily switch professions and it's easier for a woman to be fulfilled without entering a religious community.
"People's philosophy has become, 'I can do what I want, when I want, for whatever reason,'" Roulston said. "Religious life will make a rebound in the years to come, but perhaps not in the exact form that it is today."
The reason for the change is because society's needs have changed.
"We (sisters) are called to seek out the needs of our time and somehow fulfill them, "explained Roulston.
As nursing and teaching became desirable occupations, Roulston's congregation moved into other fields like prison work, literacy and some therapies.
"Today, if you look around, working in literacy, doing prison work and mentoring are jobs not seemingly very attractive to young people," she said. "That's where we go and do ministry."
Redemptorist Father Remi Hebert is hopeful about the future of religious life.
"There will always be people willing to serve our Lord with a vowed life. Jesus promised that he'd always be with the Church. There's a need and God will continue to call."
The Redemptorists have a number of interested people but there's a big gap between being interested and coming through the door and saying, "Yes this is what I want to commit my life to" or at least say "Yes this is where I want to begin to look."
Hebert thinks commitment is a difficult thing for young people. "I think the world tells people they can have it all; that they don't have to make decisions that will limit their options. And for the most part, people are buying into it."
Any choice that limits our options is seen by society as not a good choice. But Hebert keeps saying that's where the heart of freedom is.
"Once we've made a commitment, we're free to really live it, but until we make that commitment we're not free, we're floating."
Sister Josefina Pollentes knows all about commitment. She started out as a member of a lay community in Ephphatha House. She decided to go deeper in her spiritual life as inspired by the message of God written through the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, the visionary of the Divine Mercy.
Pollentes consulted her spiritual director and later on, she was living with other women who had the same desire of communion with God.
The group was allowed to enter into a deeper practice of prayer life, but was not allowed to start a new congregation.
Instead, the then Archbishop Joseph MacNeil advised them to track down the congregation that has the charism of the Divine Mercy.
"I was looking for the congregation that Jesus was talking about to St. Faustina. The congregation that would pray for the divine mercy," recalled Pollentes.
It was some years before Pollentes and other women connected with the Congregation of Sisters of Merciful Jesus, which was officially founded in Poland in 1947.
Once they received information from the Divine Mercy Centre in Stockbridge, Mass., things started to fall into place.
After communicating with the sisters in Poland and exchange visits between the Alberta and Polish groups, a new community was started in Hobbema.
The sisters' main mission is to proclaim the divine mercy. They fulfill this mainly by teaching catechism to children, although their sisters in Poland are also involved in palliative care and education of children and young people.
This congregation is very young, but it has already spread to other countries including, Brazil, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Jerusalem and Lithuania, with plans to open a house in the Philippines.
This Hobbema congregation has four professed sisters and one postulant.
"We always get in contact with the young people and there are lots of vocations," says Pollentes. "Young people are quite open to talking about vocation, but they don't always know whom to approach," she said.
"I believe what the Holy Father is saying about the springtime of Christianity. When that happens, I believe religious life will be a significant part (of society) and it will be revived."
But at the moment the numbers of priests and religious are dropping throughout North America. There are however wonderful exceptions.
Just recently, the National Catholic Register reported some religious congregations and bishops said that the working document of the Third Continental Congress on Vocations to be held in Montreal in April left out places where vocations work has been successful.
It was news to Sister Catherine Marie Hopkins when she read the document's contention that no congregations in North America have more candidates than they can comfortably accommodate.
Hopkins is the vocation's director of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. The sisters, based in Nashville, have 200 sisters. And of the 18 that joined in 2001, a dozen have to bunk down in sleeping bags until more living space is built. Many of the sisters even have to stand outside the chapel during the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours.
"We are literally out of room in a major way," Hopkins said.