Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 30, 2005
When sisters live alone
They may live outside the house but not outside the community
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
When a sister lives outside the main house, it does not mean she is living outside the community. She is just living outside one of the houses, Sister Marjory Gallagher told the Council of Women Religious spring assembly May 23 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
"When we reduce a community to four walls under one roof, we are doing it a big disservice," said Gallagher, assistant professor of canon law at St. Paul's University in Ottawa.
About 90 women representing 20 communities across the archdiocese attended the meeting that council chair Sister Norma Johnson said was the best assembly to date.
"In so many ways, the sisters of the council appreciated Sister Gallagher. She understands our needs and how we live the Church today," Johnson said in an interview.
Gallagher said years ago, sisters who were teachers had to receive permission to leave the convent to teach. And they were never to be alone. A child often accompanied the sister back to the convent. This dates back to the stricter controls of monastic life, she said.
"We are human beings," said Gallagher, a member of the Sisters of Charity (Halifax). "If we were to put religious life on a continuum between boarding house and marriage, it would be closer to marriage. But it is not marriage. And people understand the type of relationship that is the ideal of religious life."
The women share in their order's rich traditions that Gallagher described as "spiritual patrimony." They share a common life of food, clothing and furnishings, but the community life is much more.
"The essential element of a congregation is its charism, its gifts. You should be able to read a congregation's constitution by how the members live their lives. A charism is stable. How it is lived out is what can change," she said.
Adapting charisms to the times is a way to live an apostolic life in today's society. It is not about changing the rules, Gallagher said.
Different groups have different charisms that fit certain individuals. The purpose, nature and spirit of a congregation influence how the sisters live their lives, Gallagher told the group.
"People who find they fit in a particular congregation are proof that there is charism. It is used in many ways and in many circumstances."
Johnson said she joined Our Lady of Charity in 1952 because of its fourth vow - to labour for the salvation of souls. This is her community's charism. Some communities are teachers; some tend to the ill.
A religious family
"There is a common bond among us through the spirit of the community," Johnson said. "We are blessed with the treasures of sharing, trust and companionship. We are not just women living together. A community is a religious family with a common spirituality. Our charism is to be women of mercy, compassion and love," she said.
"They are the gifts from the mind and the heart of the founder. They enter into us and hit home. Different communities have something for every woman. They become who we are."
The Second Vatican Council gave the religious more freedom that enriched and nourished their own lives because they could more readily serve outside a convent. Johnson said her fondest experiences come from travelling to the United States and meeting others of her international pontifical order.
They might live far apart, but they all belong to one spiritual source, she said.
"In some ways, it comes down to one vow because we make a lifetime commitment to the evangelical counsels. We will never go back to where there is the cloister all under one roof. We are more apostolic than contemplative or monastic," she said.
"We all have the history of conventual life and even though we might be living under a different roof, we are still living within our communities. Living (individually) can have more value because we are freer to be accessible to people."
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