How often do Catholics over 50 think about the nuns who educated us? I know there are a lot of sly looks about the inadequacies of women ill-equipped for family life and consigned to join the convent. And there are a lot of wincing jokes about nuns who smacked the hell out of little boys or who made little girls sit at their desks till they wet their pants. I witnessed the first with Dominicans and my mother fell victim to the second with Notre Dames.
But still, in these days of cynicism, when we worry about how much of our charitable dollar goes into fat salaries for personally ambitious executives, you have to give nuns a second thought.
I was deeply inspired in both high school and college by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (aka BVMs). In my 1960’s world, they were educated and engaged with the world. It is true that by the time I graduated from Mundelein in 1970, many of my favorites were done with their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and chose to move on to the secular world. But now I find myself cheering for the ones who hung in there.
The BVMs were founded by 5 women in Dublin in 1833. These women had come together around helping out with the cholera epidemic and decided to go to America to help with the plight of Irish immigrants. According to Wikipedia:
The BVM Sisters have a distinctive philosophy of living that:
- incorporates the core values of Freedom, Education, Charity, and Justice;
- includes strong public witness against oppression brought about by unjust political and social structures;
- stands in solidarity with those marginalized by society, especially women and children.
They weren’t holy rollers. They didn’t spend their time preaching personal salvation. They were not wilting flowers looking for direction from priests. They put on their bonnets and got to work, founding two women’s colleges and many high schools and operating the grade school in many parishes.
They were the true liberals in my young life. They never debated the Cause vs. the Corporation. There was only the Cause.