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Conversations: The mystery of why the Sisters are not in charge of the Church


The mystery of why the Sisters are not in charge of the Church

thumbRNS NUNS CONVENT082212i 425x350 300x247There were the Sisters who taught grades one through eight: Sisters Aimee, Beatrice, Dorita, Everard, Gratia, Mary Margaret, Mary Therese, Rose Margaret, and Spiritu.

The latter made it quite clear in the first minute of the first day of class that her name was not Spiritoo, or Spiritonto, or Spiritutu, or Sister Spiro Agnew, and any boy who muttered or jotted or scrawled a joke of that sort, and it was always a boy who did so, would regret that impulse for weeks afterward.

And if any boy here did not believe Sister as regards this matter, he need only refer to his older brothers, if any, or the older boys in his neighbourhood, of whom surely one or two remembered Sister Spiritu all too well, boys, all too well.

There were the Sisters who worked the convent: Sister Cook in the golden redolent kitchen, Sister Helen in the boiler room and garage and heating and cooling units, Sister Catherine in the office, Sister Blister the school nurse (real name: Sister Philomena), Sister Francine who ran the room in the convent to which women in the parish quietly came during the week and carried away bags of food and clothing and toys that had hardly been used at all and still mostly retained their sheen.

If you paid close attention on Saturdays you could see a quiet procession of men delivering bags of food, and mothers delivering bags of clothes and toys that had hardly been used, and occasionally a truck would pull up and unload whole gleaming crates of milk and cream. The driver was the dairyman himself, who was an inscrutable man; I asked him once about these deliveries to the convent and he said I do not know what you are talking about, which puzzled me.

There was Sister Eugenie, who dealt with the monsignor and the chancery, apparently as a sort of mediator or interlocutor; and Sister Teresa, who conducted site visits every four months, and once, only once that we ever remember, there was the Mother Superior, who was called Mother by the other sisters, although she must once have been Sister Something, which no one called her anymore; you wondered if she missed being a Sister, and sometimes wore Mother uncomfortably, like a wool mantle on a suddenly warm day.

Not one of them ever raped a child. Not one of them ever moved rapists from one parish to another without alerting anyone to the horror. Not one of them ever excommunicated or censured or silenced another member of their church. Not one of them ever played havoc with the pension fund or the endowment or the weekly collection.

Not one of them ran off with a secretary. Not one of them ever instituted a formal investigation into the theological practice and beliefs of another. Not one of them publicly excoriated or insulted another member of their church for not believing exactly the accepted wisdom about ordination or contraception or the legitimacy of the Gospel of Thomas.

Not one of them had a driver for her car, or a mitre for her head, or a summer palace outside Rome. Not one of them ever showed the slightest inclination, that I noticed, to worldly power and money and status and influence and fame.

As far as I could tell each of them, on a daily basis, embraced hard work, and kindness, and humility, and the idea that the Christ was resident in every heart, and that He should therefore be witnessed and celebrated in every person, and that anything that diluted or detracted from that work was selfish and small.

As far as I could tell they were every bit as committed and dedicated to the ancient mission assigned by the Christ as any priest or brother or abbot or bishop or cardinal or pope, and, in general, collectively, less liable to ego, crime, scandal, and the hunger for secular power. So, I began to wonder as a boy, and still do, now more than ever before: why are they not in charge of the Church?

Brian Doyle | 18 August 2015

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