The prophetic witness of religious sisters


The cycle of decadence and renewal is part of the organic life of the Church and, while exacting a sad cost to souls, is also the engine of great hope.

His Eminence Paul Augustine Cardinal Mayer has died in his ninety-ninth year, after a saintly life. He was a longtime friend of the Holy Father, a Benedictine abbot in Bavaria and eventually a venerable figure in the Vatican. I remember assisting him at Mass when I was a deacon in Rome and giving Holy Communion to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. He worked closely with Mother Teresa in encouraging Religious sisters whose own communities had lapsed into some of the follies of the social chaos of the 1960s and '70s. Some of those communities sadly never recovered from that confusion. Many became disoriented in their theology and spirituality, keeping at best a tenuous relationship to Catholicism.

One recent consequence was the ill-advised decision of some Religious to ignore our bishops by endorsing the present government's health-care legislation. Groups such as Network and the Catholic Health Care Association preferred Caesar's coin to maintaining a prophetic witness to the dignity of life according to Catholic principles. Thirty pieces of silver in inflation-adjusted dollars are still thirty pieces of silver. That great reformer of conventual life, St. Teresa of Avila, once prayed, "How is it, Lord, that we are cowards in everything, save in opposing Thee?" Actually, the number of Religious who lost their way is not as great as some publicity has claimed, and the orthodox Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, established in 1992, has said that they "believe the bishops' position is the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church."

The closing of St. Vincent's Hospital, the last Catholic hospital in our city, reminded me of how that great institution impressed me when I visited there as a child in the 1950s, with the Sisters of Charity in their distinctive habits like ministering angels, and the Angelus and Rosary broadcast on the intercoms in all the sick rooms. The closing of the hospital doors, for many reasons including the high cost of contracts for staff, was also the closing of a priceless witness of consecrated Religious life in our urban culture.

Happily, if there is a natural selection in biology, there is certainly a supernatural selection in Religious life. While communities of Religious who opted for some vague New Age spirituality are aging and looking more like decaying infirmaries themselves, new Orders are forming with young and vibrant vocations. The cycle of decadence and renewal is part of the organic life of the Church and, while exacting a sad cost to souls, is also the engine of great hope. The saint of Avila said:

"Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion
Is to look out to the earth.
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about
Doing good.
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now."


Father George William Rutler. "The prophetic witness of religious sisters." From the Pastor ( May 9, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 16 books, including: Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2010 Father George W. Rutler

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