Irish people of an older generation will generally have had some exposure to nuns and religious sisters but with the decline in numbers entering religious life, many young people today have no contact with religious and with nuns and sisters in particular - a tragedy and a loss in this blogger's personal opinion. Having grown up with four of my own aunts who were religious sisters; being taught by a Mercy sister who taught my mother (!); being "adopted" by a community of enclosed Carmelite nuns and apostolic IHMR sisters in Uganda as well as becoming an extended friend of the PDDM community in Ireland, I can say that they have been a gift to me in my life journey, women who are fantastic, caring, brave, faith filled and strong and all of whom have inspired me in some way. Truly spiritual mothers and not old maids as Pope Francis recently said.
However, if you ask people what are their stereotypes of nuns and sisters I am fairly sure you would get a different answer. In an Irish context the films the Sound of Music, perhaps the Bells of St Mary's, Sister Act and the Magdelene Sisters would probably be the cultural references that would form many young peoples views because of their lack of personal experience. Nothing about the contribution of Catherine Mcauley or Nano Nagle and the congregations they founded or any of the other congregations who contributed to the health and education of the Irish people and State when our governments couldn't/wouldn't provide the necessary supports and investment. Nothing about the extraordinary women who went to Africa, Asia and South America to "preach the gospel and where necessary use words" in the areas especially of education, health care, women and children's rights, environmental protection....the list goes on and on. While not denying that horrendous things happened to people by members of religious orders, the way in particular our female religious have been "tarred and feathered" in the sphere of public consciousness is really "a bit Irish".
(With apologies to the patient reader, here endeth the rant!).
Over at Pilgrim Progress, Sr Louise responds to a post from A Nuns Life reflecting on her experience of combating the stereotypes about nuns.
“Why is it in popular culture -- and even in some Catholic circles as well -- we like our nuns buttoned up, predictable, and contained? Why is it that we don't mind outbursts of singing and giddiness, but we have a problem with normal, accurate displays of strength, balance, relationship, compassion, and zeal for God's mission?” (from a Nun’s life, 6th of June 2013).
When I read today’s blog from A Nun’s Life, it really got me thinking. Recently a friend said to me that I break the stereotypes of a nun/sister, probably something to do with my recent rollerblading!"
Why don't you head on over and see her much more calm and balanced thoughts on this.