WOULD the world be a better place if “ruled” by nuns?
Answer #1: I know too little about nuns to have an opinion. I was raised in an atmosphere of vague anti-Catholicism. Having Catholic friends was fine (though it didn’t happen until I was in high school) but the Catholic Church was subject to many critical barbs. We had Catholic neighbors on both sides of our house. My parents were a bit standoff-ish, but they weren’t friendlier to anyone else. My mother thought Catholics went to church too much and wore too much black. The fact that a person who married a Catholic had to agree to their children being raised Catholic was offensive. (All of this pertained to the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church was a distant mystery.)
Answer #2: I suspect many of my contemporaries who attended parochial schools (say in the 1960s) would disagree! I’ve heard too many unpleasant stories to think that the mental and physical abuse by nuns that they reported were exceptional.
Next question: WOULD the world be a better place if “ruled” by women? (I’ve given this more thought than the first question.) I think so, but with a whole pile of caveats. I believe that women are “different” from men during their reproductive years, due to body chemistry. But… women live many years after menopause. Can you answer this question without discussing WHY men “rule the world”? Piazza does not try.
The nuns described in Piazza’s book undertake a wide variety of social action projects, most of which appeal to me as a liberal. I’m glad nuns pay attention to how their pension funds are invested (Sister Nora Nash) and offer help to victims of human trafficking (Sister Joan Dawber).
Some of the social action described in this book takes place within the Roman Catholic Church, like activism by Sister Maureen Fiedler directed toward gaining women the right to become priests. Nuns like Sister Jeannine Gramick have advocated strongly for outreach towards gay people, to the extent of incurring disapproval from the Vatican.
Most of the women described in this book seem to be, to varying degrees, at odds with the Church to which they have committed their lives. They are now elderly, and chose their religious vocations around the time of the Second Vatican Council. This Council liberalized some aspects of the Church, in particular allowing the Mass to be offered in languages other than Latin. Many people hoped for further changes – an end to priestly celibacy, acceptance of the use of contraception, etc.
It’s hard for me to understand the optimism of these women about an institution that has discriminated against them so consistently and for so long.
I skipped one chapter in this book, which is about Sister Dianna Mae Ortiz. As a young teacher, she was captured and tortured by insurgents (?) in Guatemala.
Sometimes Piazza is careless about language. Surely “patriarchy” is sufficiently important to require a context specific definition. I have heard the term used so many different ways. And what does “(boots) on the ground” mean in this text? It’s a military expression, I think.
I don’t understand the inclusion in this book of Sister Madonna Buder, who runs Ironman triathlons despite being in her 80s. I don’t see how this changes the world or contributes to the wellbeing of others. I don’t admire it in the same way I appreciate someone who feeds the hungry or supports women in prison (Sister Tesa Fitzgerald).
For a different look at modern nuns, see my blog post of October 25, 2013 about the documentary film “Sisters”. It was made as an explicit reply to the Papal investigation of feminism among American nuns.
The women described in this book are both compassionate and efficient. I admire a great deal of what they do. But I feel a certain reservation about people who have taken a vow of lifelong obedience to an institution that seems, in so many ways, not to serve their best interests or value their judgment.
2 thoughts on ““If Nuns Ruled the World – Ten Sisters on a Mission” by Jo Piazza”
Big questions! Have you ever known any nuns? How would you? But it seems like sometimes they turn up as professors in various institutions, besides the obvious Catholic colleges; my college had a “brother” on the faculty, and sometimes used a logic text written by a Sister of the Holy Cross.
I can only think of two nuns among my acquaintance, neither on my list of close friends. One teaches at the College, where she bears the title Distinguished Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The other is the sister of the wife of my husband’s colleague – I never met her but know a little of her circumstances. I believe she was a teacher and is now retired.
Actually, I know more people who were FORMERLY in religious orders! One was my uber-boss and local County Executive for several years. Another taught at the College. And one worked as Principal at the local elementary school.
My sister sent the following after she read this post: “Your description of our upbringing and early relationship to the Catholic Church was very accurate, The only difference in my experience was that my best friend from Kindergarten, whose house I went to often that year, went to Parochial School the next year. I felt abandoned. I could not understand it and it left me feeling very negative toward an institution that would take my friend away.” I never knew this! There was more, too personal for this venue.