Today, in cloisters and schools around America, the sound of young voices is ringing out. These sisters’ voices resound in classrooms, lift in chant, laugh on the playing field — and bring their fresh, healthy orthodox Catholicism into the spiritual desert.
Sister smiled awkwardly, and then turned on her heel to write pre-algebra equations on the chalkboard.
From the back of the classroom came a stifled giggle, then a raised hand.
“Sister, where’s your habit?”
Sister Imelda was a formal person, so she didn’t joke with us. The class surveyed her warily — after all, we were a little shocked. She was dressed in the height of 1970s fashion — a no-nonsense, powder-blue, pantsuit.
“The Order, in their wisdom, has decided that we will no longer wear our habits,” she said shortly, and turned back to her chalk board. That was all the explanation we ever received.
Sister Imelda Marie wasn’t alone. In the 1970s, almost every Dominican group in the United States banished the traditional garb worn by the Order since it was founded by St. Dominic Guzman in the 1300s. There followed a massive exodus of sisters. Since then, the Order has dwindled to a mere shadow of its former significant presence in Catholic schools and parishes across America.
The decimation of the Dominican convents was, for decades, in some Church circles explained away as a ‘positive’ fruit of the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II. When such face-saving exercises became futile, many would simply shrug and point to the ‘effects’ of the ‘turbulent’ 1960s.
These days, the Western news media routinely highlights the lack of vocations as merely one aspect of a Catholic Church engulfed by crisis. And thanks to the media publicity heaped on the dissident ‘Nuns on the Bus,’ most Americans today can be forgiven if they think that Catholic sisters are all septuagenarians in pantsuits pushing an out-there feminist agenda.
This is a huge misconception. In fact, the media has missed a story which is truly historic:
- All over America, a quiet revolution has been taking place since the 1990s.
- US religious orders who wear traditional garb and live in community have been experiencing a renaissance — a veritable ‘springtime’ of the Church.
- These orders are growing — many by leaps and bounds — as reverent young women have sought out the life that has sustained their forebears and the Church through the centuries.
Today, in cloisters and schools around America, the sound of young voices is ringing out. These sisters’ voices resound in classrooms, lift in chant, laugh on the playing field — and bring their fresh, healthy orthodox Catholicism into the spiritual desert that we have lived through lo these many decades.
This is a real story of rebirth — and not just for the Dominicans. We begin, however, with them.