By Barb Arland Fye
Sitting in the principal’s office my sophomore year in high school, I recall Sister Judine suggesting that the baggy bib overalls with ragged cuffs that I wore that day was not appropriate for school. She might have also noticed the dramatic change in my hairstyle — now an Afro, thanks to the hairstyling skills of my classmates — but didn’t comment about it. Sister Judine was stern but I knew she cared deeply about me and the other students at St. Francis High, an all-girls school.
I think about her and all of the women religious who helped shape the life I live today, fulfilling a passion for a career in journalism and a commitment to grow on this journey of faith. These sisters include my grade school, high school and college instructors but also the women religious I have had the privilege to get to know in my journalism career in the secular and religious media.
Thoughts of the sisters come to mind as our diocese takes up the Retirement Fund for Religious collection this weekend (Dec. 10-11). Sister Michael Ann led her squirmy class of first-graders, me included, with equal parts of praise and strict discipline. We learned when to speak and when to be silent. (The “Quiet Game” tricked me in first grade, Sister, but never again!) Sister Galen inspired budding writers in freshman English class, providing me with a timely boost of encouragement. Sister Jane taught juniors and seniors in social studies class to see beyond the boundaries of their sheltered existences. Lessons learned from her and other sisters caused me to reflect on how, as a teenage student waiting at the bus stop, I viewed a woman who carried all of her belongings and behaved out of the norm.
Sisters Jude and Roberta offered wise advice early in my career with The Catholic Messenger about how to deal with difficult situations. I also witnessed their accompaniment of one of their own in the final days of her life, which taught me to appreciate the role of companion on the journey. So many other sisters from religious communities in our diocese and beyond have imparted wisdom, lessons for life and friendship. I keep them in my daily prayers.
A 2021 survey by America and CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) found “religious sisters and nuns were the most trusted of the nine groups of church leaders named in the survey question. Seventy five percent of respondents said consecrated religious women were ‘somewhat or very trustworthy’ in offering guidance on matters of faith and morals” (America, 11-18-21).
The study also found a precipitous drop in the number of women religious in the U.S. “The number peaked in 1965 at 179,954; today, there are only 42,441, according to CARA — a 76 percent drop,” according to the America article. A myriad of reasons contribute to the drop, but my intention is to celebrate the sisters who have and continue to make a lasting impact on the lives of others and myself.
Please join me in contributing to the Retirement Fund for Religious Collection, an appeal that benefits nearly 25,000 elderly religious order sisters, brothers and priests. As Bishop Thomas Zinkula says in his letter in this week’s Catholic Messenger, “They are a treasure — both for their service to our Church and for the ways their prayer and witness enrich our faith.” I thank God for all of the sisters who have walked with me on our pilgrim journey on this earth.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)