Vincentian Family

Why join a so-called “dying community”?

Amanda Kern writes, “The question is…..why would a healthy 20-something join a community like this, a community where the average age is in the 70s, a community where she may soon see Sisters she knows and loves forget who she is?

Why not join a community where the average age is in their 30s or even maybe 40s?

It’s a question many Catholics still ask about new vocations to so-called “dying communities“.

She writes in her blog Drink Deeply My Daughter

Among other things that St Joseph’s holds, including the Basilica and National Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, is the Villa, one of our retirement facilities. Over the past two years, there has been one particular Sister that I’ve visited many times, in fact every time I went to Emmitsburg. She is quite a whip for being in her 90s. We’d sit for hours and have conversations about the Baltimore Orioles, joke about new souvenirs for the shrine (including a St Elizabeth Ann Seton bobblehead), share our stories and, of course, she would share her wisdom about vocation. She even met my family when we once traveled to Emmitsburg together.

And two days ago, when I knocked on her door, she answered with a great smile. “You sent me a Christmas card, didn’t you?” I beamed – “yes, I did“. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to write you back”. I sort of chuckled to myself because I know what a bad corespondent she was. As I entered her room and got closer to her, she clasped my hand and said “Now we’ve met before, right?” I didn’t show it but my heart sank. Instead, I squeezed her hand and said “Yes, Sister, many times

A stained glass in the Basilica
depicting Srs performing the
Corporal Acts of Mercy

The question is…..why would a healthy 20-something join a community like this, a community where the average age is in the 70s, a community where she may soon see Sisters she knows and loves forget who she is?
Why not join a community where the average age is in their 30s or even maybe 40s?

It’s a question many Catholics still ask about new vocations to so-called “dying communities“.
To clear up things, first, the Daughters of Charity are not a “dying community”. New vocations have been in smaller groups, but they’ve remained consistent and ongoing. For the past decades, our Seminary (novitiate) has never remained empty for more than a few months.
Second, even for other communities…using the phrase “dying community” (in my opinion) is insulting to these women who have dedicated their lives to God.

I’ve already talked about how God is still calling to all types of communities. That’s the big picture.

Yet, discerners and others alike have asked me “well, yeah,….but how do you feel about it?”

Is it hard living with Sisters that are generations older? Well, yeah….sometimes. Cultures are different, likes/dislikes are different, experiences are different, etc. But most of the time – and this is the truth – I don’t even notice the age gap anymore.

Yet, even beyond that, I believe there is a great advantage we have, compared to communities with younger average ages (though they are obviously wonderful too)

What possible advantage could be that, you ask? What possible good thing could come from having more Sisters that are older instead of younger?
For me, it’s been an advantage that’s carried me through the rough times and an advantage that has led me to smile as I travel on this journey.
It’s been the wisdom of our older Sisters.

I’ve heard wisdom from our Villa Sisters (and those still active) that come from their own experience. Most of the Daughters of Charity who recently celebrated 50 years as a Sister are still in ministry, including one I live with. Another Sister I lived with in Macon celebrated 60 years last year. And believe it or not, but we actually have some who have been a Daughter of Charity for 80 years. They’ve lived through the changes of Vatican II (and maybe even got frustrated over how fast or how slow the changes were moving). They lived through times of crisis in the country. And, more personally, they’ve lived through periods of spiritual darkness, periods of incredible joy and maybe even crises of vocation.

They have wisdom that those of us who are younger – whether that be much younger or just a few decades younger – are still figuring out. While there is something to say about learning things ourselves, there is something deeply reassuring about receiving that wisdom, even if we may not quite fully “get it” at the time.

One Sister in the Villa had recently moved to Emmitsburg from St Louis, so I met her for the first time. When she heard I was soon to be a Seminary Sister, she clasped my hand and said with a smile “There are tough times, but it’s all worth it – every moment

Could a Sister in their 40s or 50s have told me the same thing? Sure. Yet, it meant something different coming from a woman who had dedicated the majority of her life to God and lived through so much as a Sister.

So, how do I feel about being a 20-something in an older community?

Blessed.

Blessed to have great inspiration surrounding me, to have the opportunity to meet and know amazing servants of the poor, to have my name on the lips of those Sisters as they pray for these younger Sisters, and to hear wisdom that will carry me through the joys and trials of religious life.

Will I continue to pray and work to encourage new vocations so the average age gets younger? Absolutely. But meanwhile, I will thank God for those Sisters who served before me and paved the way…even those who no longer recognize me.

(This post is dedicated to Sister Regina, a Sister that passed away while I was staying in Emmitsburg a few days ago. I didn’t know her personally but she was in her 90s and active until the very last day. This is for her and all the wisdom she surely passed on through the years….)

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5 Responses to Why join a so-called “dying community”?

  1. Amanda January 7, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Just to clarify in case someone doesn’t read the whole thing, I don’t think the DCs are a “dying community”. I’m referring to the (false) statement that some use to describe older communities. :)

    • jbf January 7, 2013 at 9:04 am #

      I changed my subject line to make that clearer.
      Why join a so-called “dying community”?

  2. Ross January 7, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    If I am not mistaken, the DC’s are still the biggest religious institute in the Catholic Church, bigger than the Jesuits, I believe. Having said this and admitting that there is surely the great commission to make disciples of all nations, I humbly submit that big institutions do not appear to me to be what is envisioned or what matters. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

  3. jbf January 8, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    Thanks Amanda for tackling the perceptions and questions that are out there. I have heard many, especially younger, people who have a perception of religious life as dying institution. From the number of times your response has been reposted on Facebook and Twitter, etc. it seems to have helped many see another more positive take on the issues.