It’s National Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of it. NCSW was just begun in 2014 to honor women religious through “events that instruct, enlighten, and recognize all these incredible women have done.” Students from our College participated in the first event when a sister invited one of her Dignitas students to the first weekend meeting at St. Catherine’s University in 2014. The SisterStory project grew out of that event; several CSS students and Benedictine Sisters became involved.
Sisters in Minnesota: In Minnesota, women religious have done many honorable ministries. They founded three colleges: borrowing and raising money, sending Sisters for graduate degrees in an era when neither women, let alone Sisters, were not welcome in many universities. They founded and managed hospitals: when the Mayo brothers needed a hospital to care for their clinic patients, they turned to local Franciscan Sisters. The Duluth Benedictines and other orders founded hospitals throughout the state. Equally visible are the dozens of schools built by Sisters. All this at a time when few women owned or managed property and businesses.
NCSW’s Roots: National Catholic Sister’s Week has its roots inWomen’s History Month, celebrated each March. Many people feel nostalgia for the seeming Golden Age of religious life, when women joined convents by the dozen yet their Superiors still couldn’t fulfill all the requests to staff the rapidly growing institutions. They wonder what went wrong. Historians, though, tell us that the enormous surge in the number of Sisters was abnormal. Catholic immigrants, sometimes excluded from mainstream society or subject to discrimination, devoted intense energy and resources to building a parallel Catholic culture. Sisters, living frugally and working without salaries, made it possible to get these organizations started.
The second half of the 20th century brought many changes. Catholics were more accepted in mainstream American society; the first Catholic President, John Kennedy, was elected in 1960. Around the same time, the Catholic Church experienced major changes with Vatican II. The Women’s Movement of the 1970s made it possible for lay women have many roles formerly open to Sisters. With religious life in flux, many Sisters left. The number who chose to join returned to the smaller proportion that prevailed through much of Christian history.
Sisters Today: National Catholic Sisters Week does not look backwards. It highlights the accomplishments of earlier Sisters as inspiration to the thousands of women who consider entering religious life each year. It shows what faith-filled and dedicated women can do and become.
How can you celebrate NCSW?
- Re-connect with a favorite Sister from your past: a teacher, someone who worked in a parish, a colleague, a friend. Sisters always love to get notes that bring back those memories.
- If you are on our campus, take a tour. Read the Sisters’ history on display in the Benedictine Commons. Look at the black-framed “how it used to be” photos in many halls and classrooms.
- View the Sisters’ History Boards just inside the entrance to the monastery (open 8am to 8pm).
- Get to know us on Twitter and Facebook (@DuluthMonastery)
- Come to a retreat or event through our Center for Spirituality and Enrichment.
- Be with us at prayer, Morning, Evening, or Eucharist in at 11:45 on weekdays, 11:00 am on Sundays.