A panel of four nuns gathered to discuss the role of women in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council in an event presented by the Women’s Center and Catholic Studies Program in Lohrfink Auditorium on Friday evening.
Vatican II was called by Pope John XXIII in 1962 and resulted in the release of a decree called the Perfectae Caritatis, or the Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, which aimed to change the relationship of the Church with the world.
“This decree called religious men and women to open the windows of their convents and monasteries to a changing world,” Catholic Studies Program Director Ilia Delio said.
This renewal of the Church’s role allowed for a traditional institution to become part of a changing world.
“I think we see the move of the Church from an inward-looking church to a church that is deeply engaged in the world,” Delio said.
This decree shifted the view of sisters toward what their roles as religious women ought to be.
“In the wake of Vatican II, sisters developed a very rich understanding of ministry as world-oriented as compared to Church-oriented, meaning to be practiced only or primarily within the walls of Catholic institutions,” Sister Helen Amos said.
Vatican II changed the perspective of the religious men and women in the Church, but it also shifted curriculum focus in schools run by sisters.
“The students who represented in my school so many parts of the world were now entering into the analysis of the world in a whole new way,” Sister Mary Johnson said. “By junior high, while the focus still included the discipline and rigor which had marked elementary years, the world seemed to have moved into our classrooms in a new way.”
The transference of power from centralized leaders to a more conversational, individual approach within convents also allowed the sisters to think for themselves more than they had previously.
“But you can see that [with] centralized authority, we didn’t do much thinking on our own, we did what we were told to do,” Sister Camilla Burns said.
Sister Simone Campbell, one of the panelists, is the co-founder of Nuns on the Bus, a group of sisters that travels the country to rally support for political issues such as immigration reform. The Nuns’ journey is sponsored by NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby.
The sisters’ direct involvement in current political issues demonstrates how religious life has embraced worldly concerns. Campbell emphasized the importance of embracing the pain of others.
“Let your heart be broken. And if your heart is broken open, the amazing thing is there’s room for more people in your heart, and it releases hope into the darkness because we are no longer alone,” Campbell said
Mandy Lee (SFS ’17), an attendee, felt that Campbell’s statement about embracing the pain of others really stood out.
“I guess one thing that I liked the most was how they all talked about having your heart broken so that it’s even more open to receive the pain of others and to receive others to help them, so I thought that was really powerful,” Lee said.
Lee was also surprised by how the sisters’ engagement in the world included advocacy on hot-button issues.
“I loved seeing how modern they were and their perspectives on modern issues and how they feel that that is also an issue for nuns to tackle,” Lee said.