Movies such as The Sound of Music, The Blues Brothers and Sister Act evidence the intrigue surrounding the life of a nun. Nuns in their 30s aren’t as common as they once were so the average person isn’t as likely to come into contact with one. In fact, according to Pew Research Centre data the numbers of religious in America has declined dramatically since the 1960’s. However, they are on the increase again in some places such as the United Kingdom, with the most attractive institutes interestingly being the more traditional orders, such as those who follow traditional prayer routines and still wear habits.
This week The Wall Street Journal published insights into the life of 30 year old Sister Bethany Madonna together with seven other Sisters of Life also in their 30s. Based in New York, the Sisters of Life is a reasonably new order established in 1991 by New York Cardinal John O’Connor. Since then, it has thrived. The impetus for the order came when Cardinal O’Connor visited Dachau, the site of a Nazi death camp. It moved him to start a religious community of women with a fourth vow to protect the sacredness of every human life, in addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Canonically speaking, they are sisters and not nuns, working in the community as they do, rather than living a contemplative life, though they do spend at least four hours in prayer every day.
Earlier this year, the New York Post expressed concern at the city’s declining birth rate and the plight of New York families. A significant number of births are from the city’s poorest neighborhoods — nearly 6 in 10 moms were on Medicaid or government-financed health insurance for the needy:
The city’s birth rate is the lowest since 1936 — having steadily declined over the past decade, according to data obtained by The Post. “This is a very troubling trend,” said Conservative Party state chairman Mike Long. “The economy is hurting families and the development of families … If we don’t produce enough young people, society won’t be able to pay for Social Security and Medicaid,” he warned.
Blacks had the lowest birth rate citywide, with 12.7 per 1,000 — and more black women are having abortions than babies, at a rate of 55 percent. “When the abortion ratio reaches nearly 60 percent in some communities, we as community leaders need to examine the choices we are making as we educate our young people,” the New York Metropolitan Clergy for Better Choices said.
As its fertility rate declines and more pregnant mothers struggle, one of the things the Sisters of Life concentrate on is helping pregnant women. This includes welcoming pregnant women in crisis to live among them as guests and practically assisting pregnant women in other ways.
As eight young women dressed in blue habits and long white veils prepared to offer their final vows as members of the Sisters of Life this month, the Wall Street Journal asked “What could lead a personable young woman from a happy family to give up everything — especially at a moment when women have never had as many opportunities before them?”. Eight years of life already within the community have culminated in this day’s decision so it isn’t one made lightly. Journalist, William McGurn, writes:
These are happy, excited women. What is it they believe they have found? Sister Bethany says it’s the “peace in your heart” that comes from knowing you are where you are meant to be. In this case it’s a place so countercultural, it’s almost un-American. For in a nation founded upon the God-given right to the pursuit of happiness, these sisters vow to put the happiness of others before their own … “After eight years,” she says with a smile, “you know if this is the life for you.”
… It is precisely the abandonment of self to Christ that sustains these women in those moments when perhaps they’d rather not obey, when they might prefer not to get out of bed in the middle of the night to help a pregnant mother who is throwing up in the next room …
Perhaps some of the babies they help will one day add to their numbers.