Mary Zeiss Stange on American Nuns: Not your parents' Sisters

How do you know a Roman Catholic nun when you see one? It used to be easy. They wore long black habits and veils with confining headgear, traveled in pairs, were teachers or nurses, and lived quietly in convents. There was a timelessness about them: the essentials of their way of living had remained unaltered for centuries.

Then came the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), with its mandate to bring the church ”” nuns and all ”” into the 20th century. Shortly thereafter, the Dominican Sisters at my school, St. Mary’s in Rutherford, N.J., took the plunge and modernized their garb. But otherwise, they still conformed to the traditional model, living in community and teaching primary and secondary school.

Their change of habits was but a baby step toward much broader subsequent changes for Catholic nuns. And the church’s current response to these changes suggests how resolutely clueless the hierarchy remains when it comes to what these religious women are up to, and how the changes in the realities of their dedicated lives mirror changes for women in American society at large.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Other Churches, Roman Catholic, Women

9 comments on “Mary Zeiss Stange on American Nuns: Not your parents' Sisters

  1. Words Matter says:

    A remarkably ignorant, ill-informed piece. Shouldn’t opinion be based on facts? Time doesn’t permit the fisking Stange deserves.

  2. Knapsack says:

    Click on the piece, though, to see the fascinatingly unconscious irony of the graphic . . . at least, it looks that way to me.

  3. FenelonSpoke says:

    I guess Dr. Stange is unaware that some of the orders experiencing the biggest growth are those that have traditional habits and are cloistered.
    I recommend the blog site”The Anchoress” which is by a conservative Catholic laywoman, and the site has some lovely photos and commentary about new sisters in contemplative orders. You just need to scroll down a bit:

  4. austin says:

    There are few “muftis” more immediately recognizable than that of the progressive nun. It is a maliciously amusing pastime to greet grim elderly women in bulky suits and sensible shoes as “Sister” and observe the level of annoyance when they note they have been rumbled. More than one has asked me, “How did you know?”
    “Force of habit.”

  5. Alta Californian says:

    For one, Stange seems to forget that Catholic seminaries were thoroughly investigated by the Vatican in 2006 in the wake of the abuse scandals. So in a way the hierarchy HAS been checking on men in ordained ministry as well. I do think that if they are investigating women religious they should look at male orders as well.

    Secondly, as a friend of mine likes to say, people are always surprised and shocked when the Catholic Church states what it really believes, and (I would add) when it expects its clergy and members to own up to the vows they have taken and the creeds they recite. But then, it is a hard thing for us all to truly live up to those.

    Our culture likes the narrative of the free-spirit striving against the oppressive institution. It is much harder for it to understand the leaders of a community calling on its members to actually honor the promises they have made.

  6. Laura R. says:

    Stange’s article definitely seems biased to me. Words Matter #1, I’d be very interested in your fisk. Austin #4, you are so right about the progressive nuns’ outfits. I was fascinated to see, looking at the website for Mother Angelica’s community, that she and the sisters there have evidently returned to the habit she wore as a young nun (very pre-Vatican II).

  7. Laura R. says:

    I ought to have said that Mother Angelica is the foundress of EWTN.

  8. RobtA says:

    Normally I would not comment about the background of a writer, but I feel that in this case it is appropriate and useful.

    The article in USA Today was written by Mary Zeiss Stange, who has written numerous opinions about religion there. All are boilerplate leftist. Given her byline (professor of religious studies) and the fact that she went to a Catholic high school (named in her article), the uninformed reader might come to an erroneous conclusion.

    But in Mary’s previous articles, she had opined in favor of unrestricted abortions, same-sex married (Lutheran) clergy, the use of “holidays” rather than “Christmas,” and of course the “stained glass ceiling” for women in many religious sects. Thus, it is not surprising that she prefers the plainclothes “social justice” type of nun to the traditional, religious type, and that the accompanying graphic seems to indicate that the new type has ascended from the old, with the usual progressive mindset.

    Ah, but I knew her, years ago. her maiden name was mary martha Zeiss. We attended the same high school. When she was a freshman and I was a sophomore, age 14 for both in 1964, she was my debate partner, dance partner, and first kiss. We made a good debate team, and her mom (a nurse) liked me from the boy perspective. But Mary soon realized that I was not Mr. Important, and we did not last long. She wasn’t religious then (neither was I), but was tending towards the narcissism later shown in her writings.

    I knew nothing of her for 45 years, since I graduated. But recently, I located her online by chance. It seems that her second husband taught her how to hunt, and now she is well-known for books and articles about armed women. I had been looking for an online photo of an armed feminist, and there she was. So I did some online research.

    It seems that she got into student radicalism in college, when it was fashionable, then got into religious studies in graduate school (possibly thanks to her first husband, already a graduate student in reliious studies there). When she got her Ph.D. they broke up, possibly becuase he wanted a family and she didn’t (he remarried and started a family). She knew the man who would become her second husband, via work, while she was married (and so was he) to their firsts. As far as I can tell, neither husband was Catholic or similar (Anglican and Lutheran being similar).

    Largely due to the hunting thing, she has favorably compared herself to the pagan goddess Diana. I have located a Wiccan web site that approves of her. Folks, she writes religious opinion articles in the mainstream press, about Lutherans and Catholics.

    She knows that I, Robert, have called her on this. After all, I was her debate partner for awhile!