Outspoken nun Joan Chittister visits Chicago for Benedictine Sisters’ 150th anniversary
The Benedictine Sisters settled at St. Joseph’s Parish in a one-room convent behind a church at Chicago and Wabash. The young community grew quickly and opened an academy for girls, only to have everything destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
In 1906, the nuns found a new home in Rogers Park (pictured above), where they still reside today. Dedicated to “serving where there is need,” the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago are active in a number of different ministries and run St. Scholastica Academy on the North Side.
In honor of their anniversary, the community hosted Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun from Pennsylvania and internationally known writer and speaker. Chittister often addresses contemporary social justice issues of peace and equality, and she is a staunch advocate for women’s rights, both in the Church and in society. She once went against a request from the Vatican to speak at a women’s ordination conference in Dublin.
On Sunday she spoke at St. Scholastica to a few hundred people on “Only the Ancients Can Meet Our Needs.”
In facing today’s struggles in the Church – and in the world — Chittister (pictured left) challenged laity to form “radical Christian communities” rather than remain “fossils of a bygone reality.”
“Now we need new wisdom and new actions to become what we must be if we are really to be a spiritual people in these changing times,” she said. “And our choices are clear: we can go forward again, … or we can go backwards in an attempt to maintain what we know better but which we also know is already long gone.”
She added, quoting author John Gardner, “The last act of a dying institution is to get out a new edition of its rule book.”
Drawing on the roots of the Sisters, Chittister explained that St. Benedict laid a foundation that today’s Christians should model. Through creativity and adaptation, St. Benedict started a movement in the sixth century that was grounded in the people.
Following his example, people today should develop communities “with a clear spirituality” that will bring “a strong common voice, a cry for humility,” Chittister said.
She also stressed the importance of asking the “revolutionary” question — Why? – and put a special emphasis on the power of the laity, noting that good ideas rarely come from the top.
“What you recognize, the Church will eventually recognize,” she said. “Start training your children with these questions, with these answers. Get them in these groups, and then watch the world change under their feet.”
Addressing national problems, Chittister criticized sexism, racism, narcissism, “wars without warrant” and the funding of weapons.
She said the U.S. is “a country that hoards money and titles, power and prestige and gold, that seeks to balance the national budget on the backs of women, children, the poor and the elderly, and then races to find a TV camera to announce that doing that is a bold, fresh idea instead of the shameful, sinful idea that is.”
America needs a spiritual answer, Chittister said.
“Spiritually doesn’t mean we take passively the destruction of our country and our Church,” she said.
By Katie Drews, for ChicagoCatholicNews.com
Photos courtesy of Benedictine Sisters of Chicago.