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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Sister Marian Batho, Delegate for Religious of the Archdiocese of Boston
- Sisters of Saint Joseph
- Delegate for Religious office
- “Journeying Together: Congregations of Women and Men Religious in the Archdiocese of Boston 1808-2008”
- NRVC/CARA 2009 Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life
Today’s topics: The contribution of religious orders to the Archdiocese of Boston
Summary of today’s show: Sr. Marian Batho joined Scot and Fr. Chris to discuss the link between the health of religious communities and the health of the Church. Also how one discerns a call to religious life, her work as Delegate for Religious in Boston, the history of religious orders in Boston, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the future of religious communities.
1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Chris back to the show. Today marks the first day of summer. Tomorrow, Fr. Chris is heading to Omaha to Creighton University to visit with seminarians spending time this summer at an institute for priestly formation. They are learning Ignatian spirituality.
Scot noted that EWTN’s program Faith and Culture with Colleen Carroll Campbell was at St. John’s Seminary over the weekend filming about 10 episodes with local Bostonians.
2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Chris welcomed Sr. Marian to the show. Scot asked her about call to the religious life. From when she was 8 years old, she began to think about being a sister. She liked to go into the chapels of religious communities in her neighborhood, including Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the Columban Sisters. She went to Boston public schools, but for college went to Regis College, which is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph and she fell in love with the order. Their commitment to the students touched her. She’s loved classical music since she was a child and her music teacher, Sr. Margaret William McCarthy, was instrumental in helping her in college. She was a witness of love for her vocation.
Several years after graduating, Sr. Marian entered the Sisters of St. Joseph. In between, she was engaged to be married, but she felt God call her to a different path. She also had a Master’s degree in finance before entering religious life. She had been on a career track through the financial services industry, particularly insurance. But in 1976, she entered religious life.
Fr. Chris said Sr. Marian also works as the Cardinal’s representative to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council as well as assisting couples with marriage preparation in a local parish. She said she finds it a great blessing to work in the Pastoral Center and work for the Archdiocese for nearly 14 years. She’s been the Delegate for Religious for almost 10 years and is able to meet with men and women religious nearly every day, which continues to inspire her.
The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is a consultative body to Cardinal Seán. It’s like a parish’s pastoral council. Cardinal Seán meets with them to seek their advice on various pastoral issues facing the Archdiocese. It includes two pastors, two deacons, a religious sister, a religious brother, and lay representatives from the various regions of the archdiocese as recommended by local pastors.
As Delegate for Religious, Sr. Marian is liaison between Cardinal Seán and over 2,000 religious in Boston, as well as consecrated virgins, hermits, and men and women in discernment. She calls herself the vocation concierge. Sr. Marian gets four or five calls per month from people looking for more information. Throughout the year they have informational events.
The signs of a religious vocation including having a life of prayer; they’re participating in the parish and attending Mass at least weekly or even daily as much as possible; and involved in parish activities. She also looks at their interests because religious orders are involved in many apostolic works as well as orders that are contemplative. She will then help arrange a meeting with the order.
Contemplative communities live in cloisters, in their monasteries, leaving only for necessary reasons, living a life predominantly of prayer. An apostolic community is involved in a variety of activities, like education, healthcare, or social justice.
Generally speaking, the timeframe for final profession as a religious is between 9 and 10 years. Most communities now have a live-in experience prior to entrance. First, they get to know the community, joining them for prayer and meals. They look for a good match between the person and the community. Then they are invited to enter the community as postulant in a period of testing for one or two years. Then they enter novitiate for two years. The first year is a canonical novitiate with intense prayer and study on the community, theology, Scripture, prayer, and vows. The second year is an apostolic year where they experience the work of the community. At the end of the novitiate, the candidate asks to make first profession and the community decides whether they continue to be a good fit. Between 3 and 6 years later they make a final profession.
Sr. Marian said community life is essential to religious life. The three evangelical counsels are poverty, chastity, and obedience are lived within community.
Fr. Chris asked about her order’s devotion to St. Joseph. Sr. Marian said her order’s constitution says, “We look to Joseph as our model of justice, gentleness and humility, extending a cordial charity to all.” She noted that Joseph never speaks in the Scriptures and the order tries to imitate the hidden life of Joseph in humility and care for those in need. The Sisters of St. Joseph are most known for education. They have Fontbonne Academy, Mt. St. Joseph, Walnut Park, Regis College, Bethany Hills School, and the Literacy Connection, which offers services to immigrants. They also have Bethany Healthcare Center. The Sisters also work with other communities to open a safe house for victims of human trafficking.
3rd segment: Scot said three years ago as part of the Archdiocesan bicentennial year, a number of religious orders got together to publish a book, “Journeying Together” on the history of religious communities in the archdiocese. The book includes 125 orders of men and women. Sr. Marian said you can see the pastoral needs evolving in the Archdiocese of Boston and the evolving pastoral priorities of each Archbishop. She calls it a beautiful love story and usually gives it to discerning men and women to read. She wrote in the foreword to the book:
The following pages represent a wonderful Love Story. They speak of courageous founders, faith-filled major superiors, and devoted religious who responded generously to the invitation to come to Boston. Concerned for the pastoral care of a large immigrant population, and trusting in the providence of God, religious communities built schools, hospitals and social service agencies. Their legacy for the next 200 years is that with God all things are possible.
Scot recalled the first religious sisters in the Archdiocese, the Ursuline Sisters, who had their school in Charlestown burned down by anti-Catholics. Sr. Marian noted that the orders came to Boston with limited resources and were able to build a great legacy with God’s providence.
Scot said it took great trust by the religious to found these institutions like schools or hospitals and believe that people would support them. Sr. Marian said it speaks of the importance of community. Praying together and living together helped the seeds of religious life blossom in Boston. When people come together as a team or community, marvelous and wonderful things happen.
Scot said what made Boston stand out for the growth of the Archdiocese was the new life that religious communities breathed into Boston. Cardinal Seán in his recent pastoral letter noted that new life and growth of religious orders that will spur new growth of the Church in Boston for the future. As goes religious orders in Boston, so goes the Church as a whole.
Fr. Chris asked Sr. Marian what the three Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience mean. Sr. Marian said to sum it up, it means that my life is not about me. In the vow of poverty, they profess that all they have belongs to the community and they own it in common. They trust the community will let them receive what they need. In the vow of obedience, they try to respond every day to the will of God as Mary and Joseph did with an enthusiastic, unqualified Yes. In chastity, it means that God is their primary relationship, which allows them to be available in all circumstances. Cardinal Seán says the vows are an antidote to the ills of society: materialism, individualism, and licentiousness.
Scot said the reliance of the religious on the community deepens the bonds between them. Sr. Marian said it also affirms that what we have is not for ourselves, but to be shared.
For 2010, the Boston Catholic Directory reports 1800 religious women, 500 religious priests, and about 100 religious men. That contrasts with the late 60s’: More than 6,000 women, over 1,000 priests, and almost 300 men. Scot asked which era is the norm? Are we in a shortage today or was that an unusual bounty?
Sr. Marian said there were many reasons for those large numbers and maybe we will never have those large numbers again. But she believes that God continues to call and while there maybe disappointment at the small number of people opting for religious life, the CARA study of religious life shows that there are many young men and women considering religious life. Sr. Marian said her concern is that we’re not talking about religious life. She often hears from people considering religious life is that no one has ever invited them to consider it.
Sr. Marian said the life of the Sisters of St. Joseph is inspiring and overwhelming to see the children learning in their schools, to see communities grow.
Fr. Chris asked what advice she would give to parents to encourage religious vocations. She said they need to find out more about religious communities. She thinks there should be come-and-see events for families. In addition to discouragement that sometimes comes from parents, it can also come from peers.
Scot said parents shouldn’t necessarily ask “What do you want to be?”, but instead ask, “What you think God wants you to be?” Parents can have plans and hopes for their kids, but children are a gift from God and a Catholic parent knows that a child’s ultimate happiness is in their children doing what God wants them to do. He plants the seed in their minds, by pointing out priests and religious they might know and wanting to emulate them.
Sr. Marian said we also have to talk about the importance of prayer and faith sharing because the language can be foreign if the family isn’t praying in the home. She thinks that’s where the gap is. She recalls Sr. Mary Johnson of Emmanuel College who said young people are desperately searching for what religious communities offer while the communities look for new members. They need to find ways to bridge that gap. At a recent discernment meeting, they had younger members of the communities talk about their call and she could feel the atmosphere in the room change as people began to consider God might be calling them.
Teaching young people to pray can help the vocational crisis. God hasn’t stopped calling. More people need to start listening. If we teach people to pray, the vocations will come as people learn to hear His voice.
4th segment: Scot asked Sr. Marian what we have to look forward to in religious life over the next 200 years. She said God will continue to call. Bishops in our history have called religious orders forth to serve ministries and pastoral needs in the archdiocese. With Cardinal Seán’s new pastoral letter on evangelization, it is a new moment for orders that are here to re-engage, for orders to come to Boston, and for new orders to form.
Scot asked Sr. Marian the best way for people to re-connect with religious who have been instrumental in their lives: teachers who have taught them, for example. Anyone trying to re-connect with them can call Sr. Marian and she can try to make the connection. There are also listings of religious sisters, brothers, and diocesan priests, which are kept up-to-date.
There will be more discernment weekends in the fall and then in February and April of 2012.