“You’re not doing this because of the Sound of Music, are you?” It was a fair question; Anne Marie Gallagher, 19, an avid fan of the 1960s musical, was announcing her plans to join a convent.
Sr Anne Marie reassured her worried friend that the decision had nothing to do with Maria von Trapp, but her denial just made the mystery deeper.
Why would anyone – especially a smart, hip, attractive inner-city girl like Gallagher – want to become a nun?
It’s no surprise that, with its strict demands of poverty, chastity and obedience, young men and women raised in a wealthy country with boundless opportunities are reluctant to sign up to the Catholic Church. What is surprising is that, in this day and age, anyone would take vows at all.
Yet while much of the church struggles with age and, some say, irrelevance, there are pockets of revival.
In Canberra, a young order of nuns has had to find a bigger convent to accommodate its new recruits. In Sydney, nuns who still wear the habit have built a thriving community in five years. And in Brisbane, the numbers studying for priesthood have ballooned.
Ask these young men and women why, and they’ll tell you it’s the Holy Spirit. But there are also less mysterious forces at work. Google. The flow-on effects of Sydney’s World Youth Day. And a realisation among seminary bosses and vocations advisers that to get numbers up, they needed to learn a few lessons from the corporate world when it came to marketing and recruitment.
Peter Strohmayer’s email sign-on is “bigbadpete”. He has a ruddy complexion, a cheeky sense of humour, and doesn’t mind a whiskey. The main point of difference between this 34-year-old and any other affable bloke his age is that he is known as Brother Peter, and he wears a habit.
While other men his age were cracking onto girls and getting drunk, Peter decided to join the Order of St Paul the First Hermit.
His story is a common one among seminarians and novitiates. He felt a calling early, but fought it.
Even priests don’t necessarily like the idea of becoming priests.
He became a teacher instead, but everyone he met – from his students to fellow worshippers at his parish – kept on saying he was born to be a man of the cloth. In his late 20s, he came around to their way of thinking.
Becoming a priest takes about seven years. The process is called “formation”, and while the young men make promises of, for example, chastity, along the way, they can leave at any time. Many do. Not everyone is suited to unrelenting poverty, chastity, obedience, prayer and community service.
There’s a lot of study at seminary, but the 32 young students have a pool table, drink wine at a “conviviality night” every Thursday and go out for dinner (if their tiny allowance permits).
Most move around the civilian world unnoticed, but Br Peter’s habit makes him conspicuous. So he is aware that his career choice invites extreme reactions from the public, especially in an age when sexual abuse scandals have tarnished its reputation.
“I know in Rome sometimes – and it’s happened in Australia, too – if we wear our habit if we have to go to the cathedral, there’s been the odd occasion where people have spat at me or said a few words on the train,” he says.
“But (reactions are) generally quite positive, even if people are unchurched or don’t know much about what we believe. They sense that there is a sacrificial element in what we are undertaking and they admire that – even if they don’t understand the theology behind it.”
At Sydney’s seminary, numbers have hovered around the 30-40 mark for a few years. In Melbourne, there are 50 students. Perhaps Brisbane has seen the biggest growth; numbers have more than quintupled in the past five years. But these men will not be enough to staff Australia’s parishes. By 2050, it’s estimated that 50 per cent of the country’s clergy will be foreign-born.
Other faiths don’t have this problem. There are not enough paid Anglican ministry jobs to satisfy the demand, and there’s no shortage of potential imams or rabbis. However, these religions don’t impose such extreme lifestyle restrictions.
A 2011 study of priests by Charles Sturt University found many were struggling in the job. While 90 per cent said their lives had been fulfilling, almost half found the workload excessive and more than 50 per cent thought they had too little say in the life of the church. More than two-thirds thought priests should be allowed to marry.
The chastity vow is one of the main obstacles to recruitment. But it doesn’t stop everyone.
Neville Yun, 42, came to the priesthood after a career in IT, after having a transformative experience at Sydney’s World Youth Day. He’d been in a few relationships. He knew that giving up sex wasn’t the only issue; he’d also be giving up intimacy and companionship.
“Since coming into the seminary, I have understood what that sacrifice entails,” he says.
“But if you are called to priesthood, celibacy can actually be a freedom in a way. It allows me to serve, and be open to what God wants me to do.”
The celibacy vow worries parents, too. The Catholic Church might not be the greatest supporter of young gay men, but its priests have some idea about what it’s like to “come out” to parents, and for parents to digest the knowledge that their future does not hold a wedding or grandchildren.
Thomas Zaranski, 26, was a talented, focused young man who thought becoming an economist and working in Queensland Treasury would make him happy. It didn’t.
“When I was leaving school, I was searching for things I thought were fulfilling, but were just self-fulfilling,” Zaranski said.
He struggled with joining the seminary, but realised at the age of 25 that it was his calling. When he announced his plans to his parents, they were distraught; his mother cried. They’d had a happy family life, and wanted the same for their son.
“My dad said, ‘we didn’t think this was the life you would live’.”
Zaranski’s fellow student, David Hood, 23, says that while his parents were happy, his brothers and sisters struggled to understand. “I’m the fourth (child) in the family, and the only one I feel is really practising my faith,” he said. “It’s a bit different for them to understand.”
Even the rector of Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Seminary, Monsignor Anthony Randazzo, said his parents cried when he announced his decision in 1985.
It’s not just celibacy that bothers parents, he said. “Every second person wants their son or daughter to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he said. “There’s not a lot of money in the priesthood. You don’t come here to be rich. Not fiscally, financially rich. I think there’s a spiritual richness that’s amazing.”
Ask the men who are studying in the seminary why they’re there, and the answer is mystical. They felt a “calling”, a compulsion, the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. It’s something those without faith can never understand. For them, money, sex and independence were sacrifices in the higher cause of a closer relationship with God and the joy of helping others.
But when it comes to recruitment, the church no longer leaves things solely to the Holy Spirit. It has replaced the old vocations model – a priest in an office with some brochures – with a national network of recruiters, who actively seek out and work with young men in parishes and on retreats.
The turnaround in Brisbane, says Monsignor Randazzo, has been more than a decade in the making. “Myself and (director of vocations) Fr Morgan Batt have strategised and worked together on how to create what we call a pipeline,” he says.
“We have tried to develop a program where we’re talking with and entering into the lives of these young men over a period of 10, 12 years.”
Sr Patti Jo Crockett believes her new convent is a miracle of God’s provision. For one thing, there’s a normal bath. “We’re so happy there’s no spa!” she says. (It’s hard to find a newish house without one, but bubbles are forbidden to sisters.) For another, there are seven bedrooms, and the block is big enough to build three more to accommodate her rapidly-growing brood of nuns.
Most miraculously, the house, at Kambah in Canberra, didn’t cost them a cent – the whole thing was paid for with donations.
Attracting women to convents is, theoretically, even tougher than attracting priests. In the past 30 years, the glass ceiling has shattered and their career options have grown exponentially. While only a man with seminary training can officiate over a Catholic mass, there are plenty of jobs in the Church for devout young women that don’t require vows – from teaching to working in social justice organisations.
But women are still joining.
Sr Patti Jo founded the Missionaries of God’s Love (MGL) in 1985. The MGL sisters wear brown skirts and white blouses, and work with young people. They have taken a vow of “radical” poverty, which means everything from their fruit and vegetables to their new convent is funded by donations.
They are also part of the Catholic charismatic movement, meaning that they believe the Holy Spirit speaks through them in tongues.
Older orders might be struggling to attract young women, but not the MGL. They have 15 members in three cities, and were forced to search for a bigger convent for their novitiates because the old one had become too small.
Among their recruits is Rosie Drum, 30, from Young in country NSW, who first met the sisters at a youth camp.
“I met the sisters through youth ministry, and I thought, ‘I want to be like them’,” she says.
Sr Patti Jo puts the order’s success down to two things; its work with young people, and natural regeneration.
“If you look over the centuries, it’s a thing that new groups are beginning and old ones are dying,” she says.
Another order that has enjoyed remarkable success in Australia is the Tennessee-based Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, which settled in Australia after World Youth Day in 2008.
Ten young Australians, their ages ranging from 19 to 36, are now preparing to take their vows in Nashville, and two more are also interested in joining. Some were referred by their parish priests, but at least two found the sisters on the Church’s newest recruitment agent – Google.
It’s a semi-contemplative order, meaning the sisters spend much of the day in prayer, but they also teach. Unlike other orders, who embraced civilian clothes after the Second Vatican Council, they never discarded their white habits and wear them always, even playing basketball.
The order has always been relatively small, so the fact it has recruited more than 100 young sisters in the past decade and is opening new branches in Canada and Scotland surprises even the sisters themselves.
“I wish I could answer why,” says local superior Sr Mary Rachel, 38.
One attraction could be the habit, a public statement of faith.
“The habit doesn’t make the sister, it’s not everything, but we believe it’s an important sign,” she says. “It’s a sign of living a simple life.”
The habit is controversial – other orders, who discarded it decades ago, believe it’s alienating, but Sr Mary Rachel finds it welcoming. On a recent trip to Adelaide, the sisters were stopped three times during a walk along the beach. Once by a woman, who asked them to pray for her daughter; once by men asking them to bless their fishing rods and once by a woman who was curious about their garb.
The demise of established orders and the rise of new ones could simply be about young women wanting to go where they can live with other young women; some religious orders have an average age of 70 plus.
Living with the elderly was not, however, a concern for Sydney woman Anne Marie Gallagher, 29. She first started exploring the possibility of becoming a nun at 19, and chose the Josephites, where the average age of sisters is in the late 60s, because of the special connection she felt with Mary MacKillop .
Yet even Sr Anne Marie struggled to explain a decision that remains a mystery both inside and outside the Church.
“I don’t think I could ever find words to explain how or why I stayed in this commitment,” she says.
“I’m not doing this because I think I couldn’t be married, or be a mother. It’s a matter of being content in yourself.”
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – One of the few monastic documents still in its original location after surviving the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the 1530s, the “Expositiones Vocabulorum Biblie” is indeed a rare find. Henry VII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland and seized their assets and income, it’s remarkable that the book survived.
Hand written on parchment, the book is thought to have helped nuns decipher parts of the Bible. The book also contains explanations and the origins of difficult words.
On display now at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, where the original nuns resided, the book was recently bought in an auction by the National Trust.
Sonia Jones, house and collections manager at Lacock, said the 14th century book gave an insight into how the nuns lived during their time in the abbey.
“We know little about the everyday lives of the nuns at Lacock Abbey,” she says.
“This one book gives us a remarkable rare glimpse, a short glance into how they might have lived their lives. It tells us that they studied the Bible closely and most would have been literate.
“There is scrap parchment in the bindings which are part of the accounts of the abbey, recycled when the book was bound. Those fragments let us see just a little of some of the business side of the abbey, selling wool to provide an income.
“It is a special and important book, but to have it in Lacock and to be able to put it on display in the abbey, in its original home is simply priceless.”
It’s not known if the dictionary, along with other books, were ever written at Lacock or where this copy was laboriously hand written elsewhere.
The book was already known to the Trust and had passed down through generations of the Talbot family who lived at the abbey. Put up for sale, the dictionary was bought by the National Trust at auction at Christie’s.
2013, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
By John Heuertz
“ … They called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith …” (Acts 14:27).
Billed as “The Year of Faith: A Faith Professed, Celebrated, Lived and Prayed,” the Institute for Religious Life held its Midwest regional meeting last Saturday at the Franciscan Prayer Center in Independence.
In proclaiming the “Year of Faith” that began last October 11, Pope Benedict XVI asked the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to study and reflect on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith.
Catholics living a consecrated life as religious brothers, sisters and nuns have a key part in this deepening. “It’s a great day for religious to come together in solidarity to better understand their role in the Church’s New Evangelization of the world,” IRL Executive Director Michael Vick.
“The Institute for Religious Life … continues to carry out a wonderful work of the Church, providing sound teaching and formation for Religious, and inspiration for us all,” said Bishop Robert W. Finn in his homily during Mass for the 200 religious and laity at Saturday’s meeting.
IRL National Director Fr. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem. discussed “Deepening the Virtue of Faith in This Year of Faith.” He recalled Benedict XVI’s teaching that Christ opened the door of faith for the whole world by his Passion and Death, and that the door to faith is always open to all.
“Faith is like a door to a home of love, security and a network of relationships – a door to the Church,” he said. “The Church is like a family.”
Christ opens this door, enabling us to “see that God is also a man who reveals Himself as a triune God of love.”
But first we must believe in Christ, and “give humble assent to His word.”
Anyone with a humble mind, a trusting heart and an obedient will can give this assent. All the saints model it.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was the model of the perfect faith. “That’s why Saturdays are hers. The Apostles lost their faith on Friday and regained it on a Sunday.”
Atchison Benedictine Fr. Thomas Habiger, OSB discussed “The Essential Role of Consecrated Religious in Shaping and Evangelizing the Culture.”
He taught partly from Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Letter “Vita Consecrata,” which says that both Catholic and Orthodox institutes of religious life flourish everywhere because “the choice of total self-giving to God in Christ is in no way incompatible with any human culture or historical situation.”
Fr. Habiger said that Catholics living a consecrated life express this total self-giving through competence in mission, a renewed commitment to the Church’s intellectual life, and especially through the prophetic dimension of religious life, since that life imitates the total self-giving of the Lord’s life in this world.
Catholic clergy and religious only make up one-tenth of one percent of the whole Church. “Our role is to bring the teachings of Jesus and the principles of the rightly lived Christian life to the 99.9 percent, and to encourage them to go out and live it,” Fr. Habiger said.
Benedictine College’s Dr. Jeremy Sienkiewicz echoed this sentiment when he spoke on “Vatican II and the Salvation of Modern Man.” As a fruit of Baptism rather than a separate Sacrament, “The religious life … moves people from saving one’s own soul to helping those in the Church save their souls to helping all humanity save theirs.”
This hierarchy of goals is key to the radical transformation of one’s own life that drives the New Evangelization, which aims to transform the world in Christ.
“Modern man thinks Christianity is all about bringing joy to people, but it’s not,” he said. “To Catholics, our religion is about the will and the intellect.”
“We have to get others to believe the Catholic faith is something to die for, and live that belief in our own lives.”
Because they’re the leaven in the Church’s New Evangelization, it’s especially important for consecrated Catholics to know what the Catechism and the documents of the Second Vatican Council actually say.
“We should read them because they’re magisterial and because they’re beautiful,” Dr. Sienkiewicz said. “And because they’re for us.”
Personal holiness is even more important. “Everyone is called to be a saint. To not be a saint is to be less than human.” o
Founded in 1974, the IRL is a collaborative effort of Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity to foster and strengthen vocations to the consecrated life. For more information, visit the web site at www.religiouslife.com.
An anonymous Catholic high school educator, Tim, offers his views on the state of Catholic high schools at the website Catholic Stand. His post, “Confessions of a Wanna-Be Orthodox Catholic High School Teacher” draws from his experience as a 16-year veteran.
Among the causes of a lukewarm faith among students, Tim first lists divorce and its impact on youth and their faith. Of his experiences he writes:
If Catholic schools were factories, the end product would be lukewarm Catholics. I could recount many nightmarish stories of how most of the Catholic school educators and administrators I have encountered have been men and women of little or no faith in Christ and Church. Even in the religion departments it is common to encounter ex-nuns who feel the Church is in sin because they can’t be priests, homosexual men who are more interested in defending the lifestyle than in teaching the straight Catholic faith, and a range of those who are in dissent on some or another important Catholic doctrine.
He says that administrators have told him that, “only one-third of the parents of Catholic school kids are there for the religious education, another one-third are there for sports, and the other one-third for the safety and academics.”
He offers some recommendations for strengthening Catholic identity at parochial schools. They include:
1. Hiring educators who take their faith seriously, live it out, and teach it across all disciplines.
2. Emphasizing worship and praise, and promoting Catholic-Christian music at school activities.
3. Making Eucharistic adoration available at Catholic schools and encouraging students to spend time before the Lord.
4. Combating the cultural messages and promoting healthy male-female relationships by teaching Theology of the Body, and returning to all-male and all-female classrooms/schools.
The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic High School Honor Roll recognizes excellence in Catholic identity, academics and civic education, highlighting the nation’s top 50 Catholic high schools.
Sister Clare Dang had never met a nun before she decided to become one.
Slightly built and extroverted, Vietnamese-born Dang was still in high school when she found the number of a convent in a magazine, and made the call.
“I think it’s just a calling from God, just to do something to fulfil your happiness,” she says.
For Lucy Vo, an early experience boarding with nuns at a convent lead her to aspire to become one.
“Going to high school outside, I had two alternatives to choose from. I could choose the pathway of religious life, or the other way. But obviously the call was very strong,” she says.
Both women belong to the Missionary Sisters of Mary Queen, a convent with Vietnamese origins in western Sydney.
Aged 34 and 33 respectively, they are among the rare few choosing to enter a life of religious devotion in modern Australia.
Although the two women had not met before entering the convent, they have similar backgrounds. Both were born in Vietnam, and moved with their families to Hong Kong before boarding a boat to Australia.
It’s an experience both women say drew them closer to their faith.
“Many of the boat people do think they owe God something when they are saved,” says Dang.
She can recall a particular moment that helped define the course of her life.
Her family had just left Vietnam when she was ten years old. They were on board a “tiny” boat for 11 days, when tragedy struck.
“The boat was crushed into this hidden rock under the sea. Everybody was held tight together, and not just Catholic, but all religious. Even those who don’t have any religion. There was praying… they were leaning back and the promise was coming out. They were saying, ‘if you do this for me, God, or heaven, or whatever they believed in, I would do this for you.’”
Sister Lucy Vo, whose family left Vietnam when she was two, may not remember the journey but she recognises the affect it had on her family. “That journey, just fleeing Vietnam and the hardships that my family has faced, it certainly has strengthened my faith.”
It was trauma, again, that led Cambodian-born sister Hun Do to discover the Catholic faith. Now living as a Josephite Sister, she sees her journey fleeing her home country as a key part of her decision to join them.
“During the time I was journeying in the Pol Pot time, and a few years wandering around, and then got into the [refugee] camp in Thailand… during that time I didn’t really link with God that much because I didn’t know about Christianity.”
“In the camp I worked with a Jesuit priest, and I remember at the time when I heard people call him father, I didn’t know what it was about,” she says.
Years later, after moving to Australia and growing close to two nuns who lived nearby, Do says she felt “God’s presence, really truly” must have been with her on those earlier journeys.
The number of Catholic nuns in Australia peaked in the 1960s, and has been in decline ever since.
There are fewer than 6,000 left in Australia, and with an average age of 74, the church is at risk of losing one of its most devout populations.
Sister Ailsa Mackinnon has been with the Sisters of Mercy for more than 50 years. She attributes the decline of the sisterhood in part, to rising affluence.
“Life in Australia is pretty easy, and we have a very middle-class type of an existence. So the desire to enter into this search isn’t as urgent as [it is among] people who have had a lot of hardship in their lives.”
Around the world, the Catholic Church is experiencing a clear shift in demographic, moving away from its traditional European roots to a more multicultural following.
The arrival of Pope Francis I, the first from outside Europe, brings another sign the Catholic Church is embracing change.
Mackinnon says the future of the Church lies in recognising diversity. In Australia; more than 22 per cent of the wider Catholic population were born overseas.
“Certainly the church has tried to accommodate the waves of migrants who have come to Australia,” she says. “It’s only going to become more multicultural.”
Mackinnon says Australian Catholics are once again recognising that the Church is “universal”.
“It’s only been since the second World War, and the stopping of the White Australia policy and the waves of migration since, that we’ve come to realise this.”
While she believes numbers of the Catholic religious will probably continue to decline, “it’ll probably get to a plateau,” she says.
“And the Catholic Church has recognised that you don’t have to be a nun or a brother to work within the church.”
Marcos Garza broke down in tears Wednesday after admitting to a sin he committed that some would say is completely unforgivable: He drove drunk one Sunday morning two years ago and struck a car driven by a beloved nun who later died.
The 21-year-old told jurors deciding his fate in an intoxication manslaughter trial that he went to the victim’s grave, sank to his knees and begged for her forgiveness.
“I’m very sorry,” he sobbed during testimony. “I would do anything to take her place.”
The nuns who worked with Sister Therese Cecilia Huong Do have forgiven Garza. The young man is remorseful, has volunteered and took his first Communion since the May 22, 2011, wreck.
But a Harris County jury was less forgiving Wednesday as they sentenced Garza to eight years in prison and said he used his car as a deadly weapon.
“He’s certainly disappointed,” attorney Tucker Graves said of his client. “If ever there was an intoxication manslaughter case that deserved probation, it was this.”
Garza faced 20 years in prison after pleading guilty this week to intoxication manslaughter. His lawyer asked for probation; prosecutors wanted jail time.
“This is a defendant who was driving home drunk who t-bones a nun,” prosecutor Britni Cooper told jurors. “This is an egregious set of facts.”
She said Garza, who was drinking at a party despite being underage, spent a night in jail for public intoxication in January 2011.
“That should have been a wake-up call,” Cooper said. “That was his ‘second chance’ to do right.”
The nuns who watched from the courtroom said Garza deserves mercy.
“His actions took away her life and her ministry here on Earth,” said Sister Bernadette, one of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province. “His life was spared for a purpose and for a reason, and we want him to live his life in her honor and to carry on her legacy.”
Garza was charged with intoxication manslaughter after the nun died a day after the wreck. South Houston police officers arrived at the scene in the 900 block of Minnesota about 5 a.m.
Sister Therese was on her way to her mother’s home to pick up food for a youth retreat.
Police found her trapped behind the steering wheel of her Honda Civic. They found Garza leaning against his GMC Sierra pickup truck, according to court records. He ran a stop sign at 50 mph, and she was driving about 40 mph, according to testimony.
The nun was taken by Life Flight helicopter to Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Garza was taken into custody and a mandatory blood test showed his blood alcohol content was .20, more than twice the legal limit of .08.
After the jury’s decision, the nun’s sister, Hannah Do, dressed Garza down in a victim impact statement.
“You have taken someone of so much worth,” Do cried. “Unfortunately, you will never get to meet her.”
To the Editor:
I welcome the opportunity to comment on the cartoon of Pope Benedict. I have been thinking about this for a while, but my initial reaction was: right on. The present Pope, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger was, from the pulpit of Saint Mary’s Church called a “rat,” by our much beloved and respected, Sister Jane. That was her last opportunity to preach in the church. We know, if we remember the recent history of the Catholic Church in Santa Rosa, that Sister Jane was responsible for exposing the multifaceted scandal involving the bishop and his “male friend,” and other sexual abuse involving this falsely ordained priest. (Who was also a thief, stealing over a thousand dollars from church collections.) Sister Jane wrote to the Vatican, to Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was then, Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith, (in previous centuries known as The Inquisition). Of course, she got little response and no support from Church officials – they were, and still are, in denial about the abuses going on.
In regard to the implications in the cartoon, the present Pope is definitely one to “bind up burdens too heavy to carry” for which he would never lift a finger. His stance on rights of women and family planning are well known. Women in the church have, for more than hundreds of years been treated as less than second class citizens. Look at the recent report, published this past Feb. 5, on the mistreatment and enslavement of young women and girls, for decades, in the
church – run, Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. (The last Laundry shut down in 1996.) Some remember the shock, when in 2009, the Pope sent his spies and henchmen to visit and reprimand the religious women in the United States who were behaving in too radical ways: ministering to gays, and immigrants, working compassionately with the marginalized in our society. And the persecution of the nuns continues. The men in power want them back in convents, habits and behind walls, where they can control these spirit-filled women.
Oh, and did I mention that as a young man in Nazi Germany, Ratzinger was a Brown Shirt? Not a Bonheoffer.
But, with due respect to the fact that the Pope is a very well educated person, and a follow human, and in a very important position of leadership, he still heads up a very corrupt and out of touch men’s club that has only their own interests at heart. I came to the realization several years ago that one must look elsewhere for Spiritual leadership.
Editor’s note: This letter arrived before Pope Benedict announced his retirement.
TARNOV — Close your eyes and you can see the children, laughing, learning and praying.
The voices of the nuns almost echo in the halls. The priests’ sermons hang in the air.
It’s been 51 years since St. Michael’s Parochial School in Tarnov closed its doors. The final graduating class was in 1961.
The school opened in 1911, and for 50 years was the beacon on the hill until dwindling enrollment numbers forced its closing.
St. Michael’s historic church still draws parishioners to this village of about 50 people, and the school is now Tarnov Heritage Museum.
Tarnov’s St. Michael Complex was placed on the Nebraska Register of Historic Places in 1990. The Tarnov Heritage Museum was established in the school in 2000.
The source of pride for the community is open for tours, and local historian Judy Hanzel is glad to bring the old school back to life for visitors.
Inside are artifacts of the school and church.
At its height, 60 to 70 students were enrolled. By the time it closed, there were fewer than 10 in the last graduating class.
Seven sisters taught, which was down to four or five at the end.
Hanzel stops in every room of the school — the library, kitchen, the sisters’ quarters, dining hall, stage and area where the children slept — boys and girls divided.
Also divided — at least during meal time —were the boarders and the Tarnov residents.
Hanzel said the kids who ate in the upstairs dining area were the boarders, and the sisters cooked for them. Those who lived in town ate downstairs because they brought their lunch.
At the time the church was built, the congregation was all Polish members. Other churches in the area were predominantly German or Irish.
“They had their own little congregation,” she said.
The first settlers, mostly from Poland, arrived in the area that would become Tarnov between 1877 and 1879. In 1880, they petitioned the bishop to build a crude church.
Tarnov was founded July 25, 1889, when representatives of the Union Pacific Railroad convinced the pastor to intercede between the railroad and property owners in platting a town.
The village was named Burrows but changed to Tarnov in 1890. Tarnov was the name of the principal town in the Galicia province, where many of them had come from.
The church was built during the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition, which Hanzel likened to the World’s Fair, which was held in Omaha in April-November 1898.
Once the expo was finished, the buildings were torn down and rafters and bricks were used when the current St. Michael’s church was built.
The museum was open to tours around 2000, and its genealogy room houses the confirmation and first communion records.
There are donated artifacts throughout the building and people continue to donate.
The museum still draws tours, Hanzel said, which is a tribute to the old school’s drawing power after all these years.
The former winter chapel, which was used during winter months because it was heated, is now the social hall, home to Tarnov’s annual Fall Festival.
The complex also includes a rectory, which is now rented out to families.
The tour also features a replica of the bomb dropped on Tarnov in August 1943, which is displayed at the museum. The bomb was dropped on the town by mistake during military training exercises. Luckily, nobody was injured.
The Catholic Church in the US made the front-page many times in 2012. With a presidential election in November, it was no surprise that many of the stories that grabbed our attention related to politics. I asked a group of Catholics—priests, nonprofit heads, campus ministers, students, writers, politicians, and average churchgoers—what the biggest stories were in 2012. Below, in no particular order, are sixteen big stories from 2012. But it’s not everything. What would you add? Tell us in the comments section.
1. Barack Obama wins the Catholic vote—again
Despite strong pressure from some Catholic bishops to encourage their flocks to abstain from voting for the president, Obama captures the Catholic vote 52%-45%, thanks in large part to the overwhelming support the president received from Latinos. Read more.
2. Both candidates for VP are Catholic
For the first time in our nation’s history, both nominees for the Vice Presidency are Roman Catholics. Read more.
3. “Nuns on the Bus” speak up for the poor
A group of liberal, social justice oriented nuns made headlines as they traveled across the country on a bus to protest budget cuts that would hurt the poor. Read more.
4. Cardinal Dolan prays at RNC, and then DNC, too
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan angered some on the Catholic left when he accepted a speaking role at the Republican National Convention. He then agreed to pray at the Democratic Convention as well. Though similar, Dolan highlighted different themes in each prayer. Read more.
5. Sr. Simone Campbell speaks at DNC
Campbell offered a very political pep talk at the Democratic Convention, scolding Rep. Paul Ryan several times, though not mentioning Jesus. Read more.
6. Yale professor silenced by Rome
Sr. Margaret Farley, a professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, was censured by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for her book “Just Love” for being “not consistent with authentic Catholic theology.” Read more.
7. Cardinal O’Malley helps defeat legalized suicide
Voters in Massachusetts were given an opportunity to legalize physician-assisted suicide, but a broad coalition led, in part, by O’Malley convinced them to reject the ballot question. Read more.
8. Same-sex marriage wins out over bishops’ objections
Bishops in four states lobbied against same-sex marriage initiatives, but voters rejected their pleas, passing same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, Washington state, and tossing out an amendment in Minnesota that would have prohibited it. Bishops insist they won’t change stance or tactics. A confirmation student in Minnesota who expressed support for same-sex marriage on Facebook was asked to leave the program. Read more.
9. Moderate and progressive bishops take a stand at USCCB meetings
Though the whole crop of US bishops have been written off by some as conservatives, some of the remaining moderate voices took a stand at the USCCB fall meetings, rejecting an economic letter that, they said, didn’t go far enough in voicing concern for the poor. Read more.
10. Catholic entities sue Obama Administration over HHS mandate
Over 40 Catholic institutions, including hospitals, dioceses and universities, filed lawsuits against the Obama Administration in an effort to receive an exemption from government-mandated employer-based health insurance for contraception coverage. Read more.
11. Some bishops suggest Catholics voting for Obama is sinful
With passions running high before the election, some bishops suggested voting for Obama or the Democratic Party could be tantamount to assisting evil. Read more.
12. Dolan and Colbert talk faith
Host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” and New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan spent an evening with America’s Jim Martin at Fordham University talking faith, humor, and even Catholic teaching. Read more.
13. Knights of Columbus bankroll unsuccessful marriage campaigns
Led by Carl Anderson, the Knights of Columbus was one of the largest contributors fighting against same-sex marriage, spending $6.2 million since 2005 and up to $2.5 million in 2012 only. Read more.
14. Immigration on the docket for 2013
Latino Catholics voted overwhelmingly for President Obama and are demanding that he spearhead comprehensive immigration, an issue long championed by the church. Read more.
15. Widow of Catholic pol barred from Catholic diocese
The widow of former Massachusetts Senator and lifelong Catholic Ted Kennedy, Vicki, had been invited to give the commencement address at a Catholic college in the Diocese of Worcester. After the bishop there expressed concern, the school withdrew its invitation. Kennedy spoke at the Jesuit Boston College Law School without any issue. Read more.
16. Catholic pastor leads community in mourning
Msgr. Robert Weiss is pastor of the single Catholic church in Newtown, Conn., and has been a presence for grieving parents, siblings, and town residents since the horror that unfolded there last week. He was among the first on the scene, and many of the victims attend his church. Read more.
Michael J. O’Loughlin
BY MYRNA PETLICKI | Contributor
December 13, 2012 10:52AM
‘Christmas Bingo: It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night’
7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights
(847) 577-2121; metropolisarts.com
Use what you know. That philosophy explains Mary Margaret O’Brien’s current career path.
The former nun leads bingo games. She’ll be calling numbers on Monday, Dec. 17 at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre during “Christmas Bingo: It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night.”
The combination bingo party, trivia game and comedy show was written by Vicki Quade, who plays Mary Margaret. Quade really likes to write about nuns. She’s the co-author of “Late Night Catechism” and sole author of “Put the Nuns in Charge!,” “Sunday School Cinema” and “Saints Sinners.”
Even though Mary Margaret is no longer a nun, she works for the diocese, Quade explained. “She’s just been named head of the new fundraising department. As such, she goes around helping parishes and schools and organizations with fundraising. And what’s the biggest fundraising that the church does — bingo. She has all these different bingo ideas.”
These include “Movie Bingo,” “Saints Sinners Bingo” and “Convent Bingo,” to name a few of the games the former nun has developed with Quade’s help.
In addition to playing bingo, audience members will be quizzed about different aspects of Mary Margaret’s theme for the night. For “Christmas Bingo,” Quade said, “I want people to think about the difference between Christmas and ‘gift-mas’ — the difference between Jesus and Santa, because we celebrate both in the Catholic faith. The premise of this is to try to figure out how we can blend the two ways of celebrating. So I ask questions that are related to the actual Nativity scene and the birth of Jesus, and I also ask questions that are related to just the generic celebration of Christmas.”
Those questions might include, “How did the candy canes come into being?”
Audience members will be brought on stage for this quiz. “One group does Santa and the other one does Jesus and we see who wins,” Quade said.
You don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy the show or even compete. It’s all in fun. (Disclaimer: I’m not Catholic and I won a tiny religious medal for answering a question correctly at one of Quade’s other shows.”)
Quade does a great deal of research to come up with facts and questions for all of her shows. “I love doing research,” she declared. “That’s my background — journalism.”
During that phase of her life, the Chicago native wrote for daily newspapers, many Chicago publications and national magazines, as well as spending 10 years as a Newsweek correspondent. The multitalented Quade has a diverse resume as a performer, playwright and producer.
Although she is serious about her business pursuits, Quade knows how to show people a good time — while imparting a bit of knowledge. “That’s what I like about my shows,” she said. “You walk away learning something but you’ve had a lot of fun.”
And at “Christmas Bingo” you actually get to play seven games of bingo. “I have the bingo cards that have the window and you pull the tab over,” Quade said. “It’s not messy.”
You have a chance to win prizes, too. “Goofy prizes,” Quade admitted. “They’re prizes I find at resale shops and yard sales — and holy cards. You always have to toss in the holy cards.”
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