Sandra Schneiders: Religious Women and Expertise in Ministry

Theologian Sandra Schneiders has become one of the most cogent voices for articulating Catholic women religious’ life in the contemporary U.S.

Professor emerita at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., and a member of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Mich., Schneiders is speaking to a much larger audience than only nuns. For any Christian who is passionate about living the gospel and makes sacrifices to follow that call, Schneiders can help you understand your role in modern America.

For faithful women clustered around the cross and active in The Way, whatever your denomination, Schneiders has something to say to you about internal authority, mutual freedom, life in tension.

Schneiders recent speech titled The Future of Religious Life is addressing themes in the American Catholic church, but it conveys more broadly. Below is one section I found helpful in my own thinking, but I hope you’ll read and be encouraged by the whole article.

Increasingly, religious women have taken their expertise into ministries that, while still in continuity with those of the past and arising directly out of their communities’ charisms, are not ones most Catholics tend to associate with “the Sisters.”

Schneiders grouped them into four “clusters”:
*Social justice ministers focused on systemic or structural change, whose “theological glue” tends to be Catholic social teaching. These include social scientists, activists, lawyers, political and community organizers, economists and sociologists, urban farmers and legislators.

*Ministers who work directly with the victims of social injustice or natural disasters, whose theological glue is deep compassion for the suffering Body of Christ. These include chaplains, social workers, counselors, literacy tutors, providers of child care or elder care, managers of low-income housing, those who work in homeless shelters or with victims of torture or sex trafficking.

*Intellectuals, scholars and artists, whose theological glue is faith seeking understanding in our time. These include composers, performers, journalists, writers, teachers and researchers in theology, philosophy and the sciences.

*Ministers who address the thirst for meaning and transcendence, with the theological glue of spiritual nourishment and growth. They work in spirituality centers, campus ministry, spiritual direction, retreats, holistic healing, or as popular writers or speakers on the lecture and workshop circuit.

These charismatic and prophetic ministries differ from previous ones not in their service or witness, but primarily in their individualization, which some initially saw as a “loss of corporate identity because Sisters were not all doing the same thing,” Schneiders said.

But such individualization — partly a function of professional specialization by religious women — need not lead to individualism, Schneiders said. “Uniformity is not the only, or even the best, kind of social glue, nor large, homogeneous groups the only meaning of community,” she said. “Diversity can generate another, more organic, but more challenging kind of unity.”

Read the whole article at National Catholic Reporter. And see Schneiders’ recent book Prophets In Their Own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church.

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