During conflict with Vatican, Omaha nuns stay focused on service
These are some of Omaha’s nuns, among the 266 in the 23-county archdiocese, who have worked rather invisibly in the decades since most of them traded their identifiable habits for regular clothes.
Their ranks have thinned and aged, much like the priesthood. And it’s far less common to find a Catholic sister in the classroom than it once was.
But nuns are back in the spotlight after coming under fire this spring. In a scathing critique released in April, the Vatican said the main organizing body of American nuns, called LCWR, has veered too far from church teaching and is too silent on issues such as gay marriage, contraception, abortion and the all-male priesthood. Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has been assigned to help the group reform.
The issue reflects a deep divide. The move was celebrated by some Catholics who saw nuns as dissenters. By others, it was seen as an attack and spurred a nationwide outpouring of support for nuns.
Rallies and vigils were held in cities, including Omaha. Congress passed a resolution commending nuns for their service. Catholics across the country wrote letters of support.
LCWR leaders have said publicly that they disagree with the Vatican’s assessment. They hope to proceed in prayerful dialogue with Sartain but say they won’t compromise their mission of service.
It’s unclear how the conflict will play out locally. Few sisters, including those belonging to a group of habit-wearing Catholic nuns who are not part of the Vatican mandate, were willing to say much publicly about it other than that they hoped for peaceful resolution.
LCWR — the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — says it represents 80 percent of the 56,000 U.S. nuns, including Omaha’s largest orders: the Sisters of Mercy, the Servants of Mary and the Notre Dame Sisters.
Sister Cecilia Ann Rezac, major superior of the Waverly, Neb.-based Marian Sisters, said her Lincoln Diocese order is “definitely not part of any controversy.” She said she wishes “no ill will” and hopes for consensus between the Vatican and LCWR. The order has no affiliation with Omaha’s Marian High School, which is run by the Servants of Mary.
A number of nuns live and work in Omaha and reflect myriad religious orders, including the Poor Clares, a Franciscan contemplative order, who generally remain apart from society. Their mission is to pray. Other nuns belong to orders based elsewhere.
Local representatives of the LCWR-represented orders say that they are not anti-church and that they are heartened by lay support and by the LCWR’s optimism that things can be worked out. They remain focused on their work.
The Notre Dame Sisters, based at 36th and State Streets, work in hospitals, parishes and schools and with the elderly. They assist domestic violence victims and are newly involved in anti-violence efforts in north Omaha.
The sisters turned some of their property into a 107-unit affordable housing complex for low-income elderly people.
Their provincial president, Sister Celeste Wobeter, said she sees the order’s role as “living the Gospel values, living the spirit of our founders who were always there looking at the needs of the poor, the marginalized and the hurting.” [More]