BENSALEM, Pa. (AP) — The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament order founded in Bensalem by St. Katharine Drexel has been selected by the Vatican as part of a nationwide study into the lives of America’s Catholic nuns.
Church officials said the study will “safeguard and promote the consecrated life” of nuns, which has “changed significantly because of societal changes.”
Officials of the Apostolic Visitation, a process initiated at the highest levels of the church, dispatched envoys to the convent on April 25. Church officials first announced the inquiry in 2008 but hadn’t identified the institutions that would take part.
The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and 18 other organizations were identified in April after they appealed to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious seeking prayers of support during the study process.
Church officials said they would not comment on the visit to Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
On its website, the Vatican said the study will help it better assess, safeguard and promote the consecrated lives and missions of America nuns. Those missions have changed “significantly because of societal changes,” according to the church.
“The sisters used to play a significant role in our schools. They played a significant role in our hospitals,” said the Rev. Joseph Anderlonis, the vicar of consecrated life for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“Today there is an increasing need for our sisters to deal with homelessness and other social issues. The whole purpose of the Apostolic Visitation is to evaluate the nature of religious life today,” Anderlonis said.
Sister Patricia Suchalski, president of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, released a statement about the Apostolic Visitation but declined to be interviewed by the newspaper. Two people visited the
sisters, she said.
“They indicated they wanted to hear our stories so that they could share them and tell of the tremendous deeds that have been accomplished by [religious women] in the United States for the sake of the Gospel,” Sister Suchalski wrote. “We trust that their sharing will add to the mosaic of the tremendous witness to the Gospel of all consecrated women…in the United States.”
Founded 119 years ago, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament provide relief and educational outreach “primarily but not exclusively” to blacks and Native Americans throughout North America.
From the Bensalem motherhouse, the ministry has grown to include missions in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oregon and the island nation of Haiti.
The process to become a sister of the order can take as long as nine years. The first stage involves six months to two years of life in the convent. After this period, candidates can request acceptance into the novitiate, a two-year period of study and meditation. The period of temporary profession lasts another five years.
There are some 59,000 consecrated Catholic women in the United States, according to the Leadership Conference. Cloistered nuns aren’t part of the study.
While they remain stewards of the faith, America’s Catholic nuns have not always rallied alongside the male leaders in the church.
The recent debate on health care divided the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the Catholic Health Association, an organization representing about 60 nuns from various orders.
The bishops opposed health legislation because it subsidized abortion, conference members said.
The Catholic Health Association sent a letter to Congress supporting the bill. The CHA said health care reforms offered needed support to pregnant women and “this is the real pro-life stance.”