“Since the early days of the Catholic Church in their country, women religious have courageously been in the forefront of her evangelizing mission, selflessly tending to the spiritual, moral, educational, physical and social needs of countless individuals, especially the poor and marginalized,”.
With these words the long awaited report on the Apostolic Visitation of the communities of women religious in the United States affirmed what so many of us already knew; that women religious were the hands and heart of the Church as our country grew from a handful of states on the Eastern Seaboard to the transcontinental union and beyond.
The introduction to the report recalls that, “Throughout the nation’s history, the educational apostolate of women religious in Catholic schools has fostered the personal development and nourished the faith of countless young people and helped the church community in the USA to flourish. In addition, a great majority of the Catholic healthcare systems in the United States, which serve millions of people each year, were established by congregations of women religious.”
In Texas from the arrival of the first Ursuline Nuns in Galveston in 1847, nuns and sisters were on the frontlines of the Faith, establishing schools and hospitals, often at their own expense and became the first face of the Church in many frontier communities. Before the Diocese of Dallas was erected, the territory from Texarkana to El Paso was already dotted with schools and hospitals established by religious communities of women.
As the report notes, “In a spirit of creative fidelity to their charisms, they branched out in new ministries to those most on the margins of the Church and society. Women religious in the United States also notably pursued ongoing theological and professional formation seeking to further their ability to serve the Church’s evangelizing mission and to prepare others to collaborate in it as well.”
Today, women religious have expanded their mission to embrace pastoral ministry, diocesan administration, hospital and jail ministry in addition to their original community charisms. Our nuns and sisters are indeed worthy of the affirmation they received in the Congregation’s visitation report.
In recognition of the ministry of women religious in the Diocese of Dallas, and as part of the diocese’s 125th birthday celebration in 2015, a history of the contributions of women religious in the diocese will be published as an eBook in the near future.
Please join in me in offering a Prayer of Thanksgiving for all of these wonderful women, from the past and those serving today, for their tireless work, prayer and service to build up the Catholic Church in Texas.
Image Credit: CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec