The Sad State of America’s Aging Sisters – Why Are There So Few Nuns Today?
Mass at the Deathburg is a peculiar thing to watch.
Six aged sisters sit in green pastel chairs that look like patio furniture that should be on a retiree’s porch in Florida. A large flat-screen television shows a priest going into the Our Father.
“Can we turn it up?” asks one sister.
The others look like they don’t care. One stares out the window. Three have their eyes closed. Another is hunched over, wringing her hands. It’s 11 on a Wednesday morning in the Wartburg, a nursing home in Pelham, New York. Soon it’s time for Rose Jerome Kenlon, a relatively young sister who lives in a cottage next to the home, to administer communion. The service lasts only half an hour, but Rose says that that’s a long time for some of these women, whose attention spans have waned with age.
“Go forth, the mass has ended,” says the onscreen priest, right on time. “Thanks be to God,” the sisters respond in unison, sounding genuinely glad to be left alone.
The sisters are part of a diaspora that has settled here after the convents they called home shut down for lack of funds. Some of them are Dominican Sisters from nearby Newburgh; faced with crumbling finances, their convent merged with two other communities in 1995 to form the Dominican Sisters of Hope, now based in Ossining, before selling their motherhouse to Mount Saint Mary college in July of 2011. Other sisters hail from the Franciscan Missionary Center in Hastings-on-Hudson that began failing in 2010. That convent sent 25 sisters to the Wartburg, and eight to the Villa St. Francis, a home for nuns older than 60 that’s attached to the Mount St. Francis convent. The Wartburg was clearly the worse option for many sisters.
“I saw Wartburg, and it was Deathburg for me,” Sister Barbara Eirich, who wears a Yankees jacket rather than a habit and walks with a cane and white orthopedic sneakers, told me. “I’m not ready to come to that yet.”
But for many of the sisters, there was no choice. And so the Wartburg has become home to more and more women from the convents, who have added more of a Catholic flavor to the community. There are the masses Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday. Then communion services on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On Sunday, it’s the rosary service. There’s a second-floor library devoted to Catholic texts. There’s even a partnership in the works between the Wartburg and a third order, which promises to bring still more retired sisters in coming years.
Why I Feel Sorry for the Pop Who Hung Up on God
They had to carry the last guy out of there in a box. Three boxes, in fact. One of the many perks to being Pope is the way that they don’t simply bury you in one coffin. You get three, your body encased in the smallest as if you’re one of those Russian matryoshka dolls waiting to get sucked up to the kingdom in the clouds. It’s not like Judaism where everyone gets the same cheap pine one.
Nope, they do things properly in Catholicism. Or did, until the most conservative Pope of modern times decided it was time for him to smash the mold. This time around, Benedict XVI will be walking out of there as the first Pope in 600 years to resign. He was elected as God’s representative on Earth—a human tin can at the end of a string through which The Great I Am could communicate just how much gays offended him. Now, the Pope is resigning. Effectively, he has hung up the phone on God. That takes balls. Real balls.
How will his reign be remembered? The short answer is that, bar this final grand gesture, it won’t. Benedict arrived, and like God he saw that it was good, and, like God, he therefore decided to leave well enough alone. Went back to his books. Tried to pretend like all this stuff wasn’t happening around him. Naturally, no one elects popes on modernizing platforms. They may be “progressive,” but that’s only because they’re progressing toward approximately 1831. Still, given the signs of the times bursting like mortars around him, this guy could at least have made some speeches about change—taken a leaf out of Barry O’s book and just bifurcate appearance and reality.
I WENT TO THE LAST GAY CATHOLIC MASS AT THE UK’S CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE ASSUMPTION
Other than a few fauxhawks, better music, and the bishop wearing a rainbow-colored stole (the scarf thing that goes over their robes), gay Catholic mass in the UK is pretty much indistinguishable from normal Catholic mass. Being a gay Catholic may seem kind of contradictory to you—like being a Log Cabin Republican, a Muslim EDL members, or Skrillex’s new future garage track—but just because you like hooking up with guys doesn’t mean you can’t also like the Holy Spirit.
The “Soho Masses” at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption have provided a safe place for hundreds of LGBT Catholics to worship for six years, a service provided to the community ever since neo-Nazi David Copeland nail-bombed the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street in 1999. That was until last week, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, put an official end to the masses. After his recent fight against the introduction of gay marriage, it seemed to only add insult to injury, but it’s a story that has been widely misinterpreted by the media.
This Sunday, I went to one of their last masses before the dissolution, and the bishop assured his flock that they needn’t worry. “We may have been given an ‘Ite, Missa est,’” he said from behind the lectern, “but we can translate that, not as ‘The mass has ended,’ but as ‘Go forth, go forth and find God in your lives, however some people may describe those lives.’”