Magazine article Newsweek

What If There Were None?

Magazine article Newsweek

What If There Were None?

Article excerpt

A dwindling number of aging sisters run some of our worthiest urban programs. Imagine life without them.

EVERYBODY'S AGAINST TORTURE. A LOT OF PEOPLE would feel pity for torture survivors from Central America who try to make a new life in the United States. But how many people would five with those refugees in a communal home on Chicago's violence-stricken south side? The job includes teaching them English, pushing their applications for political asylum, and ministering to their physical and psychological wounds. It's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and only four people want the job: two nuns and two monks. Who else would eat communal meals with the refugees, wear clothes out of the same bin of charity cast-offs, and accept only $80 or $100 a month in pocket money in return? "The question that's following us around," says Sister Pat Murphy, one of the four, "is who's going to pick up after us when we move on?"

That's a question haunting a lot of sisters doing good works in America's inner cities. There are more than ten times as many sisters as brothers in the United States. Sister Pat is 65. The average age of an American nun is nearly 67, and their numbers have dropped from a high of nearly 180,000 in 1965, to less than 95,000 in 1993 (By the year 2000, they'll be down to 73,000. "Even people who wan the poor may not want to make it a permanent career. Only 460 women joined sisterhoods last year, while nearly 3,000 left--mostly to meet their heavenly reward. It's a reward they deserve. …

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