Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

By Mary Beth Fraser Connolly | Go to book overview

5
“Change Is Blowing Hard”

Renewal of Religious Life
in the 1960s and 1970s

Change is blowing hard, and some of us don’t know whether to bendor to lean
against … You have set us, Lord, in the midst of so much to learn.1

In the fall of 1970, the front page of the Chicago Province’s newsletter, Exchange, contained a copy of the Opening Prayer of Apostolate Day. The prayer asked God for help in accepting the changes in religious life that had developed in the preceding years. It also asked God for inspiration to continue ministries and for each sister to “contribute the best of herself to the well-being of all.” It touched upon the concern for each sister’s freedom and the right to express herself within the community and the world. The general sense of this Opening Prayer is that change, however difficult, is good. The community, however, needed patience and help from one another, and with God’s guidance, each sister would find “a balance of the needs of this group and the needs of the world.”2

By the time this Opening Prayer had been made, five years had passed since the close of the Second Vatican Council. Those years were dotted with radical events for the community that caused consternation and discord, but the Sisters of Mercy moved tentatively toward change. By 1970, the community had lost more than one hundred sisters and novices and had only professed fifteen women. There had been community surveys and questionnaires, which probed everything from the structure of religious life, to the Chicago Mercys’ government, to sisters’ habits. Conferences and workshops that promoted new styles of ministry, infused with the teachings of the Vatican Council as well as studies on psychology and group dynamics, abounded for superiors, educators, and hospital personnel. In the wake of the declarations from Vatican II, the Mercys participated in provincial and general chapters, which discussed, debated, and ultimately altered their religious government and life.3 In the process, younger voices rose to prominence as they pushed and questioned why they and all sisters did not have more choice and freedom. By 1970, the Sisters of Mercy of the Union had formulated a new Mercy Covenant, which by 1972 tem-

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