Four Congregations Are Featured, but All Are Celebrated

By Farrell, Michael | National Catholic Reporter, March 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Four Congregations Are Featured, but All Are Celebrated


Farrell, Michael, National Catholic Reporter


Nuns and math. Not because all of them taught it. Just to play with the figures at one moment in time.

Fifty years ago, 1949, is as good a moment as any. The statistics tell the tale.

There were 27 million Catholics. A quarter-million Catholic students in Catholic colleges and universities, 30,000 student nurses at Catholic hospitals, 42,000 children in Catholic orphanages and institutions, 325,000 students in Catholic high schools, 2.5 million in parochial schools.

And in most of these places -- along with brothers and priests -- were 150,000 American nuns, 82,000 of them teaching.

Right then, in 1949, we can postulate there were 4.5 million Catholic young people whose lives were touched by nuns. So, therefore, were the lives of their 9 million parents. Another third-of-a-million Catholics had nuns for daughters. You get the point.

Fifty years ago, at least half of all American Catholics had a nun or two in their lives.

Now another bit of math.

How, from the hundreds of congregations, to select four through which to tell the story in today's issue. We left that to Arthur Jones, who said it was by guess and by God.

The chosen four are all North American foundations, said Jones, and even there the field was huge (see main story for a partial list of U.S. 19th-century congregations). Factor in the overseas 19th-century foundations that sent sisters to America, and the selection -- like their impact on America -- is enormous.

Jones offered a few overseas examples.

The Society of the Sacred Heart, established in Paris in 1800, was in St. …

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