Meet two sisters who are Sisters

Why aren’t there more like them?  A Dubuque newspaper looks for some answers:

Thousands of tri-state area Catholic families are only a couple of generations removed from daily Mass, nightly family rosaries and schools staffed by religious sisters.

It was from that heavily religious milieu that hundreds of priests, brothers and sisters, often from the same family, found their calling.

Sisters and siblings Margaret and Mary Ellen Zimmermann answered the same inner call at different times. They were the youngest of four children, whose parents “couldn’t have been better,” according to Margaret, providing their children with an “ideal family life.” That included education at Catholic schools taught by Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or BVMs, in Milwaukee where the family lived.

“I admired the Sisters very much. They were happy, generous, gracious and a wonderful example to us,” Margaret said.

Inspired by that paradigm, she entered the convent at 17 to become a BVM. In five decades of work, she taught and administered in schools, a retirement home and the BVM headquarters in Dubuque.

As a teenager, Mary Ellen often visited her sister at the BVM convent.

“I could see she was happy and the sisters were having good times together and enjoying life,” she said.

So four years after her sister, Mary Ellen declared she also wanted to become a BVM novice. As she left for Dubuque, her father, anticipating missing his youngest child, told her to “not be afraid to come back home.”

She also taught and served as a principal and a religious education coordinator. Now both women have retired to Dubuque.

These sister/sisters credit their vocations to major childhood influences — parents who made sure their children practiced their faith traditions and Catholic sisters who taught by rote and example — but even in heavily Catholic areas these factors have mostly disappeared:

* Only 22 percent of U.S. Catholics now attend weekly Mass.

* The number of Catholic priests has declined by about a third since 1970.

* There are only about a third as many Catholic sisters — 58,000 — as there were 45 years ago.

“Students don’t see sisters as much because there aren’t as many teaching now,” said Dubuque Presentation Sister Dolores Zieser. “The example of the sisters every day was a big part,” of influencing Catholic girls to choose a religious vocation, she said.

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3 responses to “Meet two sisters who are Sisters”

  1. Beautiful. I was present for a sister’s Golden Jubilee liturgy yesterday and I was so grateful to be there. We worry- and with good reason – about diminishing numbers of priests. However, I worry too about a world in which there are not only fewer women religious, but fewer women religious of this sort.

  2. Older forms of religious life may be dying out, but newer forms are arising, and these are often better suited to modern needs. Some intentional communities of married as well as single lay Catholics were established before Vatican II (the Catholic Worker comes to mind), but in the era following the Council, they have flourished. Often local communities bring together Catholics and other committed Christians who live in community, pray together and work toward common goals of service to the poor. Many of them are not well known, but the Church has endorsed the good work of larger communities of this type, including international groups like the Focolare Movement.

    It’s worth noting too that while consecrated religious (brothers as well as sisters) may be far fewer in number than they were 45 years back, the growth in the diaconate during the same period has been phenomenal.

  3. God bless those sister Sisters and the family’s they came from. Catholic religious are also not seen as often by Catholic youth today because they cannot be “seen” because religious such as the BVMs and many other communities have chosen lay clothing and lay-styled living arrangements. However, communities refounded and wearing visible habits whle living in close community – as well as communities that decided to return to a visible habit – are growing and FAST (but not like in the pre-Vatican II days). “Oprah’s” nuns are just one example.

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