Generic story about the growing convent

Let’s start with the Maryland basics.

There is this famous, historic Catholic school in Catonsville, Md., which is an old suburb of Baltimore, called Mount de Sales Academy.

The nuns there have an interesting problem. It’s the kind of problem that Catholic orders would like to have, yet very few have this particular problem in this day and age.

The nuns in this convent need more space because their order is growing — because young women want to sign up.

The decline in the size of Catholic orders, with some now preparing to fade and die, is one of the most important religion-news stories around, for journalists with long attention spans. This is related, in some parts of the country, with the wider “priest shortage” crisis. It is linked to stories about the closing of some Catholic schools and the struggles, in others, to retain a living sense of Catholic identity. It is linked do the urgent issue of Catholic demographics in North America.

So let’s look for even a hint of these themes in a recent Baltimore Sun story about Mount de Sales and its sisters. Why? Because Baltimore is a major Catholic hub and contains a large number of these at-risk Catholic orders and ministries.

The Baltimore area’s first new convent in decades for a growing religious order opened its doors Sunday afternoon to give visitors a peek inside.

Mount de Sales Academy, a Catonsville landmark and high school, welcomed more than 1,000 people to view the newly built convent, giving them what may be the only opportunity to see the entire structure, as everything but a few designated areas will be cloistered.

“This is a real blessed moment,” said Mother Ann Marie, the mother general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation of Nashville, Tenn., who came for the dedication of the convent chapel and open house.

“This place is very conducive to prayer and for living our life,” said Sister Maria Teresita. The sisters spend much of their time in silent study and contemplation designed to foster a relationship with God.

That’s a good start, in terms of the lede. The new convent is the story, but the lede hints at the larger issues that loom in the background — hence this is the area’s “first new convent in decades for a growing religious order.”

So what happens next in this story?

I am happy to report that the “growing order” reference receives one additional reference in this rather long piece.

The building can house 12, though eight live there now.

“Now we can get more sisters,” said Carol Nevin of Finksburg, a student in the Class of 2013.

“Our community is growing,” said Sister Anne Catherine. While the median age for most religious sisters in America is around 75, she said, it’s 36 for the Nashville Dominicans. The academy’s student body is also expanding.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Nashville Dominicans are also one of the hottest religion news stories around, these days, in terms of national coverage. Does anyone remember this major NPR piece back at the end of 2010? So there is another news hook, yet another clue that this story involves more than a new building.

Alas, that’s the end of the road, as far as the Sun team is concerned. None of the dots are connected that would link this symbolic event to the rest of Catholic life in this region. Readers receive no information whatsoever about the status and health of the other Catholic orders, convents and facilities that call greater Baltimore home.

This is just a generic news story about a new building. The promise of that fine, subtle lede is, in the end, lost. The larger news story? Sorry, but the Sun isn’t going there. Again.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    The contrast between the NPR story and this one shows that NPR is a national treasure along with PBS because it’s one arena where some real reporting is still done.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It was good to read a story of positive growth in the Catholic Church–even if it seemed mostly about a new building.
    If you go to websites such as “The Deacon’s Bench” you will quickly learn that one of the most uncovered positive stories in the Catholic Church this spring on a national basis is the burgeoning number of men being ordained to the diaconate of the Church.
    On Deacon Kendra’s “Bench” site there seem to be one or two stories a day about another class in another diocese (or archdiocese) being ordained to the diaconate–but noone in the media seems to “connect the dots” regarding the amazing growth of this order in the Church. Possibly this is because in non-Catholic churches deacons are not empowered to carry out all the duties or ministries Catholic deacons may do from preaching, to baptizing and marrying, to administrating parishes.
    And, since most Catholic deacons are married, their ordination brings into the leadership of the Catholic Church a witness many have said the Roman Catholic Church needs–a married witness (and in our archdiocese deacons are being appointed to advisory groups and panels only consecrated religious or priests used to be assigned to.)

  • mattk

    tmatt, what’s the deal with the Sun? Are they blind to religion stories, or do you think they are hostile to religion stories?

  • Ann Rodgers

    For anyone who’s interested in the topic, in 2009 I did a story on young women from the Pittsburgh area who were entering convents. The Nashville Dominicans figured prominantly in the story.
    I’ve also reported on how college debt is a big obstacle for many of these young women.