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Where would the Church be without its female religious?

Fr Jamie McMorrin explains the need to recognise the indispensable contribution of religious women in Scotland who play a vital role in our Church.

During one of our seminary retreats, the preacher advised us—with the air of one speaking from experience—that if we wanted an easy life as priests we should ‘steer clear of nuns.’

I’m fairly sure he was joking. But whatever other advice of his I’ve followed, his warning about female religious is one I’m very glad to have ignored

In both of the parishes in which I’ve served—and, indeed, in the seminary itself—the presence of religious sisters has made my priestly life not only easier but also considerably richer.

Gracious invitations

Over the past few years, I’ve benefitted from their hospitality, from their sage advice and from their witness to a life lived in accordance with the Gospels. We’ve worked together on various parish and diocesan initiatives, often with the sisters doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

I’ve sometimes grumbled at their gracious invitations to say Mass for them before dawn in their convents, or their requests that I pay visits to people they’ve found who’ve been away from the Sacraments (‘Could you not just have a word with them, Father?’).

They also encourage me—with gracious tact—to put a bit more effort into my sermons; there are few things that strike fear into the heart of a priest more than trying to preach to nuns, who often tend to be more Holy, more theologically astute and (thank goodness) more humble than the preacher.

Smiling face

Our parish secretary here at the Cathedral is a Sister of Mercy, from a reformed branch based in Alma, Michigan. She’s younger than me, only recently professed, and full of love for the Lord and for the Church.

I really don’t know where our parish would be without her: hers is the smiling face that usually answers the door, the patient voice that answers the telephone and the author of the handwritten notes I find on my desk, averting disaster by reminding me of the things I’ve forgotten.

I’m sure her patience is sorely tested by the varied eccentricities of the Cathedral clergy, but she doesn’t let it show.

Tremendous help

One of her informal duties in the office is acting as unofficial sub-editor for these columns. She tells me honestly if they don’t make sense, sound pretentious, heretical or long-winded, and sometimes suggests ideas for things to write about.

If this column doesn’t read very well, it’s because she hasn’t seen it on this occasion, not least because she’d surely insist that I take out the bits about her.

But this is a precious gift. She helps me tremendously, not only by correcting my syntax but, more generally, in parish life, by letting me know when I’m acting like an idiot, when something hasn’t worked, or when I need to try a bit harder.

Rich variety

As priests, we have lots of people who will tell us that we’re wonderful; it takes a true friend to tell us, in a spirit of family charity, when we’re wrong.

Of course, the religious sisters who work in our diocese do a great deal more than help out the priests. They serve and enrich the Church in a whole variety of ways: in education, in social justice, in spiritual formation and in the service of the poor.

In his reflections on the World Day of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis described the religious life very beautifully as ‘a life of praise which gives joy to God’s people.’

He said that the Church would always need their presence: “What would happen if there were no sisters? Sisters in the hospitals, sisters in the missions, sisters in the schools… one can’t imagine it!”

Religious life

Just as we need to pray that the Lord will call more men to serve Him as priests, so we also need to pray with urgency that He would call more women to consecrate their lives to Him as religious.

The Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh has recently appointed Sr Mirjam Hugens as director of vocations to the religious life, helping women who feel called to serve the Lord in this way to discern the next steps.

As she said: “Women considering the religious life often don’t know where to turn. I’m happy that I will now be there for them.”

Last week, she organised the first in a series of ‘Ask Me Anything’ question-and-answer sessions for women thinking about the religious life and has produced a prayer card which has been given to all parishes.

I hope that these efforts bear fruit! Like Pope Francis, I can’t imagine life in our parish and in our diocese without the presence of religious sisters. They help me to be a better priest and help all of us to be better followers of Jesus. May the Lord send us many more!

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