For the past few days, I have been puttering around with some community records.  Specifically, I have been looking at the ages of the Sisters when they took first vows and when they died.  Most of this is found in the community necrology book, along a brief obituary about each Sister.  I always find the stories about the Sisters’ lives fascinating, but I was unexpectedly intrigued by the dates as well.  These dates tell a story about the community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that differs from the narrative that dominates the community today.  The understanding that the community was different in the past gives me hope for the ways the community can change as we move in the future.

Agesobits.JPG

The book of obituaries is on a table in the community room.  Someone turns the page every day so we can read about the Sister who died on that day in the past.

In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, it was the norm for women to enter immediately out of high school (many attended one of our high schools or had our Sisters in grammar school or both).  Most of the Sisters who entered at that time took first vows at nineteen or twenty years old.  One of them who had attended college for a year before entering, which made her 21 when she took first vows, still remembers being referred to as a “delayed vocation.”  Since this group makes up considerably more than half the current community, it seems as though this was always the case, The pattern of women entering later in the lives, which began in the 1970s is seen as a recent development; and until recently was viewed as a problem to be addressed

Agesnecrology

The community necrology hangs on the wall on the way into St. Scholastica Chapel

The data, however, suggest an entirely different pattern.  Certainly some of the Sisters entering in the nineteenth and twentieth century entered when they were teenagers.  One even took first vows at fourteen years old!  Many others, however, entered considerably later–including one Sister who entered at age fifty-three in 1885!  The ages of Sisters taking first vows suggests that the pattern of women entering immediately after high school did not emerge until the 1930s–in no small part probably due to the lack of access to high school education for many women!  The recognition of differences in community organization even in the relatively short history of our community (I am an archaeologist; 150 years seems short to me!) allows me to dream about the ways in which the community can change again to meet the challenges of the twenty first century.

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