A non-Catholic's experience with nuns

Opinion: Columns

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Denise Wells

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I am writing, a bit belatedly, to comment on Ken Trainor's May 9 column about the current Catholic Church's approach toward nuns [Have Catholics reached the tipping point? Viewpoints].

I am not a Catholic, though I grew up with many Catholic friends in my small hometown in northwestern Pennsylvania. I married into a big Catholic family from Cleveland, Ohio, and tried to embrace the teachings but kept getting hung up with the issues Martin Luther cited.

Eventually, after transferring here in 1964, my husband and I compromised by attending a Lutheran church. Then in 1975 when our girls were in school all day, I decided to return to college to complete my degree. I was interested in liberal arts, so I decided Rosary College (now Dominican University) would work. Admittedly, its proximity was also attractive. This decision turned out to be quite serendipitous.

The women's movement was heating up and there were continuing education programs available. I come from a family where the women expect the younger women coming along to be educated, so I didn't need much of a push to be interested in the feminist movement.

I had been an at-home mother for a while and was a bit timid about returning to school. But I was so fortunate to have quite a few of the marvelous Dominican order nuns as professors teaching my classes. I had never met such women (other than my own late mother) who were so intellectual, sophisticated, independent and supportive of us.

I know I received an excellent education from them. I sadly realize that most of them are not still around to teach further, nor are there very many nuns now to replace them. I really cannot fathom why the Catholic Church would want to control and denigrate these nuns who sacrifice so much and offer so much.

Those Dominican nun professors would have been marvelous priests. I think also of the wonderful nun at St. Giles who taught our girls piano and how she kept in touch for years after she retired.

As an outsider, I cannot understand why the Church doesn't allow women as priests nor male priests to marry. There are apparently shortages of priests and surely traditions can be changed.

I am retired from the Illinois DCFS and well know the terrible toll sexual abuse takes on children for the rest of their lives. Certainly the Church has been allowing very unqualified men, at the least, and perpetrators at the worst, to become priests. Why, why, when they could turn to women and married men?

I think of my husband's cousin who married and adopted three children. He was well-educated, had served in the military, and he and his wife have led an exemplary life. With his winning personality and love of the Church, he could have been a wonderful priest.


Years ago, my husband's uncle owned a small market and butcher shop. He used to regularly deliver to the nuns and priests at the family church nearby. He told of the nuns (who taught at the grade school) receiving a small amount of ground meat and bare essentials for many, while the priests (I think there were three of them) received steaks and other much more expensive food.

As a non-Catholic, I suppose there is not much I can do to help change the Catholic Church, but I certainly can testify to how very special the nuns I knew were.

I think it is important that you keep up the wonderful effort with your very fair and accurate assessment of the worrisome status of the Catholic Church today.

Denise Wells is a resident of Oak Park.

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Denise Wells from Oak Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2012 1:09 AM

In my opinion piece, I was referring to Sister Clarissa from St. Giles. She was quite interesting; in the summer she would have one daughter weed while the other was having her lesson. It was great how she maintained her interest in our girls for so many years.

St. Giles Alumni from River Forest  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 8:30 PM

@Denise Wells. Are you referring to Sister Clarissa teaching piano ?

Gabe Azzaro from Oceanside  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 7:12 PM

What a refreshing article. I was born a Catholic, and once was a nun. I left because of sexual abuse at the hands of my superior. Oddly enough, the congregation to which I belonged is one of the Vatican's right hands. In fact, their Mother General was the sister who headed up the Vatican's investigation of women religious in the US. Since then I have met many holy sisters who do not wear habits nor blindly obey Vatican orders. Perhaps the bishops should take lessons from them.

Jessica Mackinnon from Oak Park  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 9:27 AM

As a fellow non-Catholic, I appreciate Denise Wells' commentary. Having worked with the Dominican sisters for the past 10 years, I can agree that they are some of the most progressive, open-minded, intellectually curious women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They should be applauded, not reigned in, for the work they do to make this world a more compassionate and human place to live.

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