By Grace Rice
Many orders of priests have a corresponding order of sisters. The Jesuits do not—although numerous orders of sisters were founded by Jesuits. While this may seem like a major contrast between the Jesuits and other orders such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, one might argue that it enables the Jesuits to have a greater reach in terms of their collaboration with women religious, as they work alongside many different orders and congregations—and have for centuries.
Plenty of older Catholic-educated individuals will recall having nuns as teachers in their youth. However, this has significantly declined over the past few decades, which makes Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago’s recent addition of Dominican sisters all the more unique. While Saint Ignatius president Fr. Michael Caruso, SJ, originally set out to have the sisters open an elementary school in the surrounding area, when it became clear that wasn’t in the cards, he decided to embark on a different “experiment”: having the Dominican sisters come aboard at the high school.
Father Caruso was excited about the endeavor, given his own experiences with sisters as teachers, saying, “So many of our kids had not met a nun or sister or had a teaching sister before, and, for me, having grown up in the era where we had sisters in abundance, it had a profound influence on me.” He thought the Dominicans would complement the Jesuits well. “The Dominicans have a great emphasis on learning and being educated, and a lot of their emphasis is in study and prayer and bringing the fruit of that to other people,” he says. “They’ve always been known as being great educators, and in the Society of Jesus, our emphasis is on education, and the commitment to that really echoes that prayer and reflection that comes out of the Spiritual Exercises for us.”
Current Saint Ignatius student Richie Wetzel, who had three sisters as teachers this past semester, agrees that having the sisters has enriched his education and taught him to learn on a deeper level “because learning is a gift we receive from God, through them.”
On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Ursuline sisters from the Kohima Region of India have found a different type of synergy in their work at Red Cloud Indian School, where they teach religion. Father Joe Daoust, SJ, superior and minister at Holy Rosary Mission in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, also described having the sisters join the Jesuits as “experimental,” and he finds that they have adapted well to their new environment. Father Daoust explains that they have been particularly great at teaching the Lakota students because, “They’re coming in as religious sisters with an understanding of a religious reality that is tribal, Catholic, and Ignatian. [As such], they’ve been able to help us establish a stable and effective curriculum.”
Additionally, the sisters have been able to connect with the Lakota people in a way unique from that of the Jesuits. Father Daoust attributes this to their shared experience with indigenous culture, explaining, “Western culture has become so highly rational and individualistic, while tribal thinking is much more community-based. Those are some things that I point to that are innate in both tribes, for the sisters and the Lakota.”
Historically, a huge connection between sisters and Jesuits has been sharing Ignatian spirituality. Sister Erin McDonald, C.S.J., says that the Jesuits influenced her vocation greatly, as she attended Wheeling Jesuit University (now Wheeling University) for both her undergrad and her master’s degrees and served with Jesuit Refugee Service: “My Jesuit colleagues modeled Christ’s love in action, and I found my own relationship with God, my trust in God, and my desire to create a more just, equitable, and loving world grow exponentially.” Accordingly, Sr. McDonald found herself called to enter the Congregation of St. Joseph, which was founded by the French Jesuit Jean Paul Médaille. She now serves as the university minister for service and social justice at the University of Detroit Mercy, which is co-sponsored by the Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy. She notes that this combination is very beneficial: “Collaboration between the Jesuits and women religious is important in the life of our Church and is a wonderful way to invite young adults into the diversity of congregations alive in our Church today.”
Ultimately, the collaboration between Jesuits and women religious, be it in universities, retreat centers, or other ministries, shows that Ignatian spirituality is universal, and works are strengthened when orders and congregations work together. Father Daoust puts it simply: “There is a fit there.”