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Catholic Sisters Show Their Lives And Work To Draw Younger Women

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Debbie Holmes / WOSU
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Dominican Sisters of Peace at Ohio Dominican University celebrate Mass.

Over the past 50 years the number of American women serving as Catholic nuns has declined sharply. In 1965 there were nearly 200-thousand nuns, now only 50,000 serve.

A local order this past weekend opened its doors to show how they live and work in Central Ohio.

The day begins with a Mass where Dominican Sisters of Peace sing and pray. 66 sisters live at the motherhouse at the Ohio Dominican University.
Elsewhere around Columbus 82 other nuns minister to Central Ohioans. The congregation has called Columbus home since the 1860′s.

With Pope Francis’s encouragement religious orders are blowing their own horns a bit. They are highlighting what they do every day for their communities and explaining why they chose a religious way of life.
Sister Anne Lythgoe who moved to Columbus in January has been a nun for more than 40 years.

“His call is for us to invite people in. To make a direct connection with people in our neighborhoods and open our doors, welcome people and say here we are. We’re here in your neighborhood we’ve been here for a long time,” says Sister Anne.

Today there are many fewer nuns in the neighborhood than 50 years ago. And they are getting older. The median age among the Dominican Sisters of Peace is 80.

Sister June Fitzgerald is considered young. She’s 50. When she joined at age 27, she had already graduated from college with a biology degree and she was working in her field. Sister June says when she began to volunteer more at church she found she was happier there and she heard God’s call. Now Sister June helps other women interested in becoming a nun.

“We need a witness of peace in this world, a witness of faith. People who can commit to something long-term, people who can be the face of Christ to others that they meet, to be able to reach out and to help others find that peace that they are searching for,” says Sister June.

Sister Anne says the order looks for women between the ages of 20 and 45. They must be Catholic, of course, a U.S. citizen and have at least 2 years of college or equivalent life experience.

They still must take a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.

“The women who are interested in religious life today and in fact my understanding of a lot of women in culture today is that they’re functional celibates, in the sense that they’re not actively engaged in sexual intercourse because it’s not a priority,” says Sister Anne.

Education remains one of the sisters’ top priorities. Some of them tutor at the Dominican Learning Center on the south side.

Sisters can also choose social issues where they want to make a difference. Sister Nadine Buchanan in the Dominican order for 44 years focuses on ways to stop human trafficking and gun violence.

“We have within the past 8 years really looked at the issues that are happening around us and say we have to be more involved and we have to get out in the streets and do what has to be done to help people,” says Sister Nadine.

Sister Nadine proudly wears a t-shirt with “Be Peace.” The motto has spread throughout the country and overseas. Pope Francis has recognized the nuns for their dedication to peace.

Sister Nadine says women can find fulfillment here.

“If people came and saw the life that we live they would say ah because we have so many opportunities,” says Sister Nadine.

Sister Anne says even if one day there are not enough Dominican Sisters of Peace to serve at schools like Ohio Dominican University they helped establish, that’s okay.

“We’ve been in the process for quite some time to have those schools operate without us. Because that’s fundamentally the work of Catholic sisters is to do good, set something up, create it and then go away,” says Sister Anne.

Sister Anne predicts in the long run the Dominican Sisters of Peace will survive.