How a group of California nuns challenged the Catholic Church

Immaculate Heart College Skill Department c. 1955.

Photograph by Fred Swartz. Image courtesy of the Corita Art Centre, Immaculate Heart Community, LA.

(The Discussion) – California in the 1960s was the epicenter for spiritual experimentation. Indian gurus and MODERN prophets, Jesus freaks and Scientologists all located followings in the Golden Express.

But among those seeking for personal and public transformation, the unlikeliest seekers may have been a small community of Roman Catholic spiritual: the Immaculate Heart Sisters.

Theirs was, as I uncovered in my own research on the order, a compelling spiritual saga, culminating in a showdown with the Catholic hierarchy. The story of that conflict spotlights the impact of the California desire on a Church in changeover.

Who were the Immaculate Heart and soul Sisters?

The Daughters of the Immaculate Heart and soul of Mary was founded in Spain in 1848. Twenty-three years soon after, at the invitation of the bishop of California, 10 sisters came to the United States.

Initially, the nuns worked with the poor, but pivoted soon after to education. In 1886 they began teaching in LA. Over the next several decades, they staffed Catholic schools, began a convent, and founded a higher school and a college. The faculty, though, closed in 1981 because of financial concerns. Among the great school’s most well-known graduates is Meghan Markle, the fiancee of Prince Harry.

In 1924, the order separated from Spain. The women renamed themselves the California Institute of the Sisters of the very most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The “new” order flourished: By the 1960s, it had 600 members, almost all of whom were teachers. And by 1967 almost 200 sisters performed in Los Angeles’ Catholic schools. Additional served within their own order’s educational organizations.

Led by broad-minded mother superiors, their order and their college were intellectually rigorous and open to various perspectives. They welcomed woman speakers such as social activist Dorothy Moment to campus and also Protestant, Jewish and actually Hindu religious leaders.

Changes in Rome

Meanwhile, modification was stirring at the Vatican, the guts of environment Catholicism. In 1959, Pope John XXIII possessed invited Roman Catholic leaders to discuss the position of the Church in today’s world. From 1962 to 1965, this Second Vatican Council debated Catholicism’s potential. Centuries had approved with little change in Church coaching, ritual, community lifestyle and worldview. However now the council would, in what of the pope, “open the windows and allow in the fresh air.”

Catholic leaders reviewed from interreligious dialogue to the role of the Church in today’s world. They actually updated the traditional liturgy. The language altered from Latin to the vernacular, priests faced the people and famous music was welcomed into Mass.

The debate over Vatican II’s achievements goes on today. At that time, many Catholics were fired up by the improvements, but others desired the Church since it was. They were not eager to see the council’s intentions apply.

AP Photo/Mario Torrisi

Among these conservatives was James Francis Cardinal McIntyre of LA.

Challenging the Church hierarchy

Following the suggestions of the Second Vatican Council, the Immaculate Heart and soul Sisters decided to examine and renew their spiritual your life. In 1963, the sisters began a multi-year research of their spiritual practice, community structure and objective. They met frequently to chat and pray about the continuing future of their order.

Relating to Anita Caspary, the order’s mind at that time, the nuns were inspired by the Second Vatican Council; the spirit of the days (that is, the 1960s); and the growth of various populations that were roiling Southern California.

AP Photo/David S. Smith

She soon after wrote that in this “historic point in time of faith and freedom,” the community saw itself as “area of the women’s struggle for equal status in the mid-20th century.”

Lots of the council’s directives did indeed reflect cultural shifts, such as reaching away to the present day, secular environment, that had inspired the sisters. But the women also were inspired by tendencies closer to home. For example, Caspary and her community were intrigued by humanistic psychology, the psychological school that emphasized personal progress and fulfillment and which possessed a significant West Coast following.

Until the 1960s, the women had followed Church tips that governed their spiritual and also personal lives. Now, instead of assume that they all needed to pray, research or meditate just as or at the same time, they encouraged individual experimentation. If they did worship jointly, they wanted the freedom to choose when, where and how exactly to do so.

Moreover, the sisters sought relief from Church mandates that managed their daily activities, ranging from what they wore and what time they went to bed to which literature these were allowed to read.

On October 14, 1967, the sisters celebrated what they called Promulgation Day, the announcement of strategies because of their order’s renewal. A fresh vision because of their lives and their function, the document, for instance, explained that sisters who trained in religious schools will be allowed to pursue educating credentials and graduate degrees to professionalize their function. Those who did not feel the call to teach could find other careers.

Additionally, each one sister could choose the length, time and type of her individual prayer, and group prayer will be shaped by the community. They no more had to seek permission from the mother superior for the small decisions of lifestyle. They would be free to placed their bedtimes, see a medical expert or make a quick trip to the store.

Opposition to the sisters

Two days after, on Oct. 16, a delegation of six sisters sat in the office of Los Angeles’ Cardinal McIntyre. Furious with the sisters’ strategies for renewal, he first asked about about their gown: Did they indeed intend to wear street apparel to their classrooms? Caspary explained they might, and an angry McIntyre finished the meeting.

Even when the cardinal’s guys persuaded him to continue the conversation, he refused to accept the order’s arrange for renewal. Instead, he berated their defiance and doubted their determination to religious life. As of June 1968, he advised them, they would no more show in the city’s Catholic schools.

Over the next half a year, the sisters and the cardinal presented formal cases to emissaries from the Vatican. Each side also sought support from Church co-workers and from the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, many newspapers played out up the conflict as though the complete fight hinged on whether or not the sisters wore their classic habits or street apparel.

By spring, the message was very clear: The Vatican would support the cardinal. Relating to recognized pronouncements, the women’s experimentation went too far. They had not, quite simply, worked within the rules of the man hierarchy.

Rather than quit their vision for spiritual renewal, even so, 350 of the order’s 400 sisters began planning a new lay community outside the Church.

A new vision

By the beginning of 1970, many of the Immaculate Heart sisters had made a decision to renounce their vows and reorganize as a lay community. The new group, the Immaculate Heart Community, was open to laypeople and also clergy, men and also women.

In the intervening years, almost all of the innovations that the sisters sought – including professionalizing benchmarks, experimenting with community worship and giving sisters control of their daily activities – were adopted by Catholics in the united states.

The Immaculate Heart Sisters drew on their time and destination to create a new vision of religious community. Their resources ranged from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council to the writings of California’s humanist psychologists. In addition they included women’s liberation, the anti-war movement and the countercultural wave that rolled outdoors their convent door.

The California desire and its own promise of new possibilities was central to the spiritual journey of the Immaculate Heart Sisters. It goes on to inspire a new generations of seekers in and from the Church.

(Diane Winston is associate professor and Knight Centre Chair in Media & Religious beliefs at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg College for Conversation and Journalism. This document was at first published on The Discussion. Browse the original article.)

Read more about days gone by and future of the California Desire. This series is posted in collaboration with KQED.

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