I think this news is actually bigger and more exciting than I seem to be saying where I am quoted in this piece. It’s about time the Jesuits had female members. All the other great religious orders have them. Even the Oratorians have created a role for women — the Flammae Cordis (recalling Philip Neri’s heart of fire) — and has given them cool red habits, too, with the distictive collar of the Oratory. That’s them in the featured image, btw, because I couldn’t resist the red! ((Image Source)
Anyway, here’s the scoop!
In a move that is sure to reverberate within the deepest corridors of the Vatican, members of the Society of Jesus have today announced that they will be admitting women into the Society as full Sisters. “They can’t be ordained, at least not yet,” said James Martin, the Jesuit author of the best-selling book Jesus: A Pilgrimage, “but as Jesuits in service to the church and the world, we feel it is important at this time to validate the history of holy women within the church, and to help make them and their gifts more visible. Our Ignatian-minded sisters will be fully-recognized Jesuits.”
Martin added that the female members will be called Hermanas Sociedad, “but we’ve already nicknamed them ‘the Kateri’s, after Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who was evangelized by Jesuits. We believe these women will bring what Blessed John Paul II called “the feminine genius” into the mainstream.”
Reactions to the announcement have been mostly positive. Writing at the newly-established Dominican Post website, several Dominican confreres noted that the Order of Preachers has admitted women into its work since the 13th Century, and some good-naturedly teased the Society of Jesus for the timing of the move. “Finally!” wrote one Dominican under the username DumbOx, “the Dominicans, the Benedictines, the Franciscans — heck even the Carmelites — have long-partnered with women, and the Carmelites hardly talk to anyone! I’m glad the Jebbies have stopped dragging their feet!”
Vatican experts note that Rome has not yet released a statement on this development, and anonymous sources are being circumspect about whether or not Pope Francis — the first Jesuit Pope in the church’s long history — was instrumental in bringing this move about, or was withholding judgement. Speaking on the record, however, Federico Lombardi, Former Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, and himself a Jesuit, noted “The Holy Father has clearly stated that he is interested in bringing more women into positions of counsel within the hierarchy and to make them more visible throughout the church.”
The admission of women into the Society of Jesus is proving controversial for some. “I’m glad to see it, but not sure why this is a big deal,” wrote Catholic writer Elizabeth Scalia, who referenced the contributions and recognition of women throughout church history, “but it’s certainly a welcome thing, and, while I don’t think every nun needs a habit to be holy, I do hope the Hermanas bring back the Jesuit robes, which were great-looking, but maybe brought out in vivid colors, because everyone can use a little bloom. I’m thinking of the vibrant shades Cristofano Allori used for the robes of Judith, but you know…without the bloody head of Holophernes. What can I say? Like Paul’s friend, Lydia, I’m all about the dyes and textiles…”
Opining that Scalia “has an interestingly gynecological view” on too many things, writer Mark Shea praised the move as “a shiv stuck into the heart of the Catholic reactionary movement, which is what we would expect from our Jesuits who were founded by a warrior, Saint Ignatius, who was also called Ignatz.”
Among lay women the move has been largely well-received, “I know Papa Francis is behind this! He’s washing women’s feet!” said one woman, who says she is now — for the first time — encouraging her daughter to become a Catholic religious, a move she said she previously would not have considered. “I want grandchildren, of course, but the pope is changing everything, and I know that now if my daughter were to become a Sister she would be a true spiritual Mother to the the larger church, and that would make me a Grandmother to the world. Plus, the benefits alone make this a reasonable career move. She could get education and clothing allowances, health insurance, and the Jesuits know a lot of connected people in publishing and media. This move by the Society of Jesus finally makes it sensible for a woman to give up sex, which I know I could never do, but my daughter is very gifted.”
Another woman, asked if she might consider becoming a Hermana, seemed less enthusiastic. “Depends,” she said, “I know the Jesuits have that vow of obedience to the pope, and I don’t think women should have to take that. What if I don’t like him, you know what I mean? What if the pope doesn’t agree with me on issues? I have to conform to his view? I have to obey him? I don’t think so.”
Her commentary was interrupted by blogger Thomas McDonald, who suggested that anyone desiring to express dissent against current and future popes would be better-served by becoming a contributor to either the “traditionalist” Rorate Caeli, or the “progressive” National Catholic Reporter, depending on their perspectives.
“Everyone needs an outlet for their voice,” said McDonald, who administers a blog called “Weird Catholic”, “but I’m not sure a mainstream religious order would be the proper outlet for determined dissenters. It’s been done. And the church has all the hysterics and drama queens it can use, at the moment.”
Oh, and by the way…HAPPY APRIL FOOL’S DAY!
(The Oratorian stuff is true, though….)