"Sisters" take note
People wait an hour in line to talk with her, pack standing room only into a bar to hear her, and some even squeal when they see her, this woman in a sister’s habit.
She is Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, the principal of
In her floor-length white habit with black veil and a rosary around her waist,
With a stated mission of teaching, the Nashville Dominicans get letters and phone calls almost daily from dioceses across the country, asking that they send their youthful - and overtly devout - vibe to one school or another.
“The bishops are circling Nashville,” said Timothy McNiff, schools superintendent in the Arlington Diocese, who introduced Hoover at an open house in Woodbridge, Va., this month for the new school, which will be called Pope John Paul the Great Catholic High School.
There is little detailed research on women who join Catholic religious orders - called “women religious,” “sisters” or often “nuns,” although technically that means a woman who is cloistered. Although traditional orders make up a small slice of the pie, they are where the growth is.
“This generation is more conventional in their outlook and more traditional in values,” said Brother Paul Bednarczyk, the executive director of the National Religious Vocations Conference. “Given the relativity of our culture, they really want to know what it means to be Catholic, and symbols - like habits - speak to them deeply. They want people to know they have made this radical choice.”
Some experts say that the growth of traditional groups is because their work goals of teaching and nursing, for example, have remained clear; they haven’t strayed as much as more progressive orders into a broader array of careers where they often live and work alone, apart from their sisters. Others say that they are the natural result of Pope John Paul II’s papacy, during which the church refocused on its orthodox roots after the social turbulence of the 1960s and ’70s. Some think that their meditative lifestyles are simply more attractive in an era of nonstop communication.
Regardless, a sister in a habit makes clear what is special about Catholic schools at a time when there are hundreds of thousands fewer students there than 10 years ago. “If Catholic schools don’t look any different and use the same textbooks and have the same teachers and the same standards, why have them?” asked Sister Patricia Wittberg, a sociologist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis who studies religious orders. One way to distinguish yourself is “to get a bunch of women in habits in there. They are icons of Catholicity in a diocese that wants Catholicity.”