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Theologies of ministry among older Roman Catholic sisters in the UK

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posted on 2023-08-30, 15:46 authored by Catherine Sexton
Although the theology of Roman Catholic apostolic or active religious life for women continues to develop, one group of voices rarely heard is that of older British women no longer engaged in external, formal or paid ministries or works. The study investigated the experience of these women and asked in what ways they continue to be apostolic until the very end of their lives, and how they understand their vocation to apostolic religious life. Narratives emerging from the data collected were analysed using a combination of the Voice-Centred Relational Method and in recognition of the theological nature of this research, Lectio Divina. The study found sisters operating in a new context of reduced social influence where opportunities for ministry are increasingly community-based. The sisters come to embody their vocation to apostolic religious life through three new forms of ministry: ministry to each other; to their carers and through intentional presence, as ministry which is both sacramental and incarnational in nature. This embodiment of their ministry and vocation means that their orientation towards others is constitutive of their identity, as they minister out of their God-given self. From my identification of the richness of the sisters’ on-going ministry, I found that reduced social influence and physical limitations do not constitute a diminished response to their vocation. The originality of the research lies in identifying that the predominant theology of ministry for religious women needs to be redefined and expanded to reflect the sisters’ own understandings of ministry which is unrelated to activity. The finding that being with and for others is constitutive of the sisters’ identity has broad resonances. It makes a specific contribution to the evolving identity of post-institutional apostolic religious life for women both practically and theoretically.



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