Sister Donna Dodge, a member of the leadership council of the Sisters of Charity, looks at a statue of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of their order, inside the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception where they took their vows at various times, at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, a private Catholic college in the Bronx borough of New York, on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. In more than 200 years of service, the Sisters of Charity of New York have cared for orphans, taught children, nursed the Civil War wounded and joined Civil Rights demonstrations. Last week, the Catholic nuns decided that it will no longer accept new members in the United States and will accept the “path of completion.” (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

By Sr. Sherryl White, CSJ, originally published by America Magazine

In 1968, a brief article by Karl Rahner, S.J., entitled “The Theology of Risk,” appeared in The Furrow, the Irish theological journal. Reflecting on the rapid societal changes being confronted by the church in the world, Rahner posed the mandate of risk as the more courageous way forward. Risk, he suggested, “means relinquishing old, tried ways and risking untried paths, where the future historical outcome cannot be adequately foreseen…. Security lies today no longer in the past, but in the future.”

Fifty-five years later, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of New York have chosen to embrace that theology of risk. In early April, five sets of double doors to a hotel ballroom were quietly closed. Sisters and Associates made their way to tables, knowing that the issue of vocations was next on the agenda at the congregation’s 2023 General Assembly. They listened to the report of predictable data: fewer members, a rising median age, a long-standing absence of viable inquirers. Then, the recommendation from the Executive Council called the question. The room became a sea of color as 4-by-6-inch pieces of bright green construction paper were lifted high, wobbling in the air as the delegates’ arms trembled. The wait seemed interminable as the eyes of tellers scanned the room. These cards were ballots, Green signaling affirmation. The final tally? Unanimous! The delegates had just voted to stop accepting new members to the Sisters of Charity of New York in the United States. The air was still. The silence felt like a cloak enfolding the room. There was more to come.

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