Rethinking the Future
Sisters Will Continue to Work In and For Community
Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU
April 21, 2023
I am often asked “what it is like to be a young sister?” I hear this question a lot, by well-intended, inquisitive people, people who seem sincerely interested in my response. I have a good friend who likes to respond to the well-intended questioner with, “She is not as young as she used to be.”
And we all laugh. Indeed, none of us are as young as we used to be,
While it is a question that is often asked of me, my age — or rather the chronological age among my community — is something I rarely think about. When I entered the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland 17 years ago, I knew with all my being that I was called to religious life at this moment in history, and the probability was high that I would always be the youngest. You see, no one has entered the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland since me. My lifelong yes to living a life of chastity, poverty, and obedience also came with saying yes to living out the call as the youngest.
Being the youngest is an incredible gift. I have had and continue to have the best teachers — women who have paved the way in mission, ministry, justice, and advocacy, women who have modeled for me strength and a lifelong commitment to learning and formation. My sisters have taken risks, spoken out, and have advocated for the most vulnerable among us, especially women and children. And I continue to by humbled by the ways my sisters show up for me. When I start a new ministry, when I need help in learning the ways of faithful service, and when I simply need to be reminded that we do the work together and with all of our collaborators, I am not alone.
Religious life is transitioning, changing, evolving. The truth is that all Catholic Sisters aren’t as young as we used to be. The numbers of women religious actively serving in hospitals, schools, and social service agencies are declining. Many congregations are having conversations about the legacy they will leave when their communities reach completion. Our legacy, charisms, and missions are being lived out by our associates, co-members, and co-workers. And this is where the mission of NETWORK enters the picture as well.
When I arrived at NETWORK, I was no longer the youngest. Instead, I joined a multi-generational, diverse group of talented, committed, and dynamic people. I arrived at a time when NETWORK was celebrating its 50-year history and taking the long look back. And while we took the time to look back to our foundation, we have also been taking the time to look forward to the next 50 years and all the ways the organization can continue to engage in meaningful political ministry.
And this is part of the legacy that Catholic Sisters leave as well. At NETWORK I see how Catholic Sisters, even with our declining numbers, will continue to work in community in the years ahead. Our calls and our charisms are broken open, beyond the boundaries of religious life, and shared with people from different walks of life in communities far and wide. And this new and different form of community works together for changes in laws that will foster ever-deeper and more inclusive communities. This is a rethinking of the future of religious life, but one that brings the Gospel ever more fully out into the world.
The same God who called the thousands of women religious before me is the same God who called me. And it’s the same God who calls Catholics to live their baptismal call out in the world and who inspires people of goodwill to work for justice and build up the common good. Today and each day, I renew my “yes” filled with hopes and aspirations, limitations, and weaknesses to live this life with my sisters, colleagues, and everyone who shows up wanting to make the world a more just and inclusive place.
Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU, is NETWORK’s Chief of Staff.