Nun Sense

Fr. Kevin Dillon

Fr. Kevin Dillon is the Pastor of St. Boniface Martyr Parish, Sea Cliff, Long Island, NY.

She was born Rita Rizzo in Canton Ohio, and entered Religious life in the 1940’s; after entering the convent; she founded a Religious Order called the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a monastic order located in Birmingham AL, and became known to the world as Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation.  Mother Angelica founded the television station EWTN and was a pioneer in bringing the Gospel through the medium of television and radio.  She was a staunch believer in Catholic values and morals and even debated with a number of US Bishops, including Rodger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, CA.  Mother Angelica died Easter Sunday at her monastery in Hanceville, AL.

She was born Muriel Rose Connolly in Brooklyn, NY in 1920 to the parents of John and Margaret Connolly.  In 1938 she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph Noviate in Brentwood, Long Island.   From then on Muriel Connolly was known as Sister Margaret Andre, CSJ.  Her first assignment was St. Mary’s Nativity in Flushing where she taught 8th grade English; she was also principal of many Catholic Elementary Schools including St. Malachy’s in East New York and St. Agnes Seminary in Flatbush Brooklyn, where she also was the Superior in the convent.  To my family, she was known as Aunt Muriel, but to everyone else she was Sister Margaret Andre.  Aunt Muriel was my mother’s blood sister.

Both these women were addressed as SISTER, but were both NUNS?  Mother Angelica lived in a monastery that was cloistered, meaning she and the other nuns did NOT GO OUT INTO THE WORLD.  Once entering a monastic cloistered Order a woman stayed there for the remainder of her earthly life. Only in rare or extreme circumstances like sickness, does a woman who is a NUN leave the cloister, and conversely, visitors do not come into the cloister.  Visitors like family members speak to their loved one behind a grill.  Priests and doctors,  may with permission,  go into the monastery to tend to a sick or dying NUN.  My aunt, Sister Margaret Andre, however, left the convent daily and went into the classroom of the parish school.

So is there a difference between a Sister and a Nun?

As a rule, all women in Religious Life, also known as the Consecrated Life make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and live a life in common. (Code of Canon Law, 607.2)  Their houses,  either convents or monasteries,  must be established with the approval of the Diocesan Bishop (these congregations are called Diocesan Congregations like the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood or Sisters of St. Dominic, Amityville) or by the Pope himself (these congregations are called Pontifical such as the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, Belgium.)   While all women religious share this in common, their similarities end there.  Many Sisters are teachers, health care professionals and social workers; still others works in parishes as Coordinators of Liturgy and Music, or in prisons as chaplains but no matter what they are doing they are all involved in active ministry in the world.

Very different is the life of women religious who embrace a life of contemplation!   Certain Religious Orders were founded so that their members spend their entire lives removed from the world engaged in prayer for the needs of the Church, and indeed, the whole world!  These women make permanent vows voluntarily agreeing to spend the rest of their lives shut in behind a cloister.  They freely agree to NEVER SET FOOT OUTSIDE THE CLOISTERED ENCLOSURE.  Their entire life is a life of prayer; these types of women religious are called contemplatives. Only in serious illness to perhaps visit a hospital would these type of women religious leave the cloister. Families may visit these sisters, but they would NOT SEE THEM, they would speak to them from behind a grill or screen.

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation had some famous one liners that endeared her to many Catholics.  Last week on EWTN, Raymond Arroyo the host and anchor for The World Over a television show on EWTN recounted a heartwarming and somewhat humorous incident with Mother Angelica. Raymond was leaving the chapel one day after spending some time praying and Mother Angelica asked him, “What are you doing in here at this time of day?”  Apparently it was late in the day and I suppose she felt he should be home with his family.  He told her, “praying.”  Mother responded “leave the life of contemplation and prayer for me…YOU GO OUT AND MAKE THE LORD KNOWN TO YOUR FAMILY AND THE WORLD.”   Mother Angelica and her Religious Order Perpetual Adorers of the Holy Eucharist were a contemplative order, and MOTHER ANGELICA WAS A NUN.

My aunt, Muriel, (Sr. Margaret Andre) taught countless numbers of young people and had many young women enter the convent.  In her later years, she ran prayer groups in the parishes in which she lived, and interacted and impacted the lives of many Catholics in Brooklyn and Rockville Centre.  Sister Margaret Andre was a SISTER.

While both were called Sister, each had a different calling and ministry in the Church, but BOTH WERE BRIDES OF CHRIST WHO SOUGHT TO LEAD SOULS TO THE HEART OF JESUS CHRIST.


Fr. Kevin’s letter appears each week in print and online in the St. Boniface Martyr Parish Bulletin.


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