By JOHN O'KEEFFE
THE first thing that really hits the eye at the National Vocations Exhibition at Leeds are the modern, not to say modish, habits adopted by a
large section of the nuns.
This outward sign of inward change on the part of the religious orders. of the sweeping away of habits of thought, of time-honoured traditions that are now seen as forming unnecessary barriers between them and the world they are called upon to serve is borne out in conversation with a wide variety of priests, nuns and brothers.
Diminished, if not vanished entirely, is the "us and them" rivalry which sometimes bedevilled relations between
some of the orders. By chatting with members of other congregations many have been able to use the exhibition as an ideas forum and to iron out common problems.
I don't know whether an old Papal prohibition on the Jesuits and Dominicans disputing the theology of grace in the vernacular to save disedifying the faithful still stands but it would have been superfluous at Leeds as neither of these male orders were represented.
The Benedictines, also ab sent, are known to be doing fairly well for vocations, particularly from their schools.
So far as display items went it was, as always. the missionary orders which stole the show. Surrounded by children, even during the many slack moments, was 65-year-old Pere Louis Coty, O.M.I. Complete with a blue beret and khaki soutane and just one quarter of a kidney (the other one was crushed by ice in the far north mission field) this small, whitebearded priest was in the words ot a member of another order "a one-man exhibition."
After over 20 years among the Eskimaux, Fr. Coty's order decided it was time for him to take it easy and sent him to the Channel Islands. This was too quiet for the veteran missioner so he managed to get himself posted to the French Cameroons, where he now teaches English.
Another magnet of interest for the youngsters was the Verona Fathers' Land Rover, complete with portable altar and the African drum with which catechists in the bush use to call the faithful to Mass. Both the drum and the vehicle were receiving a good going over from the children.
Another stall which kept the youngsters' interest was the combined efforts of the three branches of the Franciscan
Order. As they had gone in for no spectacular decor it must have been the power of personality which kept a perpetual gaggle of schoolchildren around the friars.
The pooling of resources of the Capuchin, Observantine and Conventual Franciscans could well be the shape of things to come as there is a movement for reunification to make one order, a step that receives wider support in Britain than in some other countries.
A number of exhibitors did not expect too many inquiries because of the specialised nature of their work, but were content to be present just so that they could make their work that much wider known. Among these were the Apostleship of the Sea, the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, which exists specially to promote deeper understanding between Christians and Jews, and the Vocations Sisters.
The Vocations Sisters, founded by Mother Joseph in 1949 in Westminster, were perhaps the most unique order there insofar as they exist for the benefit of others, namely, to foster vocations.
Mother Joseph, a former secretary at the Catholic Truth Society headquarters in London, has a very matter of fact approach to her order's work.
"We exist mainly for girls," she said, "but if boys write to us for advice we always help them as much as we can and advise them to contact the bishop."
She said that they normally advise two out of every three girls who express interest in becoming nuns to marry instead. At the moment this order, which exists by helping other orders to swell their ranks, numbers 22 members in this country and suffers from having its work largely unknown.
Ruefully, she admits that it is, hard for the order to obtain money from the general Catholic public, which is naturally more ready to finance medical and rescue work.
Successes Nobody was looking for or even necessarily expecting an end product yet the success stories were there. A Poor Clare told me that on the very
day that the Leeds Exhibition opened a former Y.C.W. girl who had taken. a leaflet at the 1965 Earl's Court exhibition had been formally clothed as a member of her order.
Brother Andrew Smith, who is expecting to be ordained as a Norbertine Father next year, told mc that but for a previous vocations exhibition he would never have heard of the White Canons of St. Norbert. Although the Canons are primarily a monastic order they also man parishes.
When a Pallotine Father went across to the stall of the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy he met an old school friend whom he had not seen in years. It was only after a few minutes chatting that Sister Joseph Marie and Fr. Kiley, both from Brough Village, Co. Tipperary, recognised one another.
One man whose activities can to some extent be measured in success or failure terms is Fr. Kevin O'Brien, Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society. When I spoke to him his stall was deserted. but Fr. Kevin was highly optimistic. More people than ever before are wfiting to the Catholic Inquiry Centre for information about the Catholic Church and
of these 46.5 per cent are young people.
Although lack of numbers, particularly in the morning, gave a subdued atmosphere, several priests and nuns were not too despondent. They considered they had more time to talk to individuals and to the really interested youngsters as opposed to the ones who just wanted a fistful of literature.
One of the lesser known orders, the Little Brothers of Jesus, who arc contemplatives who do ordinary manual work in the daytime, effectively advertised their work by their absence. Based in Leeds, one of their members works in a foundry and another in a brewery. They were to man their stall once the day's work was over.
The Society of St. Paul, an Italian order which works through the mass media, has its own publishing house as well as a stall at the exhibition. The society publishes and prints a number of modern religious books and audio-visual aids. They have even diversified into specifically non-religious subjects with the aim of showing how religion is linked to life. The printing members of the order all hold union tickets.
Among other publishing innovations are children's simple religious books printed in the new alphabet and Bible stories adapted in nursery rhyme form.
Although Challenge '69 is orientated towards the young it was comforting to see that older people were not neglected.
Two Dominican sisters, Sister Patricia and Sister Mary Colette, said they were taking the opportunity to talk to the elderly who felt very much out of things in today's changing church. One elderly nonCatholic had decided to receive instruction.
Also pleased with the standard of inquiries he had received concerning his order was Fr. Anthony Pelan, a Caked Carmelite. Inevitably, he was asked whether he had to get up and pray in the middle of the night or whether he slept on a wooden board. But most questioners were interested in the work of his order.
Although there were a number of very attractive tableaux, such as those of the Verona Fathers and Sisters, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a display of dolls by the Sisters of Mercy and an effective home-made display by the Franciscan Medical Missionaries, many of the stands had to rely on the less effective tmucredsium of printing and pie Pictures page 8