SISTER Theresa Kane is that formidable nun — and anyone who has stood in a queue with nuns waiting for the doors Of Minh' great cathedral to open upon some great ceremony will know just how formidable they can he — that formidable nun who told the Pope in the tithed States that women "must be included in all ministries of our Church".
Philadelphia. the Pope had made it clear that the priesthood was not for women. He also enjoined nuns to get back into their traditional uniforms. It had little effect on Sister Theresa.
At 44 she is a handsome, motherl woman with an air of confident authority. She wears a brown, severely tailored suit with a suggestion of chiffon at the throat and if she had a decent string of pearls and a regimental brooch, she could be the head of the WI, the Colonel's Lady, or a stipendiary magistrate. In fact she is Super-Nun.
She is head of the order of the four and a half thousand Sisters of Mercy of the t 'Ilion. She also heads the Leadership Conference of Women Religious which is a sort of umbrella for all the American nuns. They are close to 'becoming an endangered species.
She has a white elephant of a mother house near Washington D.C. which was built in more spacious days when there were far more nuns about. They'd like to sell it and give the money towards providing housing for women. No takers for a year. Some of her sisters wear trouser suits.
Her "outburst" was carefully considered and got nation% ide coverage. It took place in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The United States are dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and someone had the idea of building this huge, domed and extremely expensive church in a part of the outskirts of Washington known as the Latin Quarter, so full is it of monasteries, Catholic colleges, friaries and, of course, the Catholic University. This last has a noble reputation among scholars, though it has suffered its theological baptisms by fire — rather often.
In what must he the most thickly chapelled district of the United States, it does not seem to serve a useful purpose. it is not the cathedral. It is vast. Its design does not always conform to the stricter canons of good taste. But it is the National Shrine. And must almost singlehanded have sustained the Irish marble trade for several years.
Here, then, Sister Theresa made her point and the Pope went a bit stony in the face. Of course. there were 700 nuns in the Shrine. But there was also Television. The result was overwhelming. It was the only protest that faced the Pope.
Two nuns were on permanent telephone duty. Another superior of a different order took a large advertisement in a newspaper to apologise for Sister Theresa's attitude to the Holy Father. The letters poured in and they still trickle. Some were extremely rude. Sister Theresa is now convinced that the majority of American Catholics support her.
Since her speech, after which she knelt to kiss the Pope's hand, she adopted a low profile. Which is to say that she did not answer the letters herself nor the telephone. She does not lecture and is only now reassuming her public role. This was not cowardice, but having planted her bomb, she thought she'd done her hit.
It seems that she would accept the priesthood if it would serve the Church. She has no idea of giving up the faith and does not intend to quit her convents.
S4e would like to tell the Pope personally about her ideas. Indirectly it has been intimated to her that the dialogue should he carried on through the proper channels, i.e. via the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. Well. I suppose that is better than being walled up in the West Wing.