Tuesday, February 1

You can tell you're really a Catholic Nerd when you imagine religious orders that don't exist yet. As a writer and a former dabbler in what the hoity-toity academics call "counterfactual history" (e.g., "what if George Washington had joined the British navy?"--which actually might have happened, given Mount Vernon is named after an admiral) I've invented a few groups of nuns and monks that could only exist in a parallel universe. For example, in a world where the Papal States still exist and the Austrians thwarted Italian unification, there were the Albertines, dedicated to scientific study, and the blue-and-white habited Brotherhood of Zion, ministering to Jewish converts and writing elaborate polyphonic motets in Hebrew.

However, it seems that I'm not the only one interested in hypothetical orders, though perhaps with an interest which extends to more practical concerns than my own armchair fantasizing. I came across this rather enjoyable website, the Society of Our Lady of the Cloister, through Fr. Bryce's comments box. It's a list of orders that ought to be founded and may well be but haven't yet (all of them, rather pleasingly, adhering to the Ecclesia Dei Tridentine indult, and looking for potential vocations) and ministering to an unusually varied kaleidoscope of distinctly twenty-first century needs.

The names alone are poetic and delightful, such as the Handmaids and Manservants of St. Dymphna (with their red cappas and blue tunics), St. John Vianney's Company of Nurses, or The Ministry of Our Lord's Sorrowful Grandmother. Some of their charisms seem much-needed--assisting rocky marriages, patients in comatose states, or using the teachings of St. Maximilian Kolbe to help the the morbidly obese. The last idea is particularly interesting: gluttony and the opposite extreme of "dieting" have become so unmoored from the Christian ideas of temperance and fasting, such a sisterhood would seem rather timely. Others have unexpected and surprising charisms, such the Sisters of St. Joan of Arc and Karin Yarosh, named after a devout and deceased female Catholic jockey (of whom I wish I could find out more, and if her causus has been opened) and dedicated to, among other things, ministering to women in the racetrack industry.

At first glance, it seemed an odd and specific area to focus on, but I suppose ministering to lepers sounded odd back in the days of St. Francis, and you can't get more oddly specific than many great orders still extant today, like the Mercedarians with their mission of ransoming Christian captives or the Tuscan Order of St. Stephen with its history of glorious naval campaigns against piracy. I also have to admit that their proposal for an "Entourage of the Divine Bridegroom" sounds like a cool idea: a group of priests who would, in addition to many other duties, would lead retreats and give convent road tours to aspiring postulants--you know, that wonderful staple of Catholic nerddom, the nun run! Neat idea, really. So many young ladies are looking for orders these days, after all.

I appreciate these imaginative ladies for sharing their ideas with all of us. Perhaps some day I'll run across some red-tunicked Sisters of the Holy Innocents and St. Gianna Molla at the March for Life.

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