Called by God's Goodness: A History of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity in the Twentieth Centuryed. by Gian Ackermans and Ursula Ostermann, O.S.F. and Mary Serbacki, O.S.F. (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 85, Number 1, January 1999
- pp. 61-62
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS61 Called by God's Goodness:A History of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Gian Ackermans , Ursula Ostermann, O.S.F., and Mary Serbacki, O.S.F. (Stella Niagara, NewYork:The Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity. 1997. Pp. xii, 325. Paperback.) The genesis of this history began with a 1989 decision of the General Chapter of the international community of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity. The implementation of this decision was entrusted to a team of editors who "attempted to design a work plan that would take into account and do justice to the variety of cultures and experiences ofthe ten provinces of the congregation in the twentieth century. At the same time [they] saw the need to present an overview of some fundamental developments within the international community" (p. xi). The first section of the book contains a brief review of the nineteenth-century history ofthe congregation and the overview of the fundamental developments as reflected in community documents. For the most part, the text and the footnotes fail to reflect the influence of church law as it has applied to women religious except in the post-Vatican Council II period . Most of the chapters were written in the mother tongue ofthe author and then translated into English. The use of community documents as a principal source is probably the reason for the paucity of reference to the universal Church and political conditions ; both, surely, affected the lives of the sisters in much greater detail than is implied in this text. The authors of the postconciliar essays are more cognizant of these factors. It is assumed that personal experience was supplemented by more references in the community archives. The final chapter (V), "Provinces: Recent Developments and Projects," held an outsider's interest more than the previous four chapters. The sections within Chapter V account for difficulties, the changes required by these difficulties, and the changes within the Church and society. Many sections name the individual sisters involved in the new directions within the community. It is refreshing to read about sisters, other than superiors, by name; it attests to respect for the individual within the context of community. Chapters one to three, were valuable for the background of a community with which I was not familiar. Chapter III, "Spirituality: Prayer Does Not Stand in Isolation from Life and History," does not quite live up to its title (a difficult goal to achieve). The development as reflected in the Constitutions and in the life of the foundress is accounted for, but how did it affect individuals and small communities after that time? Very little is said. There were many pages in this first part where the contents seemed more suitable as encyclopedia entries than a book-length history. The content seemed to be frequently repeated in the province histories. The editors acknowledged in their preface,"We as an editorial team did not impose a uniform structure or style on the authors" (p. xii). As one reads, however, it seems as if the sisters were requested to cover certain 62BOOK REVIEWS topics, thus leading to a great deal of repetition when one reads the complete text rather than sections of immediate interest. Surely, the primary audience for this book is the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity. For members ofthe congregation, it is a valuable reference book. For an outsider, it can, at times, be tedious reading. In the various sections of Chapter IV, "Provinces: History 1900-1989," the national context is not clear from the outset; one must read one or more sentences to locate a province geographically. Explanatory endnotes, e.g., the note regarding the Sisters' relationship with Propaganda Fide rather than the Roman Congregation for Bishops and Regulars, would be more helpful as footnotes. Additionally, because it is an international community, the great amount of repetition can become burdensome, even boring, when reading the entire text. For the general reader, interest would have been greatly enhanced by a synthesis that included the unique characteristics of individual provinces. The original authors of each section are...