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Reviewed by:
Jason Zuidema, ed. Understanding the Consecrated Life in Canada: Critical Essays on Contemporary Trends. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. xii, 458. $85.00

Jason Zuidema's fine edited collection on the consecrated life in Canada contains twenty-six essays in four sections: 1) numbers and definitions of older Catholic Canadian religious orders (Anglican orders are absent); 2) the religious post-World War II with critical studies on the context and influence of Vatican II (1962–65); 3) essays on new forms of religious life in Canada, including Protestants and communities dedicated to greening; 4) non-Christian ordered life, concentrating on small enclaves of various Buddhist groups which "share the same social experience" as the Christian orders. The contributors (who, alas, cannot all be reviewed here) follow the "contemporary" editorial remit, providing a full (possibly unique) canvassing of bibliographic and archival material on the subject. Oral history, photography, ecclesiastical processes, and a Canadian prosopography of the Catholic spiritual exemplars as well as theoretical frameworks are included with the more formal essay chapters including studies of conferences and publications within the orders themselves.

The present demographic (Part One) is not optimistic for the traditional "religious" (Kathryn Rose Sawyer). Guy Laperrière's "Le Nombre de Religieux aux Quebec" follows Zuidema's caution to look beyond a narrative of incessant decline. The religious had experienced life at the centre and the periphery: New France to 1760 relied explicitly on the orders for education and social institutions. The "periode de crise" of British government limiting the connections to Old France saw, after 1840, a century of renaissance. French orders began, again, to go to Quebec in the 1820s and 1830s with a new romanticism in mission and the devastation of the European orders 1794–1820 behind them. World War II saw the high mark (1947) yet radical criticism of the orders' control of health, education, and social work became a crucial element to the Quiet Revolution in 1960. From the 1960s the infrastructure of the Quebec religious began to unravel. Or so it appears. Paul-André Turcotte, doyen of the sociology of contemporary orders, suggests why: consecrated communities as studied in Weberian modes (with Ernst Troeltsch) are far from separate. The religious, he argues, have been (and continue to be) interrelated with all parts of the social order through the uniquely radical nature of their existence.

Numbers and properties alone do not tell the story. The discussion of the interior lives of these communities is the real jewel of this volume. Gilles Routhier's contextual piece shows the usual hierarchies were vague rather than authoritarian. The quiet turmoil after Vatican II's letter Perfectae [End Page 270] Caritatis in in Part Two is poignant. The future Emmett Cardinal Carter was in pastoral care, but not administrative direction, of Sisters of the Precious Blood, 1967–68, as they questioned how contemplatives could heed the Council's great design for a more active Church in the world (Michael Attridge). Should they remove the grilles in their parlours when visitors came? As Rosa Bruno-Jofré's study of the Sister of Our Lady of Missions suggests, new boundaries for more active orders were not only microcosmic nor only refashioned in the "révolution tranquille" but macrocosmic: the Sisters were affected far more by the volatile politics of post-colonial India, Pakistan, Burma, and Sri Lanka than by church councils. Direction in the houses was complicated generally by mixed messages from the church hierarchy about what new rules of life as "active," including dress, obedience, and housing, would demand. Some nuns left; others engaged in social activism and feminism. Numbers fell off sharply; after 1980 almost no new professions were made. Visibility changed: in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the local diocesan publication reported energy and change while the secular newspaper picked up only rare stories on the wire (Heidi MacDonald, Emily Burton). New buildings and new novices today are discussed. Revival is not exactly the right word for these modest gains; as the late Gabrielle Lachance's half-century (1952–2008) on the vocations and dynamism of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, they were not visible to most of the Church. Elizabeth McGahan's photographic...


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pp. 270-272
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