- New Generations of Catholic Sisters: The Challenge of Diversity by Mary Johnson, S.N.D. de N., Patricia Wittberg, S.C., and Mary L. Gautier
Religious life in the United States is on the precipice of rapid demographic change, as the large novitiate classes of the last century begin to pass the baton to the smaller diverse groups who have entered since the Second Vatican Council. This ambitious work by Mary Johnson, Patricia Wittberg, and Mary Gautier brings together data from studies and surveys, conducted over the past fifteen years, of these new generations of Catholic Sisters. Through their thorough analysis of survey responses – representing both major conferences of women religious – the authors help move the conversation beyond generalizations, stereotypes, and presumptions.
While a substantial portion of the book is dedicated to providing a copy of the surveys in question, the authors do not merely summarize [End Page 79] and combine the responses. Rather, the work represents a valiant effort to contextualize the lives of the new generations of Sisters. Readers interested in young adult Catholics will be well served by reading the authors' nuanced discussion of the wide landscape of choice facing "discerning adults" today in terms of vocation, worship, and spirituality.
It is next to impossible to discuss contemporary women's religious life in this country today without recognizing tensions with the church hierarchy, as evidenced by recent Vatican interventions. The authors make a significant contribution to this discussion by placing the recent kerfuffles within the historical context of the tension between priestly and prophetic roles in the church. In their analysis of church documents on religious life – each of which they note was written without consultation or input by women religious – and documents from the 2004 World Congress on Religious Life, the authors pinpoint areas of convergence and divergence around key understandings of the vows, mission, charism, and the role of religious in the church.
Sadly, while the book synthesizes surveys of the new generations of Catholic Sisters, the voice and experience of younger religious are otherwise lacking. Also, while the subtitle of the work recognizes the diversity of younger generations, the authors fail to explore the gifts and challenges of this reality, other than to suggest that future vocations may come from Asian and Hispanic Catholics. Nevertheless, women religious committed to the future of religious life should make it a priority to read this work, especially if they are in roles of leadership, vocation, or formation. Indeed, any Catholic interested in the life and vitality of the American church would find the book thought provoking. [End Page 80]