by Sister Ethel Puno, CCVI
It is the reality of many religious congregations in the United States today to have as a median age of its membership to be eighty years old. New entrants find their communities enriched by the presence of these wise and seasoned sisters, many of whom are beacons of inspiration for new and long-standing members of their congregations. Women entering religious life may range in age, many in their twenties and thirties, some in their forties and even fifties.
Entering religious life in 2003 in my late thirties, I did not have much of an idea how living in a religious community would be like. From the outset I knew it would be different and interesting, to say the least, since we were not members of the same family, we did not know each other well, and our ages varied. It was important to find something we had in common and this was our love for Jesus, the Incarnate Word, especially amid the challenges that life in community presented.
The first community I belonged to as a temporary professed sister fresh out of the novitiate where I was the only sister in initial formation comprised of sisters in their late seventies, early and late sixties, and mid-to late thirties. Having just hit forty, I was considered one of the younger sisters, which by this time I had gotten used to since at the time there were only nine of us in the United States who were below the age of sixty. While I did not share the same interests as the older sisters for recreation, music, nor the same energy level to retire early after a day’s work, they were always supportive and willing to be flexible when needed. They adjusted their schedule for me when I came home at a later time due to ministerial demands, were attentively present when I needed someone to listen to concerns that were on my mind and were willing to offer their wisdom about situations I brought to them for advice. For my part, I showed genuine interest in the activities they enjoyed such as crocheting, reading about or watching book reviews and I reciprocated to being present to them when they needed someone to listen. I also enjoyed the same interests with some of them such as watching movies, going to the theater to see a musical or a play, and being out in nature.
My present community in our international formation house with eleven members is composed of sisters ranging in age from twenty five to seventy four, not to mention that we come from six different countries originally. The younger members’ technological savvy makes life a bit easier by alleviating the frustration when dealing with modern-day devices and their vibrant energy and enthusiasm for excitement and novelty can lift up older members’ spirits and our home’s character and atmosphere. Alternatively, the more senior members can provide a calming presence and offer insights from lived experience that the younger ones are still refining. We all learn from each other and appreciate the gifts and ideas that each member brings. We are motivated by the desire to live in mutuality and of our shared concern for others and the world around us.
Then and now, it is our love for Jesus Christ, which makes living in an intergenerational community possible, doable, and life-giving because it translates into our love for each other; this gives me hope. It stretches me in various ways and it enriches my life in ways that keeps me growing as a person. One of the most important maxims I hold onto and strive to live by as I live in community with sisters of diverse ages, cultures, and personalities is from an anonymous writer who said, “You will only succeed in community if you have created a Christ environment where you are free to be a Christ and find a Christ in each member.” After all, I am an Incarnate Word sister!