Returning to the Sisters and Challenging My Convictions

By: Emily Coccia

January 12, 2015

Camilla Hall, located in Malvern, Pennsylvania, is a home for retired, sick, and recovering Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). After attending an IHM-run high school and grade school, I have a close connection to the order, crediting them with much of my educational and spiritual upbringing. Throughout high school, I volunteered at Camilla Hall; a group of us would go over every couple of weeks to deliver meals and visit the sisters, taking care to check in on those without local families or frequent visitors. Although this volunteer work played an important role in my high school life, I have not had the chance to go back since my freshman year of college. 

Finally home for a full week this semester, I seized the opportunity to return. Although I saw a few familiar faces, especially among the sisters who work on the staff, I had the opportunity to meet plenty of new women. Each time I visit, I am struck by the wisdom the sisters have to offer. From insightful political commentary (which abounds when I mention where I attend college), to thoughtful responses to questions about the Catholic Church and faith in general, the sisters make visible their commitment to the order’s mission statement in all that they do. While it might be cliché, I truly feel that each time I volunteer at Camilla, I receive more from the sisters than I could possibly give. Returning this semester reminded me of why I made that commitment throughout high school and convinced me to look for similar places to volunteer in Washington, DC. Although Georgetown is a Jesuit school, I have tended toward theology, rather than religion, during my time here. Although there’s nothing wrong with this approach, I began to realize what has been missing from my thinking when I returned to Camilla. Hearing the sisters talk about discerning their call from God and making the decision to devote their lives to the IHM sisterhood reminded me of the very personal nature of religion—an aspect that is often an afterthought, at best, in academic conversations about theology.

Yet we talked about more than just personal narratives and journeys; we also discussed the changing face of the Catholic Church, the politics of religion, and the Vatican’s newly ended investigation of the American nuns. Like many millennial Catholics, I lauded the tone taken by Pope Francis and the changing face of the Catholic Church. While taking Dr. Jeanne Lord’s Georgetown course, “Smart, Catholic, and Female,” gave me the opportunity to explore many of these issues and think about how I personally reconcile certain elements of Church hierarchy with my own identity, I still looked with disapproval on the often conservative rhetoric espoused by leading figures in the Church and balked at the justification offered for the Vatican’s investigation of the nuns. Yet where I felt righteous and justified, almost all of the sisters I talked to at Camilla urged forgiveness and love. They challenged me to pray and work toward a Church that can be there for all of its people, but also to embrace the Church with an attitude of kindness and love, recognizing even those parts of it that might bother me the most. They encouraged me to remember the Catholic community, rather than focusing, as I had done, on what I as an individual wanted to see. Only as a community can we heal, change, and grow together. 

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Returning to the Sisters and Challenging My Convictions