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August 21, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 96




global perspective The fire in her belly isn’t curry, it’s Christ

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Two decades ago, Sister of Charity of Nazareth Shalini D’Souza was a guiding star and mentor to the Indian SCN novices and young sisters in Mokama, India. The 1812-Kentucky-founded SCNs had begun work in India in 1947 at the invitation of U.S. Jesuits on mission there.

Today she is the SCN president; her five-year term begins Sept. 1.

She is also an intriguing and refreshing sign of the times for an out-of-Kentucky-soil American order, almost two centuries old. An Indian-born president. Surely a first.

But then, there’s the other reality. The sisters in and from India are those who will gradually assume most of the weight to carry the SCNs into the future. More than 90 percent of the 200 Indian sisters and novices are under 65 – that is so for perhaps 22 percent of the 500-plus U.S. sisters.

Yet, as is the case with practically all the U.S. congregations of women religious – age is not a barrier. Dammit, these American nuns, all of them in all the orders, will not give up or give in. (As an aside, they’re the greatest untold story in U.S. secular and U.S. Catholic history. The hundreds of women’s congregations that transformed the church, the urban landscape, the rural reality and much of the American way of doing things in and for the community. Persuasive and occasionally prolific though I am, I’ve never been able to persuade a U.S. publisher to sign a contract for the mammoth work it is.)

Back to Sr. Shalini and the SCNs. India for the sisters is social outreach. D’Souza worked with prostitutes in New Delhi before being drawn out of some of the controversies she created there and into the SCN leadership here.

The fire in her belly isn’t curry, it’s Christ. And she’s taking the helm of an order that’s totally cross-cultural. One of her vice presidents is Sr. Barbara Flores. The SCNs are very active in her native Belize. There are Indian and American sisters in Botswana. There are SCNs working with street children in Nepal. And at home here, the determined sisters maintain a dazzling range of activities with fewer and fewer numbers.

“I believe we are, too, a challenge to the church,” D’Souza told me five years ago, from a convent that was just as full of spirit as it was 22 years ago, when I stepped out of the pedicab at the Mokama convent and met her for the first time. “And a challenge to ourselves,” she added this week.

Her election, she said, “is recognition of the fact that a mission that was begun by the United States has come to some maturity. It is probably a conscious effort on all the sisters’ part to become more global, to look on the world as a whole. I imagine the impact is that we are called beyond ourselves.”

But there’s more to it, a personal testing for all SCNs. The SCN general assembly five-year plan is focused on “deepening our SCN spirituality and studying theological perspectives across cultures.” They want not only to address “unjust systems, but to try and look at racism, classicism, within ourselves and across cultures.”

Most of all she said, the focus is “to speak with one corporative voice for the poor.”

        Arthur’s Daily Ditty

        'Twas 1981
        In India for just five days
        My 10-part series – take a peek –
        I handed to the editors, who
        Were glad I hadn’t stayed the week.

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