January 26, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Share with the care, share in the memories

Shirley Vogler MeisterLast month, an editorial published in The Criterion encouraged readers to donate unselfishly to the Retirement Fund for Religious because “one out of every five religious institutes has less than 20 percent of the amount needed to care for elderly members.”

Although I suspect that the percentage of families among the laity having trouble financially caring for loved ones might be higher, I wholeheartedly encourage the support of priests and nuns who need assistance.

As a product of Catholic grade and high schools, I have only fond memories of the sisters and clergy of my youth, with some memories being funny. However, most are poignant or happy or have contributed to excellent lessons that have served me well.

Rather than share my personal experiences with readers, I call attention to a book I enjoyed so much last month. The cover resembles the composition notebooks of my youth, but the title startled me: Don’t Chew Jesus!—A Collection of Memorable Nun Stories by Danielle Schaff and Michael Prendergast.

The authors, who are friends from childhood, take “a lighthearted look back at the women who influenced the lives of countless Catholic schoolchildren.”

The back cover says, “Nuns were once a pervasive part of the Catholic landscape, but much like the habits they once wore, sisters have largely disappeared.”

Many Catholics join me in missing their significant presence and untiring contributions in schools, hospitals, and other vocational and mission roles.

Still, dedicated nuns continue doing the work of Christ quietly and efficiently, some in traditional ways and some in unique forward thinking ways. The lessening of their numbers makes me especially appreciate the sisters of today—the young and the old—who share themselves unselfishly with others.

When I first read the Don’t Chew Jesus title, I was startled. Then I immediately remembered my first-grade teacher’s instructions while the class prepared for Holy Communion: “Don’t touch the Host with hands or teeth!”

My lifetime reverence for the Body of Christ is so great that, as an adult, I trembled when I first received the Eucharist in my hands.

Don’t Chew Jesus! is a memorable look into yesteryear, but it also takes a positive and serious look at our faith. It brightened my December holidays. Published by BenBella Books, its ISBN number is

1-932100-82-2. It is a bargain at $20 since a portion of the price is being donated to SOAR (Support Our Aging Religious), a national non-profit organization serving retired religious.

The book contains nearly 400 anecdotes and recollections written by both Catholics and non-Catholics, and already the authors are gathering stories for another book.

At the end of Don’t Chew Jesus! is information on how you can be a contributor and help support our retired religious. (See www.nunstories.com.)

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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