Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anita Caspary, Feminist Nun

What an unlikely life: born in rural South Dakota in 1915, she earned a doctorate in English at Stanford University in 1948 and went on to lead her order, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to sever ties with the Vatican.


Her rebellion started with obedience to the mandate of Vatican II for all Catholic religious to match their ministry to the needs of the modern world.

She and the IHMs came to the conclusion that they needed to stop wearing the habit and to leave any teaching jobs where they had 60 to 80 students in a classroom. They decided a teachable limit was 40 students. They also decided their nuns should be allowed to complete their BA degrees before starting to teach.

Cardinal McIntyre, archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese, was furious about these uppity nuns.

By that time, Anita had become president of Immaculate Heart College in LA and then Superior of her order, which stood up to pressure from him to keep teaching for low pay and heavy work loads.

In retaliation, McIntyre made sure that wealthy Catholic donors withdrew their support from the order's college. It closed in 1980.

The sisters formed a new order, the Immaculate Heart Community, which includes both Protestants and men among its 160 members today.

Anita wrote her story in 2003, Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of California (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press). I treasure my signed copy.

When I met her, she was a fiery 85, still giving lectures and speaking out for women in the Roman Catholic Church. In recent years she attended the annual IHM lectures in a wheelchair, still gracious and highly respected.

My father too was born in South Dakota, in Trent in 1914. about 130 miles from Herrick, where Anita was born in 1915.

His ambitions were waylaid by the Depression and alcoholism. Hers were fulfilled by her faith and determination.

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