During these last full weeks of planning and packing,
of reality colliding with unreality, of so many memories, so many feelings, bidden and unbidden,
I’ve been asking myself, “Why,”
“Why we are leaving our beloved Wilton?”
I’ve remembered the early years when it was first built and was so comfortable, so beautiful that it was nicknamed “the Wilton Hilton,”
when the trees in the courtyard weren’t much bigger than shoulder high,
when our own Sisters ran every department,
when novices and postulants entered in September,
studied and prayed and played here.
That was when there was Mother and “T” and Emmanuel,
Pat Marie, Charitas, and Virginia,
Doretta and Annette, Dorothea and Wilma . . .
All decades ago now, all beloved founders, beloved memories,
And ever since, ever since,
that world slowly, inevitably turning into another world,
the one we’re living in today.
Again the question — “Why, why are leaving our beloved Wilton?”
The answer I keep coming to is only one word GOD,
and the only word to describe this moment is, and has to be, LOVE.
We are living, Sisters, in the last great decades, the slow final years,
of the fourth period of religious life in the Church:
it’s been called APOSTOLIC RELIGIOUS LIFE.
It emerged from, first, the Desert Fathers and Mothers;
who went to the wilderness to find the God they couldn’t find
in the easy Christianity of the late Roman Empire.
Then came Benedict and the monks and nuns
in the stability of the great monastic establishments
that did so much to preserve classical civilization;
Next was the time of the mendicant Friars, Francis and Dominic,
who burst out of the cloisters and took to the roads,
preaching the Gospel, especially to the poor, and to the scholars
and tradesmen in the newly-emerging cities and universities;
Our era — the fourth, the APOSTOLIC — is next.
Here come the Jesuits and the Ursulines,
now religious life is dominated for the first time by women,
by uncounted numbers of Sisters, wave after wave of us.
(It used to be a joke in the Church that no one ever figured out
how many foundresses of congregations there really were.)
This APOSTOLIC ERA showed the governments of the world what ordinary people,
what the millions and millions of people who were poor,
what they deserved in terms of Education and Health Care,
of Schools and Hospitals.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, has said,
“Whenever I’m in a part of the world that God seems to have turned his back on, out walks a nun from Brooklyn.”
How can we explain them, each great transition --
each one so powerful and so in tune with where the world was going?
The only explanation I keep coming to is GOD.
Who else could have done this?
and the only word I can come to is LOVE.
And now, a new era, the fifth, the one we see emerging
slowly, tentatively, and yes, painfully.
Each great evolution has preserved aspects of the previous one —
nothing was ever lost, something in the new era was not completely new.
Prayer, contemplation was always the non-negotiable bedrock.
Franciscans, Dominicans settled down to became teachers,
Jesuits opened schools . . .
And what about us? Here? Now? Today?
Our high schools, our recently sponsored works, are thriving—
helping women specially to reach the fullness of their potential.
Now we offer an ever-sharper sense of justice in society,
a more complete understanding
of the mystery of the human person than we had before,
an emphasis on seeing schools as Christian communities,
all very strong signs of the coming age.
But they are now, more and more the mission of dedicated lay people.
The hundreds of consecrated lives, including ours, that passed through Wilton as School Sisters of Notre Dame,
stand as witness to the era that is passing,
but more, they witness to the one that is coming.
We leave Wilton itself, our beloved Pentagon,
with hope, as well as sorrow,
we leave it to become one great, shining foundation stone
of the emerging form of religious life.
We leave it to be built into the bedrock of God’s utterly tender compassion
for the millions of refugees and migrants in so many places,
for our confused and adrift young people,
for our troubled, searching, technologically frightened world,
What are we feeling? Sorrow, mingled with great love.
We go from here with LOVE, for love, through love.
As the song says, we “can’t forget, can’t regret, what we did for love.”
And what are we doing?
We’re doing what we’ve always and everywhere, done --
WHATEVER GOD TELLS US.