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YOUNGSTOWN Nun's work spans changes in religious life



Published: Sat, May 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



After working in the diocese's Office of Religious, Sister Rosemary Murray says it's time for her to move on.

By D.A. WILKINSON

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Growing up on the west side of Cleveland, Sister Rosemary Murray went to Catholic schools.

"I had sisters who were real examples of loving, kind people," she said. "You want to become like the people who are models for you."

She was taught by Ursuline nuns in grade school and nuns from the Humility of Mary in high school.

"They were just happy, joyful, people available to the kids, and to their needs, and I wanted to be like that."

Following their example, she has been a member of the Humility of Mary for more than 50 years. Her duties have included being general superior of her order, working with and empowering the poor, and since 1990, being the director of religious for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown. In that role, she is the liaison between the diocese and the nuns, priests and brothers from other orders who work in the diocese.

And even though Sister Rosemary, 70, of Austintown, is leaving her post, she says she won't quit working.

The work: "This has been an interesting role, really kind of a culmination of my life, particularly my life in community administration, where you deal with religious with support and encouragement and open to their need to discuss problems," Sister Rosemary said.

That support includes financial. She works with a committee to take an annual retirement collection for the religious.

"This year [the appeal] raised almost $300,000 in the diocese, which is phenomenal for a one-shot collection. Over the course of 10 years, we've raised several million dollars."

The sister said the local appeal is one of the largest in the country.

The Office of Religious also brings in speakers for the sisters for spiritual refreshment and socialization, and may help deal with the rare canonical question, such as about a sister's leaving an order.

She works with about 325 religious; there are about 280 sisters working in the diocese, and about 30 religious brothers.

"They're very wonderful people to work for," she said. "They are grateful for everything you try to do for them."

Diversity: One of the interesting parts of her job has been seeing in depth the nature of each religious community. Each order is different, Sister Rosemary said.

"When you are with different orders, you see what we call their charism. Charism is really, I think, the guiding spirit that is present in every community. That drives the way they minister. Some are contemplative in nature, and that drives the way they function. Some are more social [ministries]."

The emphasis on charism has been more noticeable since Vatican II called for spiritual renewal so the religious would be faithful to the vision of their founders while being relevant in their ministries.

Humility of Mary, for example, works in health care and housing for the poor.

"We see that coming out of our original ministry of providing an education, in those days a hundred and some years or so, and quasi-professional development so people could make a living, whether it was lace work, sewing or shoe repairs: simple things.

"We see our work as trying to provide housing and social ministries. The sisters who are lawyers and the legal service they provide focus on enabling people to be independent and to direct their own lives. Education is no longer just in the classroom and books. It's all kind of educational opportunities."

Reaching out: That broad approach to an initial ministry has shaped the modern work and world of religious. As the number of nuns declined, the number of ministries has exploded.

"I couldn't begin to count the different ministries that my own sisters are engaged in, and that's true of every community," Sister Rosemary said.

There are now half the religious there were when the sister took over the post. The drop in numbers has been offset by involvement of the laity.

Orders have also become more sophisticated by investing funds to generate revenue and making the best use of their assets. Many experts in the community advise the orders on financial or other issues. Many nuns now live in apartments or houses because, as the numbers of orders dropped, convents were turned over to parishes for various programs.

And the orders show no sign of dying. Enthusiasm and excitement still run high as the orders continue to find ways to minister to others, the sister said, adding, "That's the grace of God."

Reflections: As to her own work, the sister says she will regret leaving. Her last day is June 30. A feeling it is time to move on, along with health factors, is responsible for the decision, she said.

"It's been a great experience and a great life."

She's had a rich personal life, too. She enjoys reading, music, theater, film and the Cleveland Indians.

When asked how she put the love shown by the sisters into her work, Sister Rosemary said, "I think imitation is the highest form of flattery, and when we talk about the imitation of Christ, it's true. Basically I learned from all these people, and my family, to be optimistic in my outlook. I try to be gentle and approachable. Humor was always a part of my life. That always stands me in good stead. I like people. Some [qualities] are taught, I suppose, but some are free gifts from God. I can stretch. Those are qualities I've been able to extrapolate from my experiences and exposures."

Sister Rosemary expects eventually to become part of a national ministry at the federal prison in Elkton. But for now, she plans to go on a retreat after leaving her post, and for a short time, wake up -- for the first time in more than 50 years -- wondering what she will do that day.




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