Ten religious sisters and a priest who were formerly part of an Episcopal religious community were received into full communion with the Catholic Church at a Mass in Maryland on Thursday. One sister said God will use them to bring unity to the Church.
The women were members of the Society of All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor. The former Episcopal priest, Fr. Warren Tanghe, was their chaplain.
“We know our beliefs and where we are,” the sisters’ superior, Mother Christina Christie, told the Baltimore Sun. “We were drifting farther apart from the more liberal road the Episcopal Church is traveling. We are now more at home in the Roman Catholic Church.”
The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop of Baltimore Edwin O’Brien at the chapel of the sisters’ Cantonsville convent, according to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
“The spiritual well-being of all of the All Saints’ Sisters is our priority and we will do everything we can to support those who have entered into full communion with the Catholic Church as well as the two sisters who remain Anglican,” he pledged.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Archbishop O’Brien said the convent has been a center of “overwhelming grace for so many people” and thanked the sisters for their “sterling and steadfast witness to consecrated life.”
The sisters had been considering conversion for several years.
The Episcopal Church has been riven by controversy over theology and sexual ethics. Its most recent General Convention gave permission to ordain practicing homosexuals to any ministry and also began writing prayers to bless same-sex unions.
"As we interpret Scripture, it does not give you license to be actively involved in a same-sex relationship," Mother Christina said. "It is not the person we have a problem with. It is what that person is doing. And now that the Episcopal Church has given permission to bless these partnerships, it is way off the boat."
Mother Christina, who has been a consecrated religiosu since 1966, said the sisters used to believe the Archbishop of Canterbury had the authority to stop those acting contrary to Scriptures but now they believe he does not.
"The Catholic Magisterium has an authority that says the buck stops here," she remarked.
Sister Catherine Grace Bowen explained to the Baltimore Sun that there is much similarity between Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic practice. In both churches, sacraments are “a way of life.”
A sister for almost fifty years, she said God will use the sisters “to bring unity” to His Church.
Last year the sisters contacted the Archdiocese of Baltimore to investigate the possibility of entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. They will continue to reside in their convent, where their order has resided since 1917. The order first arrived in Baltimore in 1872.
Tanghe, the sisters’ chaplain, is discerning the possibility of future formation and ordination as a Catholic priest.
Two of the sisters from the community have decided not to leave the Episcopal Church and will continue to reside with the religious community.
“We are still a community and all of us made the same life vows,” Mother Christina told the Baltimore Sun.
The sisters have told the archbishop they desire that the community continue its service to the poor as a Catholic religious institute. In addition to conducting retreats and opening their chapel to their neighbors, the sisters work with the terminally ill at Joseph Richey House in Baltimore and also work with children and the poor.