Sunday, April 13, 2008

Religious Order Continues to Blend In, Make No Real Difference in Community

Photo courtesy of curious maps
Things haven’t changed much in Spanish Fort over the years, thanks to the Holy Cross Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

SPANISH FORT, ALA. – Holy Cross Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious order that has existed in Spanish Fort for over 25 years, has not changed the community for better or worse in any way during that time.

Yesterday, in honor of their anniversary, the sisters baked a cake for themselves at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church and invited church staff and priests from around the area to attend. “So we have some religious sisters living in town?” asked Father Thomas Lawrence, head pastor at Our Lady of Angels, unaware the church secretary, Shirley Montoya, was a founding member. “Well, thanks for bringing a cake, whoever you are,” said Lawrence.

Almost three decades ago, Holy Cross Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament broke off from Little Sisters of St. Francis of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Montoya said the sisters who left the old order felt they were being called in a different direction. As part of the change, Holy Cross Sisters dress like other women in the community, live in their own apartments or houses, and work at various jobs in Spanish Fort. After Little Sisters of St. Francis left the area, the convent was turned into trade school.

“Our charism is ‘community’, so we really strive to blend in and not rock the boat,” said Sister Shirley Montoya, dressed in a matching beige blouse and skirt set from Dress Barn. “Our goal is to be like everyone else in our local parishes, and like everyone else here in town,” she said.
“Well, everyone else here in town seems to be Protestant, but whatever.”

“When we first arrived, we used to do things like say the Divine Office together, but then Sister Wendy had an epiphany one day and said, ‘Hey, nobody else in town is doing this,’ so we just stopped,” said Montoya.

Several years ago, the order offered an ecumenical Bible study for a week until a couple of attendees started debating scripture interpretations. “At that point we decided to just put the Bible away. It had to stop,” said Montoya. “Now we watch “American Idol” together and eat pizza, and everybody is a lot happier. We all think Simon is very divisive, though,” she said. “We’d be even happier if he left the show.”

For the last two years, Sister Wendy Adams has worked at Easy Spirit Shoe Store in Colonial Mall. Felicia Stewart, a co-worker and agnostic, said she was surprised to learn Adams is a religious sister. “One day, I tried to get her in a debate on whether God existed, and she just kind of shrugged her shoulders and started putting the new spring shoes out on the shelves. Whatever she is, she doesn’t seem to be that sold out.”

Sister Agnes Greene said before she joined the order, she used to volunteer at a homeless shelter and work at a soup kitchen in Atlanta, but those days are over, now that she is a novice with the order. “The other day, I was in my car at a stop light when I saw a man holding a sign that said, ‘I lost one of my arms and one of my legs in a horrible tractor accident. My children are hungry and my wife left us. Please help.’ Anyway, the car in front of me just kept going once the light turned green. So, I just followed that driver’s example. I rolled up my window, turned my head the other way and said to myself, ‘Screw it,’ and just hit the gas pedal. If I had given the man something, I would have really stood out from everyone, and that just isn’t keeping a sense of community.”

Stanley Richards, a member of the Spanish Fort Knights of Columbus, said he has yet to meet one of the sisters. “When I go to diocesan functions, prolife fundraisers and missions, I keep looking for a group of ladies who look holy or something, but so far, I just keep running into your run-of-the-mill old ladies.”

Montoya said she would like to see the order grow, but doesn’t want to push the issue. “If any women in the community feel called to our order and our charism, great,” she said. “But, if not, we will keep on with the same mission we’ve had for the past 25 years -- being residents of Spanish Fort.”


Striving to be a Higher Being