New Orleans, La - Nuns shaped education and culture in New Orleans from its infancy. But today, fewer young women are committing to a life of prayer, chastity and poverty.
The Archdiocese and area schools face losing much of the rich traditions sisters bring
Sister Nathalee Bryant has been the school librarian for decades at Xavier Prep, but she is so much more. She is the last link to the uptown institution's storied beginnings. The school is grounded in faith, and founded by Saint Katharine Drexel in 1915. It was part of her mission to educate African Americans and Indians through the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
"When I first came to Xavier Prep there were about 25 sisters here,"said Nathalee.
She remembers the school filled with nuns from her beloved Pennsylvania-based order when she began work at Xavier Prep in the early 80's.
Now, she is the last nun on campus.
The school's empty convent is a symbol of changing times.
"What we see now is a building that remains vacant that was once thriving and active," said Xavier Prep President Joseph Peychaud.
He walks through the convent where Saint Katharine Drexel and some many other religious women have slept.
It was built to last generations. Now, it's without a purpose.
The great loss of course is the loss of the religious and Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament because their role here was significant.
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond says the trend has been evident for decades in the Archdiocese and nationwide.
"I think what originally changed many things in the late 60's and early 70's were the many revolutions in the U.S. There was the sexual revolution, the authority revolution."
He says those changes in society carry over to these times, where not as many people are willing to make sacrifices for the church.
"One who is willing to live the single way of life in particularly a chaste and celibate way of life," he said.
Today there are 424 sisters in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. More than half of those are age 70 or older. Only about a quarter are actually working in catholic schools .
Xavier Prep Student Dominique Lee has an idea why the numbers are down.
"Today's youth, they don't like being a nun and stuff because they think it's boring," she said.
"Most girls don't want to become nuns because they don't want to give up having kids and being with boys, but if that's your will you have to follow it," said Auriel Goodal, another student.
"When the Lord calls you can't resist him, you could, but it's miserable," said 22-year-old Paige LaCour.
LaCour is on the path to becoming a sister. Now in the Graduate program of theology at Notre Dame Seminary.
"A religion teacher spotted me and he was praying before class one day. He said the Holy Spirit said pick her, she's ready."
The Academy of our Lady graduate admits not always following the right path graduate admits not always following the right path in her teenage years, from drugs to promiscuity.
I was searching to know what it was that truly satisfies and so it was truly an experience of the Lord scooping me out of the gutter and bringing me to heaven in a sense."
Her passion for wanting to explore the possibilities of religious life sparked a new chapter for the Archdiocese of New Orleans
The Archdiocese opened the Magnificat House of Discernment last August. A place for women like Paige.
Considering religious life. The only diocese sponsored house of it's kind in the country.
"We have at least one belly laugh a day. It's great living with women with different perspectives and backgrounds and learning how to stretch my heart more and widen my view," LaCour said.
"I think there are many vocations of young women who want to be different and courageous and in prayer and action," Archbishop Aymond said. "Our prayerful mission is to find them."
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