Sean D. SAMMON: Religious Life In America: A New Day Dawning. New York: Alba House. 2002, pp. 204. $12.95 pb. ISBN 8189 0920 X.
Reviewed by Winifred WHELAN, Chicago IL.

Sammon's book identifies the changes made by religious congregations after Vatican II as challenging and painful. Lacking a sense of identity as well as a loss of direction, congregations wandered away from the intentions of their founders, and instead of attempting to transform the culture, they sought to either surrender to it or to emphasize the conflict between the two. Along with the rest of society, authority was democratized, high priority was given to personal growth, and a personal call to ministry overrode congregational goals. Then, as religious congregations began to be absorbed into mainstream culture, they lost their specific community identities.

Sammon believes that the number of religious working in parish ministry has compromised the prophetic role that religious life ought to play in the church. Religious should address societal needs as a group, and decide on a corporate commitment. People united in a common effort, he says, and working together side by side, have an impact more significant than one person working alone. "The vitality and viability of our groups depend upon their ability to demonstrate a consistent reason for existing and to engage in a credible corporate mission" (82).

He urges religious communities to go where young people are, work to understand their ways, and above all to invite people to join them. Four incentives fostered vocations in the past and should be explored anew: personal invitation, enthusiasm and support of family, benefits of the life itself, and funnels of new candidates (feeder schools, e.g.). Sammon laments the poor image religious life has in the media, and recommends that religious communities set up local regional or national press offices, write pamphlets, set up web sites, produce videos, and establish contact with local radio and TV stations. He tells religious to get out of administrative offices and into classrooms and campus ministry. He even recommends that congregations drop out of ministries that do not produce vocations, and out of dioceses that do not have a sizable Catholic population.

This book is meant to inspire religious congregations, to encourage them to study their situations, and to give them ideas as to how to renew, how to bring about that "new dawn" in his title. However, for years now, most congregations have worked hard on and decided their mission and goals. Many of the book's suggestions are already being implemented, such as attempting to change the public image of religious life. Its idea of corporate ministry has already been discussed in most religious orders and has not been accomplished for many and varied reasons. It would have been helpful if Sammon had made some suggestions as to what these corporate ministries might be, and how they would mesh with community life. He seems to be saying that brothers and sisters should stop working with the poor and in schools unless they produce vocations to religious life. This implies a radical change and needs more explanation and research. Perhaps the book takes on too much. 200 pages cannot do justice to history, community, mission, recruitment, corporate ministry, and public image.

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