Sandra M. SCHNEIDERS. Prophets in Their Own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011. pp. 133. $20.00 pb. ISBN: 978-1-57075-933-8.
Reviewed by Elsie MIRANDA, Barry University, Miami Shores, Fl. 33161

Sandra Schneiders, IHM, has provided the Christian community a must read in Prophets in Their Own Country. This book succinctly retrieves the prophetic witness that the majority of women religious in the US have effected on the Church since Vatican II while highlighting the impetuousness of the Apostolic Visitation that began under a cloak of secrecy in 2008. Schneiders begins by clearly articulating the historical development of the religious life of women from Trent to the Second Vatican Council, and offers readers a clear understanding of the way in which many monastic communities developed into what canon law recognized in 1900 as “Congregations Devoted to the Works of the Apostolate” thus enabling many religious communities to discern their sense of call and mission outside the walls of the cloister and in the world. With this renewed focus on “reading the signs of the times” as prescribed by the Second Vatican Council, Religious orders underwent a renewal that transformed their ministerial identity in the Church and the world. As a result of this renewal, the meaning of apostolic Religious Life informed by both Scripture and Tradition began to be expressed in diverse ways, generating the hermeneutical impasse that has fueled the “Vatican Investigation” against the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) and is emblematic of the current polarizations that exists in the Catholic Church today.

Ultimately, the book sets out to provide readers with a clear sense of the historical, biblical and spiritual underpinnings of what it means for the majority of Religious Sisters in the US to live an apostolic Religious Life as a prophetic life form in the diverse contexts of a post-conciliar world. By developing the analogical narrative between the post conciliar life of women religious in the US and the itinerant life and ministry of Jesus, Schneiders reveals what is at stake in the investigations and acknowledges the abuse of power that drives these investigations over the issue of obedience. Using considerable restraint, Prophets in Their Own Country points to the fundamental issues that patriarchal domination and abuse of power generates in both biblical and contemporary contexts. Using key questions throughout the text, such as “why have they [the sisters] stayed?” and “can we [the sisters] equate obedience to God with doing what we are told by those who hold office?”, Schneiders articulates the journey of faith that has brought the LCWR where it is today. She reveals the outrageous actions and characters that are at the heart of the Vatican investigation and recognizes the ecclesial authority that supports these actions. In the end, Schneiders provides the material for a theological novela that encourages further research and investigation into the life and histories of Religious sisters in the US and the often abusive, oppressive and immoral actions that have befallen many congregations at the whim of those elitist clerics that seem to answer to no higher authority but themselves. As such, this text invites the conscientious Church, as People of God to stand in solidarity with the Sisters, and to give witness to the very mission of Jesus in the hear and now.

This book is highly recommended for Catholics across the spectrum of denominational allegiance as well as for those with interest in the field of sociology or Christian anthropology.

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