Image from the SF Sisters of the Presentation
Image from the SF Sisters of the Presentation

The Sisters of the Presentation: The End of an Era?

May 21, 2015

The school goes quiet every time they renew their vows. Their compassion for others and lifelong commitment to bettering people’s lives is inconceivable for most. Their extraordinary work has spanned 160 years. The Sisters of the Presentation is an organization that is dedicated to living out the Gospel by unflinchingly tackling difficult problems which affect our community.

And while it is unimaginable for the Sisters’ physical presence to be a thing of the past for the next generation of students, the organization’s future is something that all Pres girls should be worrying about.

“American Catholics have no idea how very soon there will be no nuns,” says Sister Patricia Wittberg, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times. The Times’ study of over a thousand nuns in the United States and Puerto Rico shows a troubling trend: the number of nuns who were 40 or younger made up a meager 3% of those surveyed, while the median age was 65. The Presentation Sisters are no exception to this trend – with such a high median age, and a lack of young nuns, how does this organization combat the issue of aging nuns?

Sister Stephanie Still, president of the Sisters in San Francisco, isn’t worried about this problem. In fact, she doesn’t characterize it as a problem at all. “This change is part of the natural evolution of groups and part of the changing landscape of our world,” Sister Stephanie says. “If you study the history of men and women religious since the first century, there have been periods of great growth and periods of transformation…So, we are in the middle of one of these transition periods.”

The Sisters have done everything from promoting immigration reform to establishing recovery programs for prostituted women, and have consistently been, as Sister Stephanie says, “On the forefront of justice issues today such as trafficking of men, women, and children.” And while this may just be a transition period for the Sisters of the Presentation, there is still the question of who will be left to carry out the work that the Sisters do on a daily basis in our community.

It’s undoubtedly hard to find people who have the attitude that Sister Stephanie and the other nuns have towards their work. “We show up!” Sister Stephanie says candidly. “We have been showing up and making a difference in people’s lives, and modeling compassion, mercy, and spending ourselves for the poor for 160 years.  It is a stance we take towards life as women of the Church and daughters of Nano.” Our school may be the institution which follows in the Sisters’ footsteps, and continues the Sisters’ legacy of positively impacting the community.

According to Sister Stephanie, the relationship between Presentation High School and the Sisters is a rich one that started with the founding of our school by the Sisters and continues through the “deep appreciation and partnership with the administration, staff, students, and alumnae who live our charism.” With such a strong connection, it’s clear that it’s not just the Sisters who will be affected by the lack of American nuns – all of us will be affected as well.

When asked about what the future holds for the Sisters, Sister Stephanie is uncertain, but optimistic all the same. “I do know that however life unfolds for us, that we will continue to be women rooted in the Gospel…and women called to work for justice. As long as we remain vowed Presentation women, [these] values will be expressed in our future.”

While American nuns go through this difficult transition period, Presentation High School will continue to thrive as a school dedicated to service and education. It’s up to us to continue the work of an organization which has served the community for hundreds of years with dedication and compassion. And while over the course of the next few decades the Sisters may be an organization of the past, their legacy lives on through us.

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