Drafting Constitutions, 1906 - 1949

Following her election to Mother Superior of the Mission Helpers during the crisis year of 1906, Mother Demetrias set about creating a permanent set of constitutions governing the order and then strove to obtain official recognition of those constitutions from the Vatican. During Mother Joseph's tenure as Mother Superor, the Mission Helpers had enjoyed recognition from local ecclesiastical authorities, such as Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, but never from Rome itself. Furthermore, prior to Mother Demetrias's elevation to Mother Superior, although the Mission Helpers looked to the Rule of St. Ignatius Loyola to guide their daily spiritual practices, they had never drafted a constitution outlining the community's governing structure (i.e. what was the authority of the Mother Superior in relation to that of the order's General Chapter, what was the process by which an individual could become a Mission Helper, etc.). 

Unfortunately for Demetrias and the Mission Helpers, drafting such a constitution would prove difficult and time consuming. The Mission Helpers' second General Chapter convened in 1912 (in the first Chapter of 1906, the sisters had agreed that the body would meet once every six years), and confirmed the new consitutions they had written since Demetrias became their leader. However, before the constitutions could be sent to Rome for final approval, the sisters also needed to obtain Cardinal Gibbons' blessing. They did not get this until 1915. 

What followed was an even more complex and time consuming process as the sisters strove to navigate the Vatican's intricate bureaucracy. Beginning their efforts in earnest in 1913, they had to gather the signatures and letters of support from each of the American and Puerto Rican bishops in whose diocese they had a convent. They also aquired the help of Father Hector Papi, a canon lawyer, Jesuit priest, and Italian immigrant to the United States, who helped them prepare and translate their documents into Italian before sending them to the Vatican. Yet, despite their efforts, on September 10, 1921 the Vatican deferred their final approval citing the unwiedly nature of the name "Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart," the overly broad scope of their ministry, the manner in which they were to take vows, the manner in which they accepted individuals into the community, and the frequency in which elections for Mother Superior were to be held, as things the sisters needed to change before the Vatican would grant them full status as a universally recognized religious order. 

This did not deter the sisters, as they continued to revise their constitutions and apply for universal recognition through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. They finally recieved papal recognition on July 11, 1949, more than nine years after Mother Demetrias died.

The next page links to several documents pertaining to their first effort to recieve papal recognition (1912-1921). In these documents, we can see the Mission Helpers' process of revision as they tried to put together an application that would be most pleasing to the Church hierarchy. They provide a facinating glimps into how the nuns dealt with their at times controversial history (especially concerning the tenure of Mother Joseph), as well as what they believed the Vatican would most approve of by emphasizing particular aspects of their ministry (specifically their efforts to counter Protestant missionizing in immigrant communities).

Comments

Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>