By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF
1968 was a remarkable year: Groovy, far-out and psychedelic!
Anti-Vietnam war protests raged across the country, with young men burning draft cards.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. So was Bobby Kennedy.
Black US athletes raised their fists in defiance on the Olympic Medals podiums in Mexico City, protesting violence toward and poverty among African-Americans.
President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act which banned discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.
Daniel Berrigan and the Catonsville Nine set fire to government records with homemade napalm and were sentenced for destruction of government property.
Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, reiterating the church’s opposition to artificial contraception.
Riots and police brutality broke out at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Richard Nixon was elected President.
The Catholic Church, just three years out from Vatican II, struggled to accept massive change and embrace new theology.
In the midst of all this, as a 19-year-old, I professed my first vows as a Sylvania Franciscan.
This spring, 50 years later, I find myself a golden jubilarian. How did that happen?
We who are “Vatican II Baby Boomers” have lived a life marked by both tradition and adaptation. We grew up in the “Baltimore Catechism” Church, attended crowded Catholic schools, Latin Masses, May crownings, and plenty of processions. Some of us joined religious orders teeming with new recruits eager to serve the church.
But in high school and college, that childhood experience evaporated. We followed the ongoing Vatican II sessions in Rome, learned the word “aggiornamento,” adjusted to the English Mass, admired groovy fashions, sang rock and folk music, flashed the “peace sign” and learned to protest war. Our mantra: Don’t trust anyone over thirty! (smile.)
This “split formation” stamped me deeply. I remember the deep mystery and religious transcendence of my childhood Catholicism—stained glass, incense, Latin hymns– as well as the soaring freedom, energy and creativity of the post-Vatican II years— studying the council documents, mixing with other religious and laity, praying in electric new ways. The Church was no longer the Vatican; it was now the “People of God.” Unintelligible worship at which we intoned ancient Latin chants had morphed into guitar Masses where we bellowed “Here we are… all together as we sing our song…!”
From 1968 on, change never stopped: Traditional religious habits gave way to brown suits and veils, until our rings alone symbolized our consecration. Staffing schools and hospitals yielded to ministries that often better matched a Sister’s heart and gifts. Community life shifted as we left institutional settings. Geographically, we moved– far beyond Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota– and sometimes, each other.
Fifty years past 1968, I marvel at the profundity of that physical and spiritual journey. I am no longer that 19-year-old, but a woman seasoned in religious life. I carry far less guilt and worry; need fewer dogmas and doctrines; understand more deeply what the Gospel and Franciscanism invite me to; and desire much more than ever to “fall into God.” Not so much doing, but being.
All the shifts, bumps and lessons of 50 years have taught me the yin and yang of the journey: change and constancy, evolution and stillness. This Franciscan life continues to instruct and surprise me every day. But God is God and holds all together in graciousness: In Him we live and move and have our being. I am blessed and alive, thankful and free and trusting in that grace: both “far out”… and deep inside.