Some may know why the Dominicans are called ‘Black Friars,’ why the Carmelites are referred to as ‘White Friars,’ and why the Order of Friars Minor with their coffee colored habits are known as ‘Capuchins’ (after their cappuccinos or hoods); but how many know why the Grey Nuns are grey?
If we are “neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm” we will be rejected by the Lord.
The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart are comprised of six congregations who respond to the call of the Gospel in Canada, the United States, Japan, Argentina, Haiti, Uruguay and Paraguay. As their website explains (www.greynun.org): “Trusting in Divine Providence, dedicated to the compassionate Heart of Christ, committed to respond to the signs of the times, the needs of the Church and of the world, we unite our diverse personal gifts to witness radically to the gospel and to extend the reign of God.”
Among their other ministries these consecrated women teach in elementary and secondary schools and colleges, care for the sick and elderly, advocate for social justice, provide pastoral services , and counsel addicted teenagers. They “reject worry over material possessions in favor of trusting that God can, and will,” provide all that is needed. The overriding concern for these nuns is that the Gospel be proclaimed to all they serve, especially the poor and needy. They are beacons of hope.
The spirit which animates the Grey Nun Congregations is that of their foundress, Marguerite d’Youville (1701- 1771), known as Mother of Universal Charity. Born in Montreal, Marguerite came from a refined but impoverished family. Among the many vicissitudes in her life were an embarrassing marriage and the deaths of her husband and four of her six children.
Marguriete’s profound awareness of God’s presence in her life (encouraged no doubt by her brief exposure to the Ursuline nuns) fortified her commitment to a life of charity and service to the poor, the ill and the elderly. Gradually she attracted a following of other women who were inspired by her heroic example and the first Congregation was established in 1737. The compelling story of her life, with its frustrations and triumphs, brings to mind the accounts of other religious order founders reported on by this column. Beatified by Pope John XXIII in 1959, Marguerite was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1990, the first Canadian born saint!
It is a testament to St. Marguerite’s humility (and probably humor) that she and her first religious sisters chose to call themselves ‘the Grey Nuns.’ Because her deceased husband had been involved in illegal liquor trading with native Indians, Marguerite suffered the scorn and rejection of polite society. She and her community came to be called ‘les souers grises’ – the word ‘grise’ being the vernacular for ‘tipsy.’ It is, of course, also the French word for the color grey; hence, the grey sisters or the Gray Nuns!
In the Book of Revelation we are advised that if we are “neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm” we will be rejected by the Lord. As it relates to black and white, it isn’t the same with the color grey, is it?