..."Until the 1960s, the women had followed Church rules that governed their religious as well as personal lives. Now, rather than assume that they all needed to pray, study or meditate in the same way or at the same time, they encouraged individual experimentation. When they did worship together, they wanted the freedom to decide when, where and how to do so.
Likewise, the sisters sought relief from Church mandates that controlled their daily activities, ranging from what they wore and what time they went to bed to which books they were allowed to read.
On October 14, 1967, the sisters celebrated what they called Promulgation Day, the announcement of plans for their order’s renewal. A new vision for their lives and their work, the document, for example, said that sisters who taught in religious schools would be allowed to pursue teaching credentials and graduate degrees to professionalize their work. Those who did not feel the call to teach could find other careers.
Additionally, each sister could choose the length, time and type of her individual prayer, and group prayer would be shaped by the community. They no longer had to seek permission from the mother superior for the small decisions of daily life. They would be free to set their bedtimes, see a doctor or make a quick trip to the store.
Two days later, on Oct. 16, a delegation of six sisters sat in the office of Los Angeles’ Cardinal McIntyre. Furious with the sisters’ plans for renewal, he first asked about about their dress: Did they indeed intend to wear street clothes to their classrooms? Caspary said they might, and an angry McIntyre ended the meeting.
Even when the cardinal’s men persuaded him to continue the conversation, he refused to accept the order’s plan for renewal. Instead, he berated their defiance and doubted their commitment to religious life. As of June 1968, he told them, they would no longer teach in the city’s Catholic schools.
Over the next six months, the sisters and the cardinal presented formal cases to emissaries from the Vatican. Each side also sought support from Church colleagues and from the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, many newspapers played up the conflict as if the entire fight hinged on whether or not the sisters wore their traditional habits or street clothes.
By spring, the message was clear: The Vatican would support the cardinal. According to official pronouncements, the women’s experimentation went too far. They had not, in other words, worked within the guidelines of the male hierarchy.
Rather than give up their vision for religious renewal, however, 350 of the order’s 400 sisters began planning a new lay community outside the Church.
By the start of 1970, many of the Immaculate Heart sisters had decided to renounce their vows and reorganize as a lay community. The new group, the Immaculate Heart Community, was open to laypeople as well as clergy, men as well as women.
In the intervening years, most of the innovations that the sisters sought – including professionalizing standards, experimenting with community worship and giving sisters control of their daily activities – were adopted by Catholics across the country.
The Immaculate Heart Sisters drew on their time and place to create a new vision of religious community. Their sources ranged from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council to the writings of California’s humanist psychologists. They also included women’s liberation, the anti-war movement and the countercultural wave that rolled outside their convent door.
The California dream and its promise of new possibilities was central to the spiritual journey of the Immaculate Heart Sisters. It continues to inspire a new generations of seekers in and out of the Church."