During a showdown with the Catholic Church in the late 1960s, Anita Caspary and the Los Angeles order she led, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, were cast as “rebel nuns” for progressive reforms that included abandoning the nun’s habit and suspending a fixed time for prayer.
Although the moves were made in response to a call from the Vatican to modernize, conservative Cardinal James Francis McIntyre of the Los Angeles Archdiocese barred the sisters from teaching in the Catholic schools he oversaw.
The sisters appealed to Rome, but when the Vatican squelched their modernization efforts, more than 300 of them made what was an “unthinkable choice” for most nuns and asked to be released from their vows, Caspary later wrote.
As of last year, it remained the largest Catholic order in the U.S. to sever ties with the Vatican, according to the 2010 edition of “Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns.”
The ex-nuns came together to found the Immaculate Heart Community, an independent ecumenical organization that marked its 40th anniversary last year. It has 160 members today.
Caspary, who served as the order’s final leader and the community’s first president, died Oct. 5 at the group’s retirement home in Los Angeles, said Lenore Dowling, an organization spokeswoman. A cause of death was not released. Caspary was 95.
“While I saw the break as inevitable, I didn’t really want it,” Caspary said in 1970 in Time magazine, which featured her and a former bishop on the cover below the headline “The Catholic Exodus: Why Priests and Nuns Are Quitting.”
“But I wondered how much energy you could spend fighting authority when you could spend that same energy doing what you should be doing,” Caspary told the magazine.
Many community members continued careers in education while others pursued law, social work, inner-city development or other endeavors. Caspary served as its president until 1973.
“She had intellectual strength,” said Susan Maloney, a scholar on women in religion who cared for Caspary in recent years. “Her leadership, her personality style had a demeanor that was inviting and challenging.” [more]