Anita Caspary died this month at the age of 95. The former congregational leader of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in California was described by the National Catholic Reporter as a religious visionary.
She on October 5 surrounded by her family and community members, according to an announcement on her community's website. Her funeral mass was celebrated at the Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles.
Caspary played a decisive role in post-Vatican II church history when her renewal-directed community ran up against the dictates of conservative Los Angles Cardinal James Frances McIntyre, leading to the community's canonical separation from the church.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary of California community was quick to implement its mandate for religious renewal. The community instituted changes to religious garb, prayer schedules, ministries and governance, which eventually became common among women religious communities in the decades that followed.
In Los Angeles in the late 1960s, however, the changes rocked some clerics, including the local ordinary. McIntyre ordered the women to stop the reforms. He insisted they obey his commands, and when they refused, he ordered them to stop teaching in diocesan schools.
Sister of St Joseph of Peace Dorothy Vidulich, explained the conflict this way: "The community had rejected a life pattern that had to conform to canons issued by male clerics of another culture." In turn, they "recognised the role of authority as service and emphasised co-responsibility."
Eventually, the controversy prompted a representative from the Vatican Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes to demand that women religious leaders gathered in a 1969 assembly refrain from passing a resolution supporting the Los Angeles community. After a hotly contested debate, the resolution failed by one vote.
In December 1969 at an Immaculate Heart community meeting, more than 300 sisters voted to become a non-canonical community, thereby freeing themselves of Rome's control, Vidulich said.
About 50 sisters continued the traditional community under official Vatican recognition.
Caspary said the change "gave us the freedom to be self-determining and to make moral choices on the basis of conscience without leaning on the authority of others."
She said this is "the same struggle for feminist values that continues for women in all walks of life today, especially for women in the church."
Many Immaculate Heart members remained in education; others went into law, social work, parish ministry, inner-city development, the arts and the administration of public and nonprofit organisations.
Today's community is made up primarily of Catholic women, but it also includes men and people of different faith traditions who make an annual commitment of "time, talents and treasure" to the Immaculate Heart community.
FULL ARTICLE: Anita Caspary, religious visionary, dies in Los Angeles (National Catholic Reporter)
Rebellious Sister Anita Caspary: Dissenter or Pioneer? (Catholicism Pure & Simple)