“SAVE OUR SISTERS”: The Nuns At This Miami Shores Catholic School Are Leaving After 35 Years, And People Are Really Mad About It

MIAMI SHORES, FL- St. Rose of Lima Catholic School is a small Pre K-8 school that has been one of the most important bedrock institutions in this northern Miami suburb since it was started in 1951.

And since the start, the school has been staffed and led by nuns.

For the first 30 years, Adrian Dominican Sisters led the school until the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) took over in 1981.

The IHM has supplied the school of roughly 500 with a handful of teachers and a principal since the first year of the Reagan administration, while the rest of the teaching and administration jobs were filled by lay people- some of whom are non Catholics.

All of this changed last Thursday when the school announced that the IHM sisters would not be returning for another year due to the lack of women religious it had to support its mission there.

In a letter, St. Rose’s Principal Sister Bernadette Keane explained to parents why the decision was made:

“Dear Parents, it is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to you as this letter informs you that our community, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, finds it necessary to begin the process of withdrawal from St. Rose of Lima School and Convent as of June, 2016,” the letter reads in part. “For 170 years our Congregation has been faithful to the mission of Catholic education in our Catholic schools. However, at this time we do not have the number of sisters needed to staff the schools we are presently serving.”

Keane went on to thank the St. Rose community for the past 35 years of service.

The reaction was met with anger and outrage by many in the St. Rose community.

A Facebook page called Show your Support for our St Rose IHM Sisters was launched and an online petition designed to keep the nuns at the school is also circulating.

Many parents don’t believe the letter and think that the nuns are being forced out by the Parish Priest, Father Pedro Corces.

Many parents don’t believe the letter and think that the nuns are being forced out by the Parish Priest, Father Pedro Corces.

Salvador Barreiros wanted his kids to go to St. Rose so badly, that he and his wife moved close to the school shortly before the birth of their first child.

Now he has two children at the school and jokes about the potential of his newborn going there as well, “St. Rose may have me for another 14 years.”

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But Barreiros, the Treasurer of the Home and School Board was so angered by the decision that he launched the Facebook page in support of the nuns and the petition calling for the Archdiocese of Miami to do “everything possible to keep the IHM Sisters at St Rose School in Miami Shores.”

According to Barreiros, he went to Sister Keane shortly after receiving the letter and asked her for more clarification about what took place. “Talk to your Pastor,” Keane reportedly told Barreiros and so the concerned dad did just that.

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St. Rose of Lima in Miami Shores. Photo Credit: RISE NEWS.

According to Barreiros, Corces said that the IHM was a dying order and that he wanted a lay person to lead the school moving forward.

Corces did not respond to an interview request from RISE NEWS.

In an phone interview with RISE NEWS, Sister Marie Roseanne Bonfini, the Director of IHM Information Services at the order’s Motherhouse in Immaculata, PA said that she didn’t know the specifics for why the nuns at St. Rose were withdrawing but that they will be gladly used in other roles across their ministry.

Bonfini said that the IHM would never have accepted a mission if it couldn’t promise a long-term commitment to the community and that there are many reasons why withdrawal happens- including a lack of qualified personnel and when the Parish Priest decides to not renew a contract with the order.

The IHM nuns at St. Rose are basically contract workers that serve the Church and stay as long as the Parish Priest wants them to.

The IHM nuns at St. Rose are basically contract workers that serve the Church and stay as long as the Parish Priest wants them to.

Bonfini and the other nuns at the Motherhouse had never seen a copy of the letter Sister Keane sent home to the parents last week announcing the withdrawal, until RISE NEWS supplied them with it.

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It is also not clear whether the Motherhouse was aware of the decision in advance.

However, Bonfini and other IHM nuns were aware of the anger and sadness of the St. Rose community displayed online in the aftermath of the decision.

“I understand that the people are upset,” Bonfini said. “We just hope that this can be resolved peacefully.”

Photo Credit: RISE NEWS

Photo Credit: RISE NEWS

While the actual cause of the St. Rose dispute is hotly disputed, there is undoubtedly a real crisis facing the very future of nuns in the United States because not enough young women are joining their ranks.

According to the Washington Post, there were only 56,000 nuns left in the United States in 2013, down from the peak of women religious of 180,000 in 1965.

According to Bonfini, the IHM has 750 sisters serving around the world, including the six currently living at the St. Rose convent.

IHM is withdrawing from three other schools this year due to a lack of nuns available to serve at those schools.

Jai Koch has been a parent at St. Rose for the past six years. She is also the Vice President of the Home and School Board.

Source: The Washington Post

Graphic produced by RISE NEWS. Information Source: The Washington Post

Koch said that she believed that the nuns are in good physical shape, vibrant and could potentially stay at St. Rose for another 10 years without much difficulty.

“Sister Bernadette [Keane] spends every free moment with the kids,” She’s a constant presence for the kids. There’s no way to replace her and for what she means for the kids.”

Koch told RISE NEWS that she believed that the nuns had to take the high road and not smear anyone, which is why the letter was sent out.

Many of the comments on the page have called into question the motives of Corces and the Archdiocese of Miami.

“The priest is temporary,” Meike Katrin Espinosa wrote on the pro-nun Facebook page. “We are permanent.”

“The priest is temporary,” Meike Katrin Espinosa wrote on the pro-nun Facebook page. “We are permanent. The nuns are a blessing to our community, that’s why we choose to live here in Miami Shores.”

“It’s a shame our Pastor doesn’t have the appreciation for the Sisters like the parishioners do,” Lawrence Zigmont, a longtime St. Rose parishioner and the husband of the school’s Assistant Principal wrote.

The Archdiocese of Miami stood by the decision, which it said was made by IHM.

“Everyone is upset when change occurs, but the spirit and the memories will continue,” Mary Ross, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese said in a phone conversation. “The Pastor will decide who the next principal is going to be.”

If you want to sign the petition in support of the IHM sisters staying at St. Rose, you can do so by visiting this link: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keep-our-ihm-sisters-at-st-rose

Public Disclosure: Ross, The Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman tried to dissuade RISE NEWS from writing this piece and asked about whether the author viewed the fact that he graduated from St. Rose as a conflict of interest.

No, he doesn’t.

But for the sake of transparency and fairness, it is important for our audience to know that he attended St. Rose from 2002 until he graduated in 2007.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Facebook/ Show Your Support For Our St. Rose Sisters

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About the Author
Rich Robinson is the CEO and publisher of Rise News. He is also a journalist and a native of Miami. Robinson graduated from the University of Alabama and can be followed on Twitter @RichRobMiami.

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