The Immaculate Heart Community, founded in Spain in 1848 as a Catholic sisterhood, undertook in 1967 a program was to lead out of canonical identity into a new form of life. The sisters, 600 strong, began the renewal program in response to Vatican II. It was a program similar in its experiments to that of other congregations. However, the IHM program met with the disapproval of the archbishop, Cardinal James Francis Mcintyre. In 1970, after three years of attempting to reconcile its differences with the Cardinal and the Sacred Congregation for Religious in Rome, the Community decided that an action of conscience had to be made. After months of deliberations, in December, 1969 Caspary addressed the entire IHM congregation, inviting them to establish a new community outside the jurisdiction of Church authorities:
Excerpts from Talk to Community: Sister Anita Caspary, I.H.M. December 6, 1969
Recent developments in our checkered history of the last few months are centered about the notion that our life as a religious community was marginally, if at all, acceptable to Rome. What the role of Church diplomacy and the role of conflicting personalities have had to do with this is not completely clear, nor even relevant at the moment. The fact remains that the notion of self-determination and the ability of a community to listen to the word of God and to find an historically relevant response is not acceptable presently to the institutional Church under the Sacred Congregation for Religious to whom we are presently subject.
The witness to integrity is a difficult role - it demands purification of one's motives, a rejection of all the means by which one can manipulate others; it calls for just anger without erratic outbursts of temper, for steadiness of purpose cleansed of stubborn immobility. Surely we have not survived the test without fault. But, surely, too, our weaknesses stemmed from our personal inability to face the fact that the inspiring actuality of the Gospels constantly asks for renewal.
Our Decrees pledge us to an unending search for personhood, relevance and Christian community. They deny the attainment or even the ideal of human perfectibility. They demand an asceticism we have never before been asked for - an unselfconscious devotion to the truth, a vigilant and constant concern with the destructive forces in our society, a sensitive response to the needs of others, a willingness to welcome diversity not merely to tolerate it, and a condemnation with the clarity of Christ of the primary evil - hypocrisy, especially religious hypocrisy.
I am asking each Sister, therefore, to write to me by December 15 a letter of intent stating whether she chooses to become a member of a dedicated lay group living according to the Decrees. It is possible that such a group will have to ask for a dispensation from public vows and then take private vows or promises.
Older Sisters need to see their place in such a community as vital for the stability and healthy balance of the group. We need to find out if we are recruiting new members and how this can be done.
I have felt for some time that the IHM's, for no reason one could analyze, are being asked in a special way to read the signs of the times, to forge ahead, to begin with enthusiasm to work at a community of hope. Anxiety, losses, personal sufferings have accompanied this unsought request. Invitations to painful action when passivity is comfortable have to be read with care. The Church has been characterized more often, I think, with failure to
act than with making mistakes. I hope we can avoid such a condemnation.
With confidence and peace, I choose to go ahead. If you believe that you make this choice freely and willingly, I ask you to join me.