Religious Habit: Symbol of Commitment
The meaning and significance of the religious habit has been a sign of corporate identification that is difficult to put into words. School Sisters of Notre Dame chose to wear a habit until changes were suggested after Vatican Council II. Prior to the Council various questions had been raised regarding habits that contributed to poor health and hygiene. There was also encouragement to simplify religious dress. In 1956 the first mention of the habit as part of a General Chapter agenda was noted. This discussion came as a result of Pope Pius XII’s concern about sisters’ health and encouraging simplifying habits.
After discussion on both the local, provincial and general levels the decision was made to select one habit for North America. In 1963, the School Sisters of Notre Dame changed from the traditional habit to a modified habit. The sewing of a new habit was a challenge as ministry needs continued while sisters sewed in evenings and weekends. Maura Eichner, SSND recalled what it was like to wear the traditional SSND habit and remembered moments of graced recognition when someone approached her because they recognized the habit she was wearing. School Sisters of Notre Dame in North America all changed to the modified habit on March 25, 1963 .
In 1972, the General Chapter discussed the request of the North American delegates to move toward simple dress in accord with You Are Sent. This led to many North American School Sisters of Notre Dame wearing secular clothing. Formation in different periods of the 20 th century found sisters dressing differently.
Many European School Sisters of Notre Dame continue to wear a modified habit. Their experience of being forbidden to wear a religious habit in public because of living under Nazism or Communism makes their choice a significant expression of their faith.