Order's leader has found her true calling

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The first time the Leadership Conference of Women Religious asked Sister Mary Hughes to run for its presidency, she said no.

After all, the umbrella group for Catholic nuns is the target of a Vatican probe into, among other things, whether it properly promotes church doctrine. She'd be landing in the hot seat.

But when the group asked her to reconsider, she agreed - after consulting with her religious order, the Dominican Sisters of Amityville, and with Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

"It was not an easy decision," said the soft-spoken Hughes, who does not wear a nun's habit. "I knew it was a difficult time. I decided to trust in God."

She added that after she was voted president-elect last month, one of the first calls she made was to Murphy. He helps oversee the Dominicans, which are a diocesan order.

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Hughes contends that her close working relationship with Murphy is one piece of evidence of how she, her order and the leadership conference adhere to church regulations.

On the subject of women priests, she says, "Do I have people [in her order] who probably think that would be a good idea? Yes. Do we spend any time discussing it as a congregation? No."

Hughes said she knew as a girl that she wanted to become a religious sister. After graduating from St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay, Hughes attended Molloy College in Rockville Centre. She eventually earned a doctorate from Columbia University and became a professor at Iona College. In 1995 she was elected prioress, or head, of the Dominican order.

When her six-year term ended, she returned to Iona. In 2007, she was re-elected prioress and returned to Amityville.

The Vatican investigation, she said, is like "getting a call from a relative you have not seen in a long time - what do you think, I don't raise my kids right?"

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