“We wanted to tell the untold story of Catholic sisters who have been often portrayed as cocktail-napkin personalities, the Flying Nun, that kind of thing… “We wanted to give an accurate picture of their contributions to health care, education and social services that helped to shape this country” says Helen Garvey BVM, one of the planners of the exhibit initiated by LCWR.
This summer many of our sisters have enjoyed this spectacular exhibit gleaned from the archives of many women’s congregations to show how sisters have shaped the cultural, educational, health and social landscapes of our country.
Francis Maria Monsimer RSC had this to say:
“The Women and Spirit exhibit is extremely moving and informative. It captures the incredible dream and innovative spirit of so many women Religious communities who despite great sacrifices and obstacles were still able to be fully engaged in service of the poor on so many and varied frontiers throughout the history of our country. It is an incredible story of faith and commitment to the Gospel of Jesus in the realities that touched their lives and the lives of those around them.”
After the Congregational Workshop in June, our sisters from Venezuela, as well as visitors from Ireland and Australia also had the opportunity to view this travelling exhibit which tells the story of sisters from the earliest days in the United States, travelling in wagon trains, establishing schools, hospitals and social services with few resources. In one mining town, with no nurses, doctors or medical clinic, a sister took a medical text, taught herself medicine and did surgeries!
Teresa Doherty RSC described the exhibit as “Superb! I think the organization and display of items are excellent. I admired the CSJ cottage for women set on the hillside and the way it expanded! I hope the tremendous sacrifice of the sisters will never be forgotten.”
Since 1980 nine sisters from the US have been murdered overseas while doing justice work. We were able to see an original letter by Dorothy Kazel written to a close friend about the decision to stay with the people in El Salvador despite the danger.
As well as highlighting the courage, passion and creativity of these women religious, the exhibit was honest about the shadow side. They exposed some of the practices that would horrify people today given a more evolved and conscious understanding of child psychology and justice. Anne Giblin RSC appreciated the honesty of the exhibit and wrote, “I was impressed with the honesty surrounding where the children from the Foundling Home in NY were sent in the early part of the last century. I cannot forget the sadness I felt when I heard that they were sent as domestic and farm help to the Mid West.”
The times have also changed regarding Vocation Advertisements!!!! Here’s is a sample of one posting at the exhibit: “We offer you no salary; no recompense; no holidays; no pensions, but much hard work, a poor dwelling, few consolations, many disappointments, frequent sickness, a violent or lonely death.” Mother M. John Hughes (1831-1897)
One of the exhibits “Becoming American” noted that the American novices challenged their European superior about the way a “servant” was perceived and not welcome to the same table!
The exhibit opened to the public on June 19, 2011, and closes August 14 in the College’s José Drudis-Biada Art Gallery, 12001 Chalon Road in Los Angeles, CA 90049. The gallery opens from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Sunday, and from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday. The gallery is closed on Mondays. More information on the Mount St. Mary’s College website or phone 310.954.4525.
For more details of the Women and Spirit Exhibit or to see the video click on the Women & Spirit website.