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The History of Women Religious and Resistance Parts I & II

In this two-part presentation Professor Margaret Susan Thompson shows us how the history of the Catholic Church in the United States was indelibly shaped by the contributions of sisters – by their work in the parochial school system, their founding and administration of hundreds of hospitals, and untold numbers of charitable organizations. These ministries have transformed the lives of millions of Catholics and the social and humanitarian character of the nation itself. Sisters also have long been advocates for social justice, and unlike most priests, have always provided services not only for Catholics but for the entire population. As laypeople, like most Catholics, sisters have experienced the impact of “engendered power” applied to them by generations of priests and prelates. This presentation will reveal the perhaps surprising history of their resistance and suggest ways we can all learn from their experience as we work collaboratively to build a future church that is more egalitarian and supportive for all believers.

Professor Margaret Susan Thompson is an expert in the history of Catholic women religious in the United States. Her decades long research spans the origins of women’s religious life, the often-treacherous foundings of the first North American communities, the lives of pioneer nuns, ethnic and assimilation issues, tensions with clergy, Vatican II and its impacts, current circumstances, and much more.

Prayers Used During the Sessions

“A Prayer for Women Religious” by the late Anne Montegomery, RSCJ
“A Prayer for Peace” by Cameron Bellm
“A Non-Tradition Blessing” by Ruth Fox, OSB


Session One

Session Two

LCWR Quotes from Session Two

Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ (2014 Keynote Address, LCWR annual meeting)

“I grew committed to bringing women’s voices to the table…. It means using the human dignity of women as one lens through which we think about other religious and ethical subjects. It means attending to poverty, lack of education, sexual violence, and other injustices that ruin women’s lives. It means employing theologically what promotes the flourishing of women in all their diversity.”

Nancy Schreck, OSF (2014 Presidential Address, LCWR annual meeting)

“As we spend these next days reflecting… I would like to start our explorations by reminding us that not all revelation comes with light—but that we have a long biblical history of God working with people in the mystery of darkness. The problem is that we have associated darkness with evil and created a sense of fear around it, thus seeking to avoid the experience. The poet Mary Oliver wrote: ‘Someone I love once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.’ “