September 2 – December 31, 2011
Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America, a national traveling exhibit, is on view at the Center for History September 2 – December 31. The Center for History is the exhibit’s only Midwestern venue in a five-state area that includes Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. Women & Spirit is sponsored nationally by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in association with Cincinnati Museum Center. It is presented locally by the Center for History, the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, with generous support provided by Pat and Art Decio, the South Bend/Mishawaka Convention and Visitors Bureau, Great Lakes Advisors, Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, and the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“We are thrilled to be at the Center for History,” says Sister Helen Garvey, BVM, who formed a committee of historians, artists, writers and representatives from the Smithsonian Institution to plan Women & Spirit. The exhibit was conceived by Bob Weis Design Island and produced by Seruto & Company. “We wanted to tell the untold story of Catholic sisters who have been 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,” Garvey adds.
Women & Spirit chronicles the 300-year history of Catholic sisters in America, whose passion for justice helped shape America’s social and cultural landscape. Since first arriving in America, these innovative, action-oriented women have built schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters and many other enduring social institutions. The stories of these unsung heroes are recounted in the exhibit, documenting a vital and significant perspective of American history. “The story told by this extraordinary exhibit is one that evokes profound gratitude for the work accomplished in America by Catholic sisters over almost three centuries,” states Kathleen Dolphin, PBVM, Ph.D., Director, Center for Spirituality, Saint Mary’s College. Dolphin continues, “Further, the story inspires members and associates of today’s religious congregations of women to grasp firmly the torch that now has been passed to them. New forms of community, new ministries, new challenges, yes, but the same Spirit that guided the pioneer sisters will guide 21st century sisters.”
One of the rare artifacts that can be seen in Women & Spirit is a medical bag used by sisters as they nursed both sides during the Civil War is also on view. In total, over 400 artifacts from 70 sister communities are featured. “I knew immediately that Women & Spirit was an outstanding opportunity to tell a story of national significance, and I am proud and pleased that the Center for History was selected as a venue,” says Randy Ray, the Center for History’s Executive Director.
Indeed, Women & Spirit is geared to enlighten and educate, and it does so in a most compelling way. Visitors may be surprised to learn, for example, that in 2005 approximately one in six hospital patients in the country was treated in a Catholic facility. Or that 110 U.S. colleges and universities were founded by Catholic sisters. Or that in the founding days of Alcoholics Anonymous, Sister Ignatia Gavin of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine successfully advocated that alcoholism should be treated as a medical condition.
States Timothy Matovina, Director of the University of Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, “Women religious established and vitalized educational, health care, social service, and many other ministries in U.S. Catholicism. Yet their profound influence on the history of America’s largest church and the wider society is little known, and for the most part under appreciated. Women and Spirit is a superb exhibit that both educates viewers and inspires them with the faith and the witness of these women who changed the course of history.”
The local community should be especially proud to explore a section that deals with the Civil War, because it was Sisters of the Holy Cross who staffed the first U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USS Red Rover.
Women & Spirit has been on view at Ellis Island and the Smithsonian, in addition to several other institutions across the country.
In conjunction with Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America, the exhibit Women of Spirit, Signs of Hope will also be on view in a nearby gallery. In Signs of Hope, four communities of women religious in the South Bend area, Sisters of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration share their journey of faith and service to others.