At the California Museum

The following comes from a February 6 story in the Sacramento Bee.

Religious sisters have long been iconic figures, sometimes foreboding (think: Catholic school), invariably benevolent and long shrouded in mystery to the outside world.

“Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America,” on exhibit at the California Museum through June 3, plumbs much deeper than the usual stereotypes, showcasing how Catholic nuns and other pioneering religious women helped build many of the social and academic institutions that still exist today…. 

The wide-ranging exhibit loosely follows the history of women religious (what they are called among Catholics) in the United States, from the arrival of the first order (the Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, whose members came to New Orleans in 1727) to their involvement in more contemporary issues such as the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the care of patients with HIV/AIDS, and the environment. A smaller companion exhibit highlights the California history of women religious.

Both focus on sisters in active ministries as opposed to nuns who, generally, belong to monastic or contemplative orders.

The national exhibit has been on display at Ellis Island and elsewhere. Sacramento marks its ninth and final stop. The show includes photos, videos and objects collected from more than 400 religious communities in the United States. The artifacts are richly varied and touch on the major chapters and social movements of American history.

In a letter written in 1804, President Thomas Jefferson assures the Ursulines in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase that religious freedoms would be upheld. Nearby, a medical bag and a plug of tobacco are on display. They once belonged to a Sister of Charity who treated Civil War soldiers on the battlefields.

Other noteworthy artifacts include a basket placed outside a New York City orphanage for parents to leave their babies in after hours, and the prototype of an infant incubator created in 1938 by a Franciscan sister who used a cigar humidor as the base for her primitive model….

For complete story, Click here.


Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 7:46 AM By Mary Adam
I was educated by the sisters in Rochester NY. They were very kind and I thank them for giving me my moral attitude to this day. Without them I would be lost. Thank you dear sisters.

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 9:04 AM By Catholic Joe
If ever there was a strand of Americana that deserves more attention, recognition and examination be ALL, it’s the sisters! They educated, provided palliative care, healed the sick and reached out to the poor. Now that they’re gone, we should be reflect hard on what we allowed to be lost.

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 9:09 AM By JMJ
We have R.N.s (Real Nuns) & then, & then: we have “sisters” dressed in rags pretending to be nuns. It is too bad that Pope John Paul, when he had that fraud, Teresa Kane, in the Vatican, didn’t publicly excommunicate her. It would have sent a wake-up call to all of these deserters of the Roman Catholic Church. How many of our girls in the last 40 years have even seen up close, a real Nun in her Wedding Dress? Not too many. +JMJ+

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 10:20 AM By Phil
This exhibit is being run by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). This is the organization of so-called “sisters” that promotes women priests, homosexuality and new age practices among other things. This is the same organization whose lobby arm, NETWORK, was greatly responsible for the passing of Obamacare by sending a letter to the members of congress stating that all the Catholic sisters in the U.S. approved of the Health Care bill, which was a lie. I think I’ll pass on this twisted, propaganda filled, fake social justice minded exhibit. The Conference of Major Superiors of Women (CMSWR) is the organization of faithful sisters we should be praising. God bless the CMSWR!

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 11:34 AM By A Johnson
I was educated by the Dominican Sisters in Houston TX. They gave me caring, stability, and a fine education which enabled me to endure and overcome the bleakness of my disfunctional family. In High School the finest writing teacher I ever had (including College) was a Dominican sister who had been a newspaper reporter before she entered the convent. She refused to accept mediocre work ( I was lazy) until finally I finally developed serious work habits and began to win literary contests. She saw potential in me I didn’t see in myself, and I can never thank her enough.

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 12:25 PM By John F. Maguire
From Washington, D.C., what did President Thomas Jefferson write to the Ursuline nuns in New Orleans? Dated May 15, 1804, Thomas Jefferson’s letter reads as follows: I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Lousiana. ~ The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a guarantee to you that it will be preserved for you, sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. ~ Whatever the diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and its furthering of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up its younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. ~ Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it. ~ I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship and respect. ~ Thomas Jefferson

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 1:00 PM By Clinton
@ Phil. You are right on. I looked at the website for LCWR and saw older nuns who have long shunned the habit and are most concerned with “social justice” and modern innovations. In other words, for the Nancy Pelosi type of Catholics. On the website for CMSWR, I saw younger women proudly wearing their habits and praying for the defeat of the HHS mandate. The difference between the two organizations is like night and day.

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 1:10 PM By MacDonald
We have some Dominican Sisters in full habit now in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, who also teach at Marin Catholic High School. Many of the students have never seen nuns in full habit before, but friends tell me they LOVE the Sisters and really enjoy learning from them!

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 8:56 PM By Marcy
I was educated by Notre Dame sisters in Toledo, Ohio. They were great educators and they brought religion and Christ into every subject they taught. I went on to college and had many of my professors asked me where I went to grade school. When I said St. James, they said “Notre Dame nuns, they were the best teachers, and your writing proves it!” I loved the fact that they kept their habits long after others when to secular dress. Sadly, they too went that way and unfortunately, they are an order that is slowly dying out. But go about 35 miles north to Ann Arbor ,Michigan and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are absolutely flourishing. In fact their congregation was featured on Oprah’s TV program. The sisters have had to add on to their building . They wear the full long habit. They presently have over 55 postulants and novices! Woman are looking for commitment to a congregation that is truly loyal to the Catholic Church, her teachings and the magisterium.

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2012 10:28 PM By elleblue
I agree with the comments about the LCWR. They are old, angry, bitter women who feel they have not been given enough credit for what they did. Any decent committed woman religious today will tell you what they do is respond to a vocational call from God. They don’t look for praise or glory. They know that what they do they do for God and that’s enough.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 5:20 AM By Gail
Where are our “real” nuns today wearing their habits? Today, they dress like ordinary women. Sad for young girls wanting to be come nuns and yet they have no “real” nuns to look up too.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 5:37 AM By k 
Gail, you will be pleases to learn that vocations are thriving among some of the young orders who wear full habits such as the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia in Nashville TN and Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor Mi

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 6:33 AM By JLS
In my first year of Catholicism, while rounding a corner on a bicycle, and flipping off a driver who tried to run me into the curb, at that moment directly across the street was a huge flock of nuns in full black habits out for their late afternoon walk … and all facing precisely in my direction. A. Not sure which of us they sided with, B. if you’ve ever had a nun pray for your sinful soul, try two dozen of them praying at once, C. I’m not sure which was more terrifying, that hostile driver or those charitable and merciful nuns.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 8:31 AM By Old Roman Collar
I love seeing Sisters/Nuns in Habit, I have more respect for any order who wears their habit. as for the non-wearing sisters, I have NO respect for them at all. They ruined the Catholic School system, they didnt want to teach any more, they want to work in prisons, golf,want to leave in Apts, and not in Convents, dress are we do, humm, that costs moeny to do that, why can’t they give their lifes to Christ and teach, NO, they want to be free, I am sure they lead many to hell by their actions too. I had the CPPS sisters of O’Fallon,Mo. teach me in Quincy, but now their order is dying out, ONly ones that are surving are the Traditional Orders, I am happy and hope those so called orders do die out.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 8:56 AM By John
Sisters help found this country. The biggest reason for their decline though is much their own fault. As soon as they took off thier habits and were infected by liberation and feminist theology…they were doomed.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 10:07 AM By MacDonald
@ JLS — loved your story about those Nuns seeing you flip off a driver! Seeing someone in a habit always make ME want to behave better, too. So the sign value can be powerful, whether the habit be simple (like Mother Teresa’s Order), or elaborate. Some Nuns have told me how much time they spent in ironing, starching, and making pleats on the really old-fashioned habits. I like to think that such work was also a time of prayer, like manual labor is for me.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 11:05 AM By linda
We had beautiful Sisters of Saint Agnes at Brother Dutton in Beloit, wi. I was very sad to look at there web site….not a mention of Jesus, Mary or Joseph…..or even Saint Agnes…..only community. I went to school there in the 60’s

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 3:27 PM By Susan
I was so blessed to be taught by the Sisters of Mercy at Sacred Heart School in The Bronx in the 50’s and then the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill (also in The Bronx) at St. Helena’s High School. I am a traditional and religious Catholic who is active in my parish because of the faith taught to me by these holy sisters. May they all be in Heaven.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 3:53 PM By JLS
MacDonald, time of prayer with manual labor: I used to say one word of the Rosary on each foot step as I’d run and jog in the canyons. Today I started practicing up on the “jump style shuffle” and maybe I can carry on this prayerful practice on each step … gonna be a rather quickly said prayer though (until my legs give out).

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 3:59 PM By JLS
In fact, MacDonald, I’m glad you worded it the way you did about praying in the course of manual labor. I spend a lot of vocalization cussing, and have recently resolved to at least hold my tongue on Sundays. But I’ve never tried actually praying while under my jeep … good idea though. Also, an a better note, I spend a fair amount of time in the outback, hunting wild birds or training dogs … The more isolated the area, the more I can tune into nature … and the better the prayer time. Rosary is great out there. Of course it’s hard to get totally isolated; eg, couple months ago out in desert, nobody else out there … well, maybe the distant buzz of a dirtbike or remote bang of a plinker … then suddenly an explosion on the scale of a bunker buster from the nearby military training expanse … even the dog jumped and looked worried.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 5:28 PM By Mark from PA
Thanks for the story, JLS. Good hearing from you. Still don’t care for the sister bashing going on in some of these comments. It is sad that some Catholics don’t think much of religious sisters.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 6:53 PM By JLS
PA, it is not the religious sisters that some faithful Catholics “bash” but those in a de facto pretense, sometimes lifelong, of consecration to God.

Posted Friday, February 10, 2012 8:31 PM By Louise
I and my large family were taught by the Dominican sisters from 1st grade through high school, and when I look back, I consider it a privilege. They were very good teachers of reading, writing, and math!! There are none better for teaching English. God bless them all- and they wore beautiful long habits- the good ‘ole days.

Posted Saturday, February 11, 2012 11:46 AM By Kris
Just as an analysis of the article written, I notice that the buzz words seem to be ‘organizers’ and “serving the spirit”. I can’t help but laud the LCWR for being consistent with their motivating energy today that is reflected and dare I say, imposed on the many traditional orders that did the work that is praised in this story, namely, social justice. I would love to ask the nuns who are mentioned in these historical vignettes if they did these wonderful works of mercy to serve the ‘spirit’ or the Holy Spirit. I would also like to ask these historic heroines if they were organizers, or were they daughters of the most high father who inspired them to serve the neediest in the acts of mercy they showed to all. The LCWR have colored their eyes in the social justice parlance and have lost the mystical of the motivation of these great historical groups that they praise. How sad for them, LCWR.

Posted Saturday, February 11, 2012 9:53 PM By JLS
Well, Louise, by contrast myself and my medium size family heard Sr Whuzzerface sing “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”, and that was about it for our intro to Catholicism … Well, my sisters watched the Flying Nun, so we kind of got a double whammy of Catholicism. Oh yeah, also I always liked the Friar Tuck character in the Robin Hood movies. So we got a rounded Catholic education too.

Posted Sunday, February 12, 2012 3:42 AM By Myriam
It is not the habit that makes or does not make a nun. Rather it is her heart, her service , her love for others in the example of the Blessed mother. A habit can clothe a multitude of sins. It can also inspire and elevate. For Jesus what is important I feel is to follow Him in word and deed , in humility and avoid being pharisaic in one’s attitudes.

Posted Sunday, February 12, 2012 4:10 AM By harold
I have a daughter who is a Sister at the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is teaching at a Catholic School and the children just love her. Parents are bring their children from long distance just so these Sisters can teach their children. We are so proud of her.

Posted Sunday, February 12, 2012 8:20 AM By JLS
Myrium, habits reflect the disposition of the soul.

Posted Sunday, February 12, 2012 2:16 PM By WHL
I received a wonderful education and formation in the Faith by the Sisters of Notre Dame in Queens Village NY. They were strict disciplinarians who gave us a great Catholic identity and resonsibility. I will never forget them. I had the Dominicans in High School. Another excellent order with high education expectations. It was wonderful. May God Bless them.

Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 5:38 PM By James Riley
I was educated by the Franciscan Nuns in Rochester N. Y. Thank God for their formation in the Catholic Faith. I attribute my success to their unselfish effort in mentoring young children in the virtues and recognizing right from wrong actions.

Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 5:52 PM By k
harold, was your daughter on Oprah?

Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:30 AM By Kenneth M. Fisher
I make it a habit to praise and thank the Religious Sisters I come in contact with for their wearing of their Habits. More should do likewise. The REC is full of LCWR presenters! God bless, yours in Their Hearts, Kenneth M. Fisher

Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:33 AM By Kenneth M. Fisher
Myriam, Their Habits are a sign of ther consecrations to God, without the habit their is very little public sign of such a consecrations. St. Padre Pio shunned Religious Women whe came to visit him in lay clothes, he did likewise with priests and relious men! God bless, yours in Their Hearts, Kenneth M. Fisher

Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2012 5:55 PM By LMC
JMJ,- “Nuns” are cloistered and “Sisters” are not. There are many young and old, but faithful, Sisters wearing beautiful habits. Just FYI….