Getting Back to the Business at Hand: Women of Faith

If a person is to have a successful blog, or at least arrive at the vicinity of “some traffic” that person better start posting.

9780823254736I have had recently the amazing good fortune of publishing my book.  On February 1, my book, Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community was released by Fordham University Press.  This is a history of the Sisters of Mercy Chicago Regional Community from its first foundation in Chicago in 1846, its expansion into Iowa and Wisconsin, its amalgamation into one province in the twentieth century, and finally its merger into a larger regional community, West Midwest in 2008. I was honored to write this history.

I began researching this project in the summer of 2006.  I had just defended my dissertation the previous fall and I had little conception of where I would go next.  I study women religious and that often translated into a particular religious congregation and a particular ministry.  For example, my dissertation looked at the Sisters of Charity and the Santa Maria Institute from the 1890s to the 1930s in Cincinnati, Ohio.  In graduate school I became intrigued by the Santa Maria Institute, a Catholic Social Settlement established to “save” Italian souls from the Protestant “proselyters” in that city.  It was founded and directed throughout this period by two Italian sisters – blood sisters and in community – Blandina and Justina Segale, SC.  These two women, their dynamic personalities, are at the center of this study.  They, along with a network of lay volunteers, both Italian and Italian American, developed and maintained this social settlement.

My study was ultimately about sisters and their institutional ministry.  A building.  Sure the Santa Maria occupied several locations, but it and my study was located in a particular place/ministry/identity.  When done, what was I to do next?  Right before I learned of the Chicago Mercy History project, I vaguely cast about to discover what Catholic community I would unearth in my area. I reside in Northwest Indiana and I have a limited travel budget.  I was starting to get a little concerned.  Then along came the Mercys.

There is much to talk about in this project – in the process of this project.  I am a Catholic woman who is not a woman religious.  So, I am an insider who is an outsider.  I was hired to write this project and the congregation owns copyright for all of it.  I worked with an editorial board consisting of members of the community and others.  This last point proved to be one of the more important elements to the development of this project. I worked with Sisters of Mercy and in doing so, I came to what is the more important aspect of the Chicago Mercy’s history – the thing that needed focus – the focus of this history wasn’t going to be the buildings and institutions.  It was going to be the ministerial, community, and spiritual lives of the sisters.  As historians, we care about the institutions.  Nothing wrong with institutional history.  For this moment in the Chicago Mercys’ history, considering how they as a community got to where they are now – a part of West Midwest – and focused on the future – meant trying to get at who they were, are, and will be as women religious.

This, I hope, is something I can transfer to my next project – whatever that is. I am still a historian of Catholic women religious.  Shall I cast about my eye in another direction?