Eleventh Triennial Conference on the History of Women Religious (CHWR)

Benedictines at the Conference of History of Women Religious last month. L to R: Sister Mary Ann O’Ryan, OSB (Chicago), Sister Laura Swann, OSB (Lacey, WA), Sister Virginia Jung, OSB (Chicago), Sister Rebecca Abel, OSB (Ferdinand, IN), and Sister Judith Sutera, OSB (Atchison). (Photo courtesy of Sister Rebecca Abel, OSB (Ferdinand, IN)).

On June 23-26, 2019 at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, the Eleventh Triennial Conference on the History of Women Religious (CHWR) aimed to “explore how the history of women religious has been commemorated, preserved, and celebrated.” Benedictine Sisters of Chicago in attendance included history enthusiast Sister Mary Ann O’Ryan, OSB and community archivist Sister Virginia Jung, OSB.

Eleventh Triennial Conference on the History of Women Religious (CHWR) image from their website.

Actually, Sister Mary Ann has attended these conferences (when hosted in the Midwest) since the first 1989 conference at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul, MN. Sister Mary Ann recalls, “When the organization began in the late 1980s, it was attended almost exclusively by women religious and was centered around helping sisters who were writing histories of their communities to do so more professionally, following criteria for writing authentic history. In the past thirty years the conferences have been attended by more and more lay people, mostly graduate students, women and men, doing research in a wide variety of issues, historical periods, and locations concerning women religious. The combination of women religious who have lived some of what the students are researching, graduate students giving papers, and established historians of women religious giving presentations based on books that they have written makes for very stimulating and interesting conferences.”

Conference attendee reads a pamphlet about “Magistra”, a journal of women’s spirituality in history, whose editorial board includes Sister Laura Swan, OSB, Esther de Waal, Sister Hugh Feiss, OSB, and Sister Mary Forman, OSB.

After hearing about this conference from Sister Mary Ann over the years, Sister Virginia decided to attend the 2019 conference to learn what topics historians who research women religious are studying and their experience of using archives in their research. When asked what her favorite talk or panel was, Sister Virginia said, “There were so many outstanding, inspiring, and informative panels and talks, it is very hard to choose one. One of the panels that stays with me is “Playing Catholic: Sister-Writers and Plays for Young Women in the Convent School” by Monica L. Mercado of Colgate University. I think this was because it combined so many things I love – theater, Catholic school, history, and humor. In her talk, Monica demonstrated how a good historian can discover, pull together, and present so much about many facets of our history from collections of seemingly trivial or every day manuscripts and illustrations.”

Sister Mary Ann also had a difficult time choosing just one talk as her favorite. She shared, “I found the talk on the experiences of the sisters who staffed the hospital in Selma very inspiring, especially as it was given by a sister who was there at the time (1965). I was also touched by the talk on the religious men and women in forced labor in Dachau (concentration camp) and how they tried to continue to have Mass and care for one another even as so many of them were dying of disease and starvation.”

All in all, both Sisters Mary Ann and Virginia thoroughly enjoyed attending and highly recommend this conference to anyone who has an interest in the history of women religious.

To learn more about the Conference on the History of Women Religious, please visit: www.chwr.org

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