Workhorses with little time to pray

Carole Garibaldi Rogers, An Oral History of American Nuns (Oxford University Press)

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 Anyone who is curious about the life of women religious in recent years will be informed and inspired by Habits of Change. 

Through oral histories collected between 1991 and 1995 and again in 2010, Carole Garibaldi Rogers not only opens the doors of convents but also reveals what was in the hearts and on the minds of almost 100 women religious from 1960 onward.

Coming from more than 40 widely assorted religious congregations with both traditional and progressive leanings, these women were interviewed in 15 states representing most regions of the United States. 

In the 1990s the interviewees ranged in age from their 40s to their 70s; by 2010 some were in their 90s. Only seven had left the convent in the intervening years, and a few have died. 

Through skilful editing of much longer narratives, the author offers readers a realistic and poignant portrayal of the “uncommon change” sisters experienced from the 1960s to the present. Each sister discloses her struggles and conveys her sense of fulfilment as she navigated those turbulent years in church and society.

The heart and soul of the book are the forthright revelations found in individual narratives. A sense of progression is evident in the lives of these dedicated women. Early along, their focus on spiritual development was superseded by the demands of ministry, with the pressure of teaching large classes and nursing for long hours dominating their lives.

One sister who is now in her 80s recalls how exhausted she was all the time with class preparation, sacristy work and convent upkeep. Though she remained faithful to communal observances, she never really had time for prayer on her own.

Many years later, when she told a Trappist retreat director that she wanted to spend her retirement learning to pray

The disproportionate emphasis on interminable work and the pressure to do more is exemplified in many stories.

Almost always the author gets her interpretation just right.

In the epilogue, “Where They Are Now,” she reflects on the essentials of religious life: cherishing the contemplative dimensions of life, maintaining communitarian bonds, caring for the underserved and remaining grounded in the Gospel.


The Sisters' Stories (America)


Carole Garibaldi Rogers

Habits of Change (OUP USA)

Click here for a 20% discount on this and other books from Church Resources and John Garrett Publishing

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