The Transformation of American Sisters

Quinonez, Lora Ann, and Mary Daniel Turner. The Transformation of American Sisters. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.

The Transformation of American Sisters, the first study of its kind, is an analytical history of women religious in the United States during a critical period of transition. Concentrating on the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), the study chronicles the changes in American sisters' thought and life from the 1950s to the 1980s. Tracing recent developments among women religious to the decade prior to the Second Vatican Council, the authors highlight the role of Mary Emil Penet of the Sister Formation Movement, and the Conference of Major Superiors of Women of the U.S.A. (which later became the LCWR). While the changing forms and contents of religious life since the 1960s are the most visible aspects of the transformation of women religious, the authors argue that changing assumptions in epistemology, i.e., in ways of discovering, assessing, and appropriating knowledge, are central to the story. Crucial to this revolutionary change has been the shifting of attention from received authority, i.e., theological and canonical definitions of religious life and inherited rules and customs of the community, to experience as the basis for defining the religious life. Process and incarnational theologies, reinforced by biblical studies, supported the positive assessment of experience as possessing its own authority. At the same time, the definition of the Church as an open community of redemptive service to the world swept away the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular that underwrote older monastic models of the religious life. American sisters were being called to new forms of engagement with the world never envisioned by those who formulated traditional customs and rules. The reevaluation of experience and the discovery that history was indispensable to determining identity and direction combined with the conviction that immersion in the world is inescapably linked with holiness for apostolic communities. From these perceptions came the post-Vatican II self- transformation of American sisters, as women religious sought to resocialize themselves to ways of thinking, talking, and behaving that expressed integration with rather than separation from the world. With a growing consciousness of themselves as women and as Americans, sisters embraced experimentation, diversity, and responsibility as authentic qualities of the religious life. (SA)