Building Sisterhood: A Feminist History of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Maryby Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 85, Number 1, January 1999
- pp. 121-122
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS121 Building Sisterhood:A Feminist History ofthe Sisters, Servants ofthe Immaculate Heart ofMary. By the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan. [Women and Gender in North American Religions .] (Syracuse, NewYork: Syracuse University Press. 1997. Pp. xxxi, 392. $49.95 clothbound; $24.95 paperback.) Joining the long list of American women religious community histories, this book takes a novel approach. Instead of a comprehensive and chronological account it consists of thirteen essays, divided into four groupings, each introduced with commentary by Professor Margaret Susan Thompson of Syracuse University, who also wrote the general introduction. The essays, each by a different member of the community, view the IHM historical experience from varying disciplinary perspectives. The result is incomplete, uncoordinated history , but it provides interesting insights into the mores and practices of community members over the more than one hundred years of community existence. The four essay groupings are subtitled (1) "Groundings," (Z) "The IHM Life Cycle," (3) "Authority, Leadership, and Governance," and (4) "The Ministry of Education ." The first grouping contains three essays with the first two covering the foundation and early years ofthe community—well researched history. The central figure is a fascinating "woman of color," Theresa Maxis, who helped found the community and was its first superior. She had a small strain of Negro blood from her Haitian grandfather, sufficient in those days to classify her as "colored." She was also one of four black women who had founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore in 1829. In 1845 a Redemptorist priest, Louis Gellet, recruited her for his frontier parish in Michigan and along with two other women founded this apostolic community. The third essay of this first grouping deals with IHM spirituality and the evolution of devotional practices over the years. The second grouping of five essays deals with the life styles of the community members over time. Essays provide candid and sympathetic descriptions of sister-life, rules and actual practices regarding personal friendships, and descriptions ofphysical and mental health care. They treat subjects such as friendships between sisters and relations with outsiders. These essays convey vivid insights into the daily lives of IHM sisters as they sought to adjust individual temperaments to community rules. The third grouping of two essays treats community government with emphasis on discipline and obedience. The first essay portrays community practices prior to the Second Vatican Council, while the second essay covers the problems encountered in the 1970's in attempting to implement the perceived changes ordained by the Council. The fourth grouping of three essays concentrates on education, a fitting closure subject for a community founded to teach. Experience with Immaculata High School in Detroit mirrors what happened to hundreds of schools over the 122BOOK REVIEWS nation during the 1950-1970 years. Of interest are the IHM participation in the Sister Formation movement and the vital role played by Sister Mary Emil Penet. The outstanding feature of this book, something not found in others of this genre, are the descriptions ofpersonal relationships among and between sisters and intimate details of daily convent life—all additions to feminist history. This volume has an appropriate foreword, list of contributors, introduction, afterword, appendix, bibliography, and index. George C. Stewart,Jr. Fayetteville, North Carolina Madeleva: A Biography. By Gail Porter Mandell. (Albany: State University of NewYork Press. 1997. Pp. xv, 303. $17.95 paperback.) As the history of women in the Church is gradually pieced together, it is increasingly evident that among women who held major administrative roles in the United States and acquitted themselves well in them were several generations of nuns who founded, financed, and directed hospitals, colleges, and charitable institutions. Sister Medeleva Wolff of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, president of St. Mary's College at Notre Dame, Indiana, from 1934 to 1961, is one of those women. In addition to a 1994 study of her spirituality by Mandell, a privately published "pictorial biography" by Maria Assunta Werner, C.S.C. (1993), and articles inNotableAmerican Women and The Encyclopedia ofAmerican CatholicHistory , the reader has Madeleva's autobiography, My First Seventy Years (1959). Mandell has supplemented these sources by drawing on Madeleva's letters in archival collections in...