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Graceful Exits

Catholic Women and the Art of Departure

Debra Campbell

Publication Year: 2003

The personal narratives of nine 20th-century Catholic female authors -- Monica Baldwin, Antonia White, Mary McCarthy, Mary Gordon, Mary Daly, Barbara Ferraro, Patricia Hussey, Karen Armstrong, and Patricia Hampl -- speak eloquently about the process of departure from the church and its institutions. This study explores each author's breaking of the taboo associated with women leaving their "proper place." It locates five themes at the heart of all of their narratives: reversal, boundary crossing, diaspora, renaming, and recycling. Debra Campbell grapples with the spirituality of departure depicted by all nine women, for whom the very process of leaving Catholic institutions is a Catholic enterprise. These narratives support the popular maxim that no one ever really leaves the church. In the final chapter, Campbell examines narratives of return, confirming the book's overarching theme that neither departure nor return is ever finished.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. ix-x

A decade ago I was hired to write the centennial history of one of many nineteenth-century Catholic female academies that had transformed themselves into Catholic women’s colleges in the early decades of the twentieth century. The project did not end happily. Bad omens and thwarted avenues of research clouded it, and questions of academic freedom ...

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pp. xi

This book is the result of countless conversations with former classmates, colleagues, students, relatives, and even semi-strangers.Many people have had a hand in it. Grace Von Tobel’s experience and professionalism left its mark upon the manuscript at several stages in its evolution. I am deeply indebted to Marilyn Pukkila and Peg Menchen for research guidance, to ...

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pp. xiii-xxvii

These words from Hélène Cixous’s groundbreaking essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” capture the radical and irreversible quality inherent in women’s writing. The act of writing from within her own experience takes a woman back to her roots and across boundaries. It may mean leaving behind the persons, places, and things that she has loved, suffered for, and ...

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1 "I Leap over the Wall”

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pp. 1-26

With these words Monica Baldwin traced the origins of her memoir I Leap over the Wall, a book written throughout the 1940s in other peoples’ guest rooms and bungalows and in rented flats by a woman desperately in need of a room of her own. Baldwin’s memoir is about leaving “the cold, clean spaciousness” of the cloister which “breathed silence and consecration” (Baldwin 1950, 35; unless otherwise specified, all subsequent ...

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2 Falling Away or Crossing Over?

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pp. 27-78

The accepted euphemism for the gradual, half-willed, half-passive departure from the church is “falling away.” Like other euphemisms, this one never even approaches the concrete powerful reality of the experience that it signifies. The phrase “falling away” sounds as if it was concocted by church authorities to denote other people’s lapses of faith as they are perceived by superior ...

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3 Be-ing is Be/Leaving

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pp. 79-106

Mary Daly, the self-proclaimed Radical Feminist Pirate, has made a career of writing about leaving. There is a sense in which her entire corpus deals with departures of one kind or another. Some of Daly’s departure narratives, such as the account of Easter 1968 quoted above, could have happened to almost anybody. (Didn’t most Catholic feminists lose

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4 A Nun Forever

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pp. 107-152

By the 1980s, the turbulence in the Catholic church—the fallout from the reforms of Vatican II and the backlash that had sometimes threatened to negate those reforms—had subsided. The decade and a half between the end of Vatican II in 1965 and the 1980s witnessed a dramatic reversal. In ...

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5 Coming Home

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pp. 153-192

To those outside the fold, or rather, those without benefit of Catholic girlhoods, Catholic women’s departure narratives are much easier to understand and empathize with than accounts of their return. To secular feminists who, quite logically, consider voluntary affinity groups more satisfactory than ties to organized religions, the return of self-proclaimed ...

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pp. 193-195

We define ourselves by the stories that we tell and by those we long to hear. Catholic women—at least those born before the 1960s—have been raised on the lives of the saints, usually carefully packaged for the edifying, appropriately “feminine” lessons that they teach, but when in search of models for real life, Catholic women have turned to different sources. They ...


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pp. 197-202


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pp. 203-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110718
E-ISBN-10: 0253110718
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253343161

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2003