In the mid-20th century, on the eve of the major reforms of Vatican II, many communities of women religious in the United States began a new endeavor in their education ministries. While these communities had experience operating grade schools, high schools, and colleges, the needs of the contemporary world opened the doors to a new type of educational institution – the Sisters’ colleges.
These schools were operated exclusively for women professed to a religious community – Sisters and nuns – providing opportunities for the conferral of advanced degrees in religious, theological, and secular subjects along with spiritual formation. Just as the Doctors of the Church shad passed down their spiritual writings so many centuries before, these colleges developed a liberal arts curriculum in cooperation with the values and ethics of the Catholic church.
Dubbed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “The West Point for Nuns,” the Daughters of Charity founded Marillac College in St. Louis in 1955. The college closed its doors in 1974 and today forms the core of the community college campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
During its operation, the students from various Sisters’ communities experienced the sweeping changes of Vatican II on a religious front along with the social and political changes and unrest of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Some of the best documentation of these changes comes from Marillac Magazine, the literary magazine of the college. In many ways, this collection of 15 volumes from 1959 to 1973 is like any other college literary journal: an anthology of short fiction, essays, works of poetry, and book reviews.
The authors themselves and their place in time makes these volumes particularly unique. In the very first volume in 1959, a Daughter of Charity named Sister Marcellus Lowe wrote an essay examining Milton’s Paradise Lost within the wider context of Milton’s work, one which widely utilizes literary theory while re-thinking the common interpretation of the work. Works such as this sit alongside short fiction about the simplicity of childhood or pen and ink landscape sketches. There is also enthusiastic endorsement of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Hobbit!
Many of the short fiction works, non-fiction essays, and poetry deal with the topics of the day in both the church and secular worlds: controversies over the purpose and place of modern art; political relations between the United States and Latin America; the war in Vietnam; protests and assassinations; social movements, Civil Rights, and the Great Society; the threat of nuclear annihilation; and the long specter of the Holocaust over the modern world.
These journals provide for scholars of the Vatican II era and the social upheavals of mid-20th century America among the Catholic community. Others may simply find them a fascinating look at how Sisters and communities of women religious viewed the issues of the day during tumultuous years in Catholic and American history. They show communities of sisters who, rather than using their vocations to escape from or deny the issues of the world, instead met the challenges and questions head-on with strong voices and life-affirming souls.
Look forward to in-depth looks at some of these articles on this blog in the future!