Eighth Triennial Conference (2010) Recap

The Eighth Triennial Conference convened from June 27-30, 2010 at the University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania, with the theme of “Confronting Challenges: Women Religious Respond to Change.” 110 attendees heard from presenters on 18 panels assembled by Program Committee chair Maggie McGuinness. Themes included distinctive responses by women’s congregations to the Second Vatican Council and the re-defining of mission subsequent to the Council; societal change and its impact on teaching sisters and women involved in health care; and the impact of war on women’s congregations. Sections on transnational perspectives explored the impact of change on women religious in parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Following a tradition begun with the earliest conferences, 2010 included two film viewings: Bren Ortega Murphy’s “A Question of Habit: The Image of Women Religious in U.S. Popular Culture,” and “Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism,” for which Sisters Mary Savoie and Margaret Nacke served as principal advisers and researchers. Participants also heard about the wildly successful traveling exhibit “Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America.”

But with fewer participants than in years past, and due to the aging of the network’s founders, serious questions were raised about the organization’s future. Evaluations indicated that attendees found the meetings valuable and expected them to continue. As a planning committee wrote, “the group has become an important organization for scholars working in the area of history of women religious,” marking a change from the first conference when attendees were “primarily archivists of religious communities.” It had emerged as “a way to connect ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ writing about the history of women religious,” and had become “known as the place where one can present work, learn from others, and share information” on the topic.

However, a planning committee which met in 2008 indicated that a future reliance on a single volunteer coordinator (Karen Kennelly) to edit the newsletter and conduct most business was unsustainable. The business meeting discussed this report; while minimal action was taken immediately, these discussions served as the foundation of further developments: the folding of the HWR News and Notes newsletter into the Cushwa Center newsletter, and, in 2013, the appointment of a temporary steering committee to guide the organization on the occasion of Karen Kennelly’s retirement.

Emily Clark received the Distinguished Book Award, and Elizabeth M. Smyth the Lifetime Achievement Award.