1987 Colloquium

[Text taken from two reports: “The History of Women Religious Conference” by Sr. Kathleen Cooney, and “Archives Update,” by Sr. Barbara Misner, both in the CHWR archives at the University of Notre Dame (folder 3/01).]

The colloquium had a longer history which [began] in 1980 with conversations between Jay Dolan at the Cushwa Center and Clare Fitzgerald, then president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. [After a brainstorming session in 1981 and a 1982 conference] Jeanne Knoerle, SP, then with the Lilly Foundation, again raised the issue and helped facilitate the 1987 gathering.

Some of us in attendance at the 1987 colloquium met over lunch and were prodded by Kitty Kish-Sklar to form a permanent network which could extend the good work done at the colloquium by connecting people interested in the history of religious congregations of women. The first Conference Committee…incorporated a mixture of lay and religious women; although personal experience of religious life necessarily varied, all shared a common interest in furthering scholarly interest in the subject, disseminating the results of research, and facilitating communication.

With a small nest-egg of Lilly funds unexpended from the colloquium, the Conference soon adopted two practical means to accomplish these purposes: a newsletter published three times a year, and occasional conferences…. Both the newsletter and the first conference have been especially effective in encouraging doctoral candidates to develop these topics and in giving them a forum for their work.


October 2, 1987, did not look like a very cheerful day in South Bend, Indiana, when I awoke, but it promised to be an interesting day. I had been looking forward to it since I received an invitation to participate in the “Cushwa Center Colloquium on the History of Women Religious.” The Lilly Endowment had funded the project and 31 persons had arrived in South Bend as invited participants.

This was essentially a women’s meeting. [Four men were present.] The only participant who had no previous direct involvement in the promotion of the history of women religious was Professor Kathryn Kish Sklar (UCLA), a recognized authority on the history of women in the United States, who came to give us a presentation on important facets of women’s history to be kept in mind when doing the history of women religious. The other presenter was Professor Margaret Susan Thompson, a laywoman who is on the faculty at Syracuse University and has been studying this topic for several years.

The entire day was rather informal…informative and energizing. The discussion continued in earnest through cocktails and dinner and even beyond; I was in a group that continued in the lobby of the Jamison Inn until midnight. We met friends again at breakfast. [And] Sr. Mary Ewens, OP, and I continued our discussion during our drive back to Milwaukee.

Those of us who met together Friday noon made initial plans for a newsletter which we hope will attract many persons who are interested in the history of women religious from interdisciplinary approaches…. We need some structure in order to 1) keep the momentum from dying out, 2) inform each other about what is being done, and 3) seek funding for projects to further the work. There has been a marked increase in research since I first began; however, it is still a wide open field.