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Sister Mary Hughes, OP (Amityville), left, joins other sisters and Archbishop Dolan at the opening of the Women and Spirit exhibit at Ellis Island on Sept. 24. Photos courtesy of Jennifer Schaaf, Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt.

Women and Spirit
Dominican sisters visit exhibit at Ellis Island

Dominican Leadership Conference meeting attendees visited the exhibit on Oct. 3.

Dominican sisters were present for the opening of the “Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America” exhibit at Ellis Island Sept. 23. Mary Hughes, OP (Amityville) was among the Dominican sisters who joined Archbishop Dolan for the ribbon-cutting. Sisters also visited the exhibit as part of the Dominican Leadership Conference meeting Oct. 1–4 in Ossining.

“Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America,” the untold stories of the innovative women who played a significant role in shaping the nation’s social and cultural landscape, are the subject of a traveling exhibition that opened at Ellis Island on Sept. 24. Women & Spirit is a project of The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center.

This milestone compilation of artifacts and multi-media presentations reveals a new perspective on American history with many inspiring stories such as:

  • The Sisters of Charity who nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
  • The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who under Mother Cabrini’s guidance, founded 67 missions in the United States, Italy, France, England, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and Nicaragua.
  • Mother Alfred Moes, founder of the Rochester Franciscans, who built St. Mary’s Hospital and convinced Dr. William Worrall Mayo and his sons to staff it. That “partnership” was the beginnings of The Mayo Clinic.
  • Elizabeth Bayley Seton who founded the Sisters of Charity, the first American community of Catholic sisters, and is credited with establishing the nation’s parochial school system.
Mary Flood, OP (Blauvelt) points to the list of Dominican sisters that is part of the exhibit

First arriving on America’s shores almost 300 years ago, Catholic sisters built and led schools, hospitals, orphanages, colleges, and other social institutions that have continued to serve millions of Americans in the intervening years, including The New York Foundling, founded in 1869, which is prominently featured in the exhibit. Remarkably, they created these enduring institutions at a time when most women had few, if any, professional opportunities.

“Few people are aware of the tales of the brave women who came to this country to help immigrants assimilate into the fabric of America,” said Jane Burke, SSND, executive director of LCWR. “Their heroic presence during many of the formative periods of our nation is an important part of American history and the legacy of the sisters.”

“This is an important and unique exhibit,” said Judy M. Giuriceo, curator of exhibits and media for Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. “The artifacts and materials featured in the exhibit explore an often overlooked aspect of immigration and women's history—how Catholic sisters, often immigrants themselves, provided needed social services to immigrant communities.”

Exhibit visitors of all ages will discover the pivotal presence of these very self-reliant women at many of our nation’s dramatic turning points from the Civil War, the Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement, through Hurricane Katrina. The untold stories of these unsung heroes will be recounted through rare, heretofore unseen artifacts, vivid first-person accounts, photographs, and both modern and archival video.

John Allen, senior Vatican analyst for CNN, says “The Women & Spirit exhibit brings to life the story of religious sisters in the United States. Against all odds, these largely anonymous women changed the country.”

Over the past several years, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has researched the history and worked with congregations of sisters to catalog significant artifacts. The exhibit was conceived by Bob Weis Design Island and produced by Seruto & Company.

The exhibition at Ellis Island is scheduled to run through Jan. 22, 2011. Other locations and dates are listed on the website. Video footage of the exhibit is available at www.womenandspirit.org.