About the Book:
For many Americans, nuns and sisters are the face of the Catholic Church. Far more visible than priests, Catholic women religious teach at schools, found hospitals, offer food to the poor, and minister to those in need. Their work has shaped the American Catholic Church throughout its history. Yet despite their high profile, a concise history of American Catholic sisters and nuns has yet to be published. In Called to Serve, Margaret M. McGuinness provides the reader with an overview of the history of Catholic women religious in American life, from the colonial period to the present.
The early years of religious life in the United States found women religious in immigrant communities and on the frontier, teaching, nursing, and caring for marginalized groups. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, the role of women religious began to change. They have fewer members than ever, and their population is aging rapidly. And the method of their ministry is changing as well: rather than merely feeding and clothing the poor, religious sisters are now working to address the social structures that contribute to poverty, fighting what one nun calls “social sin.” In the face of a changing world and shifting priorities, women religious must also struggle to strike a balance between the responsibilities of their faith and the limitations imposed upon them by their church.
Rigorously researched and engagingly written, Called to Serve offers a compelling portrait of Catholic women religious throughout American history.
I've always been fascinated by nuns and so I grabbed this one when it was offered by NetGalley. As the title implies, it follows nuns from the first days of the Ursulines in New Orleans to the sisters of today who run parishes, work for peace and who are sometimes gadflies to the hierarchy. The book does not focus on any particular community but rather touches on larger themes like how immigrant communities served people from their ethnic groups, how the Catholic school system in the United States was built on the labor of the Sisters and how convent life has changed since Vatican II.
While interesting to those who like history, this book is not enthralling in a novel-like sense. At times it gets bogged down in too many names and places. It is not a book that discusses the day to day life of nuns nor does it really take sides in the battle of the "polyester pantsuit-wearing social activist nun" vs the "habit-wearing, rosary-saying obedient teaching nun". It does profile Sr. Helen Prejean and does mention the large number of women who enter the Nashville Dominicans. It contains an extensive bibliography so readers can continue their research on these women who have done so much for the Church. Grade: B.