Academic journal article Magistra

Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia

Academic journal article Magistra

Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia

Article excerpt

Jo Ann Kay McNamara, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 751 pp., cloth, $35.00, ISBN 0-674-80984-X.

I was fortunate to participate in a week-long seminar conducted by Jo Ann McNamara. I encountered a delightful scholar. Her interpretation of historical events involved keen insight, challenging questions and a sense of complex, multi-dimensional movement. McNamara exuded a real passion for her subject of women religious throughout Christian history, often referring to them as "Christianity's original feminists."

Sisters In Arms is the culmination of McNamara's many years of research, arduous translating work and critical reflection. Through the letters, writings and life experiences of Catholic nuns, she invites her reader to journey through two millennia of Christian history. McNamara's chosen matrilineal lens gives the reader an opportunity to see the movement and dance of Christian history with refreshingly new perspective.

One encounters women who sought some degree of autonomy and self-determination in order to seek their God with a minimum of hindrance by society. There are desert ascetics and deaconesses, women of nobility and of poverty, martyrs and monastics, women who fled society and those who sought to create community within urban society from their own vision. In more recent centuries, the reader meets women who did not allow their own poverty to hinder their dream of serving the poorest of the poor.

These are women whose lives were complicated by secular and church authorities bent on defining and controlling their lives. …

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