Alexa Harnagel ’17 has discovered an unlikely cure for the stress of college life: visiting an 82-year-old Catholic sister.
Before coming to St. Catherine, Harnagel had never met a nun, but she was intrigued by the invitation to join the Hilton Sisters Project on campus, a three-year grant funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation aimed at fostering awareness of women religious through National Catholic Sisters Week, oral histories, curriculum and a dynamic website.
Harnagel, a biochemistry major, was one of 10 St. Kate’s students who pioneered the unique oral history project last spring — each one paired with a Catholic sister to meet on a weekly basis and record an oral history of the sister’s life.
This fall the project is rolling out at other Catholic colleges: Elms College in Chicopee, Mass.; Georgian Court University in Lakewood Township, N.J.; Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio; Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich.; and Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif.
Project coordinators from each college came to St. Kate’s in July for training from Molly Hazelton, co-executive director of the Hilton Sisters Project, and her team. By semester’s end, some 50 oral histories will be complete,
drawing the initiative closer to its three-year goal of 150.
It is the first time a nationwide effort has been launched to capture the stories of Catholic sisters in the United States, who now number 49,883. From the use of high-end Blackmagic cameras to an understanding of consecrated life, told through intimate, first-person stories, students say the experience has been eye-opening.
“Truly transformational learning is taking place,” says Louise Edwards-Simpson, an oral historian who teaches in St. Kate’s history department. “The collection of oral histories will endure as a digital resource and as an inspiration for generations to come.”