Nun Stories

Nun Stories

Inside the ambitious project to capture 150 oral histories of women religious

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.”

Mary Mark Mahoney, CSJ and St. Kate's student Jennifer Parlin. Photo by Rebecca Zenefski '10.

WATCH the first set of oral histories by St. Kate’s students:

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