Women and Spirit Exhibit,
September 22, 2020
Remarks by Mary Hughes, OP~Presdient of LCWR
This afternoon I am both honored and privileged to welcome you to the opening of the LCWR Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America exhibit. It is very significant that this exhibit is opening here on Ellis Island. We stand in the company of the spirits of the thousands upon thousands of immigrants who entered the United States through this building. They were all seekers. They fled poverty, oppression, religious persecution, and famine. It took courage to leave country, family, and relationships behind. There were, I am sure, many tears and more than a little fear. There was also great hope and there were extraordinary dreams. The United States was a place of freedom and of possibility. With sacrifice and hard work anyone could create a better future.
Today, while immersed in these immigrant stories, we add the stories of Catholic Sisters. Many of these Sisters knew the immigrant experience themselves. These are women who, at some point in their lives, became aware that God had laid claim to their hearts and set into blaze a love and concern for all whom God had created. In those early years, not many of these women had advanced degrees. They had little by way of resources and often suffered the pangs of hunger and the extremes of heat and cold. With the gospel as their guide they moved beyond a preoccupation with themselves to respond with grace and courage to the many needs of the people they met. As you will note as you travel through this exhibit, there seemed to be nothing off limits as they sought to be of service. They possessed an audacity and strength of commitment that propelled them beyond existing gender roles and expectations.
Moved by the suffering of those who went to war, they went into battlefields to minister to the soldiers on both sides. As various immigrants found their children were denied education, the Sisters came to educate them. Disease and poverty ravaged families. The Sister cared for children when their parents died or were too poor to feed them. They founded hospitals and clinics to be places of healing. They looked for those pockets where there was no one to care for the poor, and they went. They followed the masses in the gold rush, realizing not everyone would have their dreams fulfilled. As seekers of justice Sisters were active in the Civil Rights movement. They advocated and provided for the education of women. Their intelligence and ingenuity enabled them to develop creative responses to human needs. There seemed to be no end to the ways in which they invested themselves.
In this exhibit you will see and I daresay experience some of the ways in which the lives of those who sought to sink roots in this country and the lives of the Catholic Sisters—Women of Spirit—intersected. For the Sisters also there were, I am sure, many tears and more than a little fear. There was also great hope and extraordinary dreams. Each—the immigrant and the Sister--was graced by the experience of the other. Faith flourished.
Why did they do what they did? As you travel with them through this exhibit you will hear or read some of their words. You will also listen to the testimony of women who currently immerse themselves in the spiritual and social needs of today. This is a story that continues.
The LCWR is proud to offer you this glimpse into our lives and into our history.
On a personal note, I have always felt great pride that I am a Sister of St. Dominic and I hold a deep sense of gratitude that God laid claim to my heart and brought me into the company of the holy women with whom I share life. When I saw this exhibit at its opening at the Smithsonian, I was overwhelmed by God’s goodness that I have been called to be in the company of this even larger group of gifted and generous women, each manifesting a variety of charisms, each seeking to respond to the needs of the people of God, each rooted in the gospel and following the example of Jesus Christ.
Welcome into just this little bit of this world of Catholic Sisters.