Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America Reveals Untold Stories

Cleveland, Ohio (March 3, 2010) – A stunning chronicle of the brave and innovative women who played a significant role in shaping our nation, Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America reveals the remarkable story of pioneering women who established schools, hospitals and other enduring institutions and continue to work for peace and social justice. A limited engagement at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage directly follows a successful appearance at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

First arriving on America’s shores almost 300 years ago, Catholic sisters built and led schools, hospitals, orphanages, colleges, and other social institutions at a time when women had few professional opportunities. This fascinating compilation of first-person accounts, rare artifacts, compelling films and important photographs reveals a new perspective on American history, and includes stories with special significance in this region.

Women & Spirit is a project of The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center. It comes to Cleveland through the generosity of lead sponsors Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, Notre Dame College, PNC and Ursuline College/Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland, with support from The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Cleveland Foundation, Marymount Hospital/Cleveland Clinic, the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, The John P. Murphy Foundation, the Samuel H. and Maria Miller Foundation, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, and The Thomas and Sandra Sullivan Family.

“This intriguing look at how Catholic women contributed to our country and culture fits perfectly with the Museum’s focus on diversity and tolerance and our key themes,” notes Judi Feniger, Maltz Museum Executive Director.  “There are many parallels to the role of Jewish women in shaping our society, here and nationally, and shared experiences – the challenges and rewards of immigration to America, how our nation’s cities and bedrock institutions were built, the lingering effects of prejudice and discrimination, the importance of collaboration, and how one person or group can change the world”.

In Cleveland, Women & Spirit will include locally-created material that tells the story of Women Religious in Northeast Ohio. With more than a dozen congregations headquartered in the region, and numerous sister-sponsored hospitals, colleges, schools, and outreach organizations, this uplifting perspective on our civic life is sponsored by a regional collaborative organization of religious orders.

The national exhibition includes stories of two area sisters. Sr. Ignatia Gavin, CSA worked with Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Dr. Bob Smith to open the nation’s first hospital-based program for alcoholics at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio.  She later opened a similar program in Cleveland: Rosary Hall at St. Vincent Charity Hospital.  Sr. Dorothy Kazel, OSU, born in Cleveland to Lithuanian-American parents, taught here before joining the Diocese of Cleveland and going to El Salvador, providing relief services, education and work with refugees before her murder (along with three Maryknoll sisters) by members of the El Salvadoran National Guard. For the first time in Salvadoran history, members of the military were found guilty of assassination and sentenced to prison.

A season-long offering of provocative programs, performances and lectures at the Museum and around town, and a film by Steven Hacker, Women with Spirit, created exclusively for the Maltz Museum, add an interreligious approach, highlighting the role of spirituality in the lives and work of area women of various faiths.

Docent-led tours are available daily for adult and student groups of ten or more, with discounts for groups of 15+. Reservations are required for group tours. The Museum Store, open whenever the Museum is, will carry Women & Spirit note cards and bookmarks, related merchandise, and offers free gift wrapping. Parking adjacent to the Museum is free, and includes close-in handicapped spaces. Wheelchairs are available by advance reservation. The Museum is available for a range of private events with exclusive viewing of the exhibition, details and pricing on request.