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Marymount Students Record Oral Histories of Nuns


TARRYTOWN, N.Y. � To better understand how the Second Vatican Council and its outcomes were interpreted and incorporated by Catholics, students at Marymount College of Fordham University have begun recording the oral histories of women from a variety of religious orders across the United States as part of a seminal research project organized by Patrick Hayes, Ph.D., a visiting assistant professor of theology at Marymount.

Hayes started The Vatican II Remembrance Project: Voices of Women Re-ligious last fall to help students in his Faith and Critical Reasoning classes gain a better understanding of the Council, whose purpose was a spiritual renewal of the church and a reconsideration of its position in the modern world. Hayes called the Council �the most important religious event in the 20th century� and hoped the project would �transmit both church and faith to future generations.�

So far, the students have interviewed 30 women religious about life before, during and after the Council. Nuns from Tarrytown, N.Y., Yardley, Pa., St. Paul, Minn., Denver, Colo., and as far away as Los Angeles, Calif., among other locations, have participated.

Hayes� initial findings from the testimonies show that many of the women felt that they did not receive adequate information about the changes the Council initiated and how to implement them. Many attributed the lack of information to poor communications at the time within their orders (many did not have a television and received only one copy of their diocesan newspaper to share among all members) and a full workload. The women who reported receiving sufficient information were more likely to have a more positive outlook on the Council�s initiatives and were better prepared to address changes within their own orders.

�The testimony is fascinating because the Council�s documents are only as valuable as people make them out to be,� said Hayes. �If they�re not understood or are interpreted in ways the Council Fathers felt they shouldn�t be interpreted, that says something significant.�

The experience has been equally rewarding for students. For many, the interviews were their first interaction with a nun. Sophomore Latoya Toney, who described herself as a nondenominational Christian, said she participated so that she could learn more about the Catholic faith. �There was always a view in my head that Catholics looked only at one perspective,� she said. �This experience opened my eyes.� Toney interviewed Sister Bernadette Sullivan, S.F.P., from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Professor Hayes recently presented the 30 testimonials to the William D. Walsh Family Library at Fordham University�s Rose Hill campus, where they will be preserved in the archives for future research and analysis.

The project will resume in the fall, Hayes said, when students will focus on in-person interviews with nuns around the New York region. He and a group of students will also present their initial findings at the Oral History Association meeting in Providence, R.I., Nov. 2 to 6, 2005.


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