Unruly Catholic Nuns

Sisters' Stories

Edited by Jeana DelRosso, Leigh Eicke, and Ana Kothe

Subjects: Religion, Literature, Fiction, Memoir, Poetry
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438466484, 160 pages, October 2017
Hardcover : 9781438466477, 160 pages, October 2017

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Table of contents

Acknowledgments and Permissions
Introduction: On Unruly Nuns (and the Women Who Admire Them)
Part I. Our Father Wills

The Nun Speaks to Her Church
Julia Rice, OSF

God Shoes
Jeannine Gramick, SL

She, with the Alabaster Jar
Victoria Marie

The Chancery
Jean Molesky-Poz

No One Has Hired Us
Ann Breslin

Pain Cries to a Patriarchal Church
Mary Ellen Rufft, CDP

The Altered Boy

A Pillar of Power

Only a Stone

Crooked Since Birth

Twice-Broken Vows

Bed or Bread?

A Resurrection

Part II. Our Mother Works

Sister Dorothy Stang, Assassinated
Liz Dolan

Unruly Women: Nuns Out of Order
Carole Ganim

Journey to Unruliness
Pat Montley

The Renunciation
Pat Montley

Polishing the Brass
Liz Dolan

Patricia M. Dwyer

I am a Catholic Nun
Sharon Kanis, SSND

Faith in the Wasteland
Christine Schenk, CSJ
Part III. The Holy Spirit Confirms

& The Truth Shall Set U Free
Jane Morrissey, SSJ

Sisters behind Walls
Paula Timpson

Rose Hawthorne Creates
Liz Dolan

When Grief Opens the Doors to the Sacred
Michele Birch-Conery

Notes on Contributors

Explores the voices of current and former Catholic nuns as they share their lived experiences with Catholicism, both in accordance and in conflict with the institutional Church.


Unruly Catholic Nuns explores the voices of current and former Catholic nuns and, by doing so, contributes to the global conversation about the role of women in the Catholic Church today. Through autobiography, fiction, poetry, and prose, Sisters and former nuns write about their lived experiences with Catholicism, both in accordance and in conflict with the institutional Church. Through their stories we learn how these women act out their missions of social justice, challenge cultural and governmental policies, and attempt to reconcile their unruliness with their religious orders and the strictures of the church hierarchy. At a time when questions of gender, religion, race, and sexuality are provoking intense debate within Catholicism and other Christian traditions, and when religion is frequently invoked in political rhetoric, these stories provide a vital corrective to our contemporary understanding of the role of women and nuns in the Roman Catholic Church.

Jeana DelRosso is Professor of English and Women's Studies and Director of the Elizabeth Morrissy Honors Program at Notre Dame of Maryland University. Leigh Eicke is a writer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ana Kothe is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. Together, they are the coeditors of Unruly Catholic Women Writers: Creative Responses to Catholicism, also published by SUNY Press.


"…DelRosso, Eicke, and Kothe, in their introduction, hail the 'intelligent, dedicated, often strategic' maneuverings of sisters pursuing 'the work that God calls them to do.' 'What's unruly about that?' the editors seem to suggest. The book's thought-provoking array of creative writing, unified in substance but varied in topic and expression, invites readers to answer that question in the particular." — Emmanuel

"This book offers rich and complex stories of current and former women religious in the US working for gender, social, and ecological justice." — Reading Religion

"…enlightening." — San Francisco Book Review

"I love this book! I swear I do, for though my Sister-teachers taught me not to swear, they also winked me permission to dare. In Unruly Catholic Nuns, these Sisters are unveiled: we get to hear voices long repressed by a religious hierarchy which relegated them to meek handmaidenship and silent subservience. Many stayed and fought to reform this patriarchy from within; others renounced their vows in order to pursue a more liberating spiritual path. God bless this sassy book for (finally) giving voice to an engaging chorus of lively, spirited storytellers." — Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies and, most recently, Where Do They Go?

"'They want the trappings, you want the marrow.' This line from Ann Breslin's essay in Unruly Catholic Nuns highlights the struggle running throughout these accounts by women fighting to uphold the values of their faith. They are radical, wild, and loving in the face of an unresponsive institution. Through this rich collection of personal reflections, these brave women show themselves to be the beating heart of the Catholic Church." — Sonja Livingston, author of Ghostbread

"Unruly Catholic Nuns would be an important book in any time but at this time it's absolutely vital. We need models of daring women compelled to speak and live their truths. Unruly Catholic Nuns is a hand at my back saying, 'Yes, you can do the work you're called to do; against all odds, I have.' This is a book for those who follow the faith and those who don't because within these pages we can all find courage, determination and wisdom. At a time when women's strength and leadership is going to be imperative, here are stories to gain strength from, to help us move forward in both small ways and big." — Patrice Vecchione, author of Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life