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Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America Paperback – January 19, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0312325961 ISBN-10: 0312325967 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition edition (January 19, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312325967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312325961
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #361,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Wall Street Journal reporter Fialka set out to tell the story of America's Catholic nuns, he knew he faced a daunting challenge. Church histories contained little about the women he calls "America's first feminists," though they built 800 hospitals and more than 10,000 private schools. Since doing them justice would require volumes, Fialka decided to use one large order, the Sisters of Mercy, as a model, mentioning some of the other 400 communities where appropriate. The approach makes for a well-told history of these remarkable women from the time of their arrival in America in 1790 to the present, when their numbers have dwindled considerably. Fialka's account is rich with anecdotes, many told by the sisters themselves; however, his reporting makes this more than a sentimental history. The author ferrets out statistics and interviews experts to find out why these women have begun to disappear from Catholic life. In his look toward a seemingly bleak future, he includes several hopeful notes, including a chapter about a community in Nashville that is flourishing with its traditional approach to religious life. The product of a Catholic school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Fialka sprinkles his account with personal recollections and writes sympathetically of a group that often has been maligned and caricatured. Nuns will appreciate his treatment of their lives, as will Catholics pondering a church with diminishing numbers of the women who helped shape it.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

This fascinating study provides an overview of the enormous contribution Catholic nuns have made to the American educational, social, and cultural landscape. Although much has been written about the men that helped to shape the structure of the American Catholic Church, Fialka argues that it was women in general, and the nuns in particular, who were primarily responsible for extending the faith through hard work and practical means. Dubbing nuns "America's first feminists," he chronicles their journey westward, establishing a host of parochial schools, hospitals, and charitable institutions across a boisterous and wide-ranging frontier. In addition to educating and nursing several generations of Americans, the various orders of sisters also represented the first organized groups of women who operated and, in a limited sense, competed in a man's world. A spiritual vocation as well as an opportunity for personal fulfillment, the sisterhood offered a viable option for both pious and independent females. This engrossing glance backward at a rapidly disappearing breed of American churchwoman will appeal to both social historians and baby boomers educated by Catholic nuns. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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I thought Fialka did a wonderful job of reporting.
nancy hursh
Some of the work done by the Dominican Sisters of Nashville and the Oblate Sisters of Providence is wonderful.
Monica K. Van Ness
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book as much as I enjoyed learning what it had to tell me.
Diana

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Raymond G. Meyers on March 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Boy, if this isn't an eye-opener! Not a particularly scholarly treatise (thank God), the book nonetheless chronicles well the incredible story of the impact on our American history and way of life "the Sisters" have had. Living in the "heyday" of the 50's - early 60's, and having had the blessings of a parochial education, I was not only mesmerized by Fialka's exploration of the scope and breadth and depth of the impact nuns in America have had, but deeply saddened to get a fuller sense of the decline of this influence in our society. I'm no feminist, but if any women in our history deserve greater recognition and honor for what they contributed to our lives it's these women. Fialka's narrative bounces around a little, but he keeps you focused on the mostly selfless dedication many of these Sisters lived by. The stereotypical nun whacking your knuckles with a ruler obscures the realities Fialka chronicles in case after case of the love and devotion so many of these Sisters lavished on their students (or patients). His discussion of the causes of the decline of the Sisters as a force in our society cites numerous influences, not least of which were the upheavals in all corners of our social fabric in the mid-late-sixties, nor the disruption (my word) of the "Catholic eco-system" resulting from so much misguided interpretations of Vatican II doctrine. Good book. Read it, revel in your memories, and weep for its demise -- America's great loss.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Monica K. Van Ness on January 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America is an
overview of the influence and contributions of nuns in the
vast American land. There are a few statistics, some
interviews, and a great deal of history. History can be
a very slow read. It can be to dense to wade through.
But Fialka does a great job of presenting history in a
way that is not only interesting, but also enjoyable to
read. The only sad part, of course, comes in the latter
part of the book when he writes of the decline of so
many of the sisterhoods. Some of the decline was fast and
intense, some has been slower - but all of it seems to
be painful. There are a few glimmers of hope, though.
Some of the work done by the Dominican Sisters of Nashville
and the Oblate Sisters of Providence is wonderful.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Diana on November 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
By the time I entered a Catholic elementary school in 1980, only one elderly sister was rumored to be residing in the church's convent. Two years later, the building was used for storage and our music room. Today, daily obituaries show how accomplished many of these women were - receiving an education that would have been unheard of for most women in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. It was not until I read this book that I really understood just how important these brave women -- and in many cases, young girls -- were in the development of this country, the nursing of its sick, and the education of its youth. This book skillfully explained the complex reasons for the sudden demise and division in the sisterhood today. Even the non-Catholic will be moved to feel concern for aging nuns and gratitude for their efforts. This book also offered a glimmer of hope as it investigated the growth of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book as much as I enjoyed learning what it had to tell me.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lucy Allen on July 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Sisters" is a comprehensive look at how Catholic sistes contributed to the development and growth of the United States of America. From hospitals, to schools to homes of refuge for prostitutes, one can see that Catholic sisters are a fearless cadre of determined women who work long hours, sacrifice much and give without counting the cost. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learning about the Sisters of Mercy in particular, and what it means to be a religious in general. Even the famous Mayo Clinic had its beginning with a Catholic nun, Sr. Roberta, who encouraged Dr. Mayo to create a world-class clinic in the middle of nowhere. He was skeptical, but she was sure she had a mandate from God. Thank you Sr. Roberta for encouraging the Mayo family in this regard.

I felt thankful to all of the sisters who had worked diligently in the Catholic schools I attended as a child and I am glad that Mr. Fialka wrote this book to give nuns recognition which they neither desire or expect, but certainly deserve.

It should be a part of our American history curriculum.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. Placzek on January 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The old saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" is certainly appropriate with this one. I assumed that it would chronicle the history of all the major orders of nuns but it doesn't. This is a great book sharing with the readers the history of the Religious Sisters of Mercy from its founding to the present. To be honest, the author does include a few anecdotes concerning sisters from other religious orders that make this book even a better read. Being a Traditionalist in the Catholic Church, I didn't spend too much time on the chapters concerning the Vatican II and post Vatican II periods except the parts dealing with the Orders self-demolition. The RSMs liberation from the yoke of the Roman Church cost them dearly and it was the very elderly nuns who paid the price! It probably won't be too many more years until they die out. That is too bad for the wonderful group of nuns that I remember from St. Peters School in Omaha, NE.
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