The congenial staffer at the Dubuque Tourist Center dismissed the “Women & Spirit” exhibit as a “Catholic” thing. Though he was an absolute delight, he was a bit off on this one. The exhibit did feature women religious in the US but it was definitely not a “Catholic” thing. It is a story of the strong women who led the charge for health care, education, particularly education of women, , care of the poor and children in need.
The exhibit in Dubuque is extraordinary because of its focus on the work of women religious along the upper Mississippi. Minnesotans have known the influence of the Sisters in many ways – St. Catherine University being perhaps the most visible with the network of health care providers as part of and the result of that enterprise.
Though history suggests that the exhibit should be coming to the Twin Cities there was a lack of local support. Still, Minnesota religious have had a major hand in compiling and articulating the story. Karen Kennelly, CSJ has been an intellectual force in exploring the depths of the elusive research . The archives of the Sisters of St. Joseph and other Minnesota religious communities have been tapped for precious stories. The stories of other women religious in Minnesota are embodied here – the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Franciscans of Little Falls and Rochester, the famed Benedictines of St. Joseph, Minnesota and many other communities of women religious can be seen in the panels and videos that represent a powerful story.
The exhibit in Dubuque closes May 22 when it moves on to the West Coast. It has already visited Ellis Island and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The web presence, Women&Spirit, is well worth exploring – not just to learn about the Sisters but to know more about the impact of strong women on our institutions and our communities.