Inquiry into the place of intellectual life among communities of women religious

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Wednesday, August 15, 1990
End Date: 
Tuesday, December 15, 1992

This study arose from a discussion, initiated in 1988 by Jeanne Knoerle, S.P., concerning the place of the intellectual life among women religious. The original working assumption was that since Vatican II congregations of women religious had lost their earlier focus on the development of the life of the mind. The participants in these discussions Mary Collins, O.S.B., Alice Gallin, O.S.U., Margaret Mary Kelleher, O.S.U., Carolyn Kessler, S.P., Jeanne Knoerle, S.P., Mary Oates, C.S.J., Bridget Puzon, O.S.U., Katarina Schuth, O.S.F., Angelice Seibert, O.S.U., and Alexa Suelzer, S.P. set out to test this assumption by determining the value that communities of women religious had placed on intellectual life in the past and comparing present-day attitudes held by these communities. The "Brookland Commission," as they soon came to call themselves, was convinced that significant and not altogether beneficial changes in attitude towards intellectual matters were altering the identities and ministries of women religious in ways that they neither fully understood nor had consciously chosen. In the past women religious made a critical contribution to American culture through education; entering other forms of ministry since the 1960s, there has been a diminishing emphasis on the life of the mind within these communities themselves. Much of this change in priority and mentality has occurred slowly and unintentionally; indeed, the commission was convinced that women religious were insufficiently self-critical about these changes and their consequences. They found evidence that the very capacity for critical reflection on these matters was being weakened by the decreasing value put on intellectual work. As religious life continues to evolve into the twenty-first century, women religious will need to recapture a vision of the intellectual life and renew their capacity for critical reflection if they hope to intentionally intervene in the processes affecting their own development. To that end, papers were commissioned on the definition of intellectual and religious life, on the value that had been traditionally accorded intellectual work among congregations, on the cultural and historical forces that had affected the esteem in which it is held, and on the current attitudes held toward the life of the mind among communities of Catholic women religious. Several of the papers were theoretical in nature, but the commission also sponsored a nationwide survey of more than one thousand major superiors and selected members of religious communities, as well as personal interviews with fifty women religious from four different congregations. A statistical study of women religious who have earned doctoral degrees since 1907, and a survey of women currently pursuing the Ph.D., was also carried out.