“The Nun in the World” symposium gets underway this Thursday at the London Global Gateway

Author: Heather Gary


More than 125 participants from 10 countries will take attend a symposium titled “The Nun in the World: Catholic Sisters & Vatican II,” which runs from May 7-9 at the University of Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway.

The conference takes its name from the 1962 book The Nun in the World: New Dimensions in the Modern Apostolate by Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens of Belgium. In it, Suenens surveyed the contemporary world and women’s role in it, and then considered how to synchronize the life and work of women religious with the current reality. Suenens’ encouragement for renewal gained momentum as his ideas were incorporated into conciliar and post-conciliar decrees on religious life and as each community of women religious reflected on their founder’s original mission and charism. By returning to their original sources, sisters around the world reached new—or renewed—understandings of everything from their formation, ministry, and prayer to their institutional governance and dress.

“Catholic women religious were at the epicenter of both religious and secular transformations during the 1960s and ’70s,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and associate professor in the Department of American Studies. “The principal goal of the symposium is reach a clearer understanding of how women religious made sense of the changes in religious life, and how local and global circumstances shaped the lives of women religious within and across congregations.”

The Cushwa Center is sponsoring the symposium with support from Notre Dame International (NDI) and the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University. NDI awarded Cummings a grant through its Global Collaboration Initiative, and she collaborated with fellow historians Alana Harris at Oxford Brookes University and Carmen Mangion at Birkbeck, University of London to organize the event. 

“Over the last several years, a key aim of the Cushwa Center has been to situate the study of U.S. Catholicism in a broader international context,” said Cummings. “Our recent projects have included studies of the ‘lived history’ of Vatican II—how the council was experienced in selected dioceses around the globe—and a seminar to highlight Roman sources for U.S. Catholic history. The Nun in the World symposium follows in the same vein, providing a closer look at an exhilarating, challenging, and transformative time for women religious around the globe.”

Keynote speakers include Anne O’Brien, University of New South Wales; Susan O’Brien, University of Cambridge; Linda Woodhead M.B.E., Lancaster University; and Gemma Simmonds, C.J., Heythrop College, University of London.

Scholars on 12 panels will present focused studies of the experience of sisters in such disparate sites as cloistered communities in Australia and activist outposts in Central America. The experience of European and American women at mission sites in Africa and Asia are the topic of several studies, while other studies focus on African sisters’ experiences as they immigrated to the global north.

On Saturday, the final day of the symposium, sessions are devoted to the Religious Life Vitality Project, a multi-year project that has examined the current and future landscape of women’s religious life.

Learn More>>

Symposium Information

Nun In the World Symposium Schedule (PDF)

University of Notre Dame's London Global Gateway

NDI Global Collaboration Initiative

The Nun in the World by Cardinal Suenens (PDF)