Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America

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Fact Sheet

"Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America" was a traveling exhibition depicting the innovative, action-oriented women whose passion for justice helped shape our nation’s social and cultural landscape. Since first arriving in America nearly 300 years ago, sisters built schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, and many other enduring social institutions. As nurses, teachers, and social workers, sisters entered professional ranks decades earlier than most other women and established landmark institutions that continue to serve millions of Americans from all walks of life. The untold story of these unsung heroes was recounted, documenting a vital and significant perspective of American history.


  • Sponsored by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in Association with Cincinnati Museum Center, Ohio.
  • Original concept design by Bob Weis Design Island developed and produced by Seruto & Company.
  • Premiered May 16, 2009 at Cincinnati Museum Center, Ohio
  • September 25 –December 13, 2009: The Women’s Museum in Dallas, Texas
  • January 15 – April 25, 2010: The S. Dillon Ripley Gallery at the Smithsonian, Washington, DC
  • May 9 – August 29, 2010: The Maltz Museum of Jewish History in Cleveland, Ohio
  • September 24, 2010 – January 22, 2011: Ellis Island, New York
  • February 18, 2011 – May 22, 2011: The Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Mississippi
  • June 17 – August 14, 2011: Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, California
  • September 2 – December 31, 2011: Center for History in South Bend, Indiana
  • January 24 – June 3, 2012: The California Museum in Sacramento, California
  • The 3000 square foot exhibit was modular and could expand to 6000 square feet.
  • Featured 70 artifacts from over 400 sister communities including a letter from Thomas Jefferson assuring religious freedom following the Louisiana Purchase, a custom fluting machine for the habits, a Three-Key Box known as a Common Safe used by the sisters to manage their finances, and a medical bag used by the sisters as they nursed both sides during the Civil War.
  • Media components included an introductory video projection experience, oral history listening stations, interactives, and films, which showcase historical footage.
  • Supporting educational materials for grades 1 through 12 available at www.womenandspirit.org.


  • The St. Joseph infant incubator was developed by Sr. Pulcheria Wuellner
  • The first medical license given to a woman in New Mexico was Sr. Mary de Sales Leheney.
  • In 2005, approximately one in six hospital patients in the U.S. were treated in a Catholic facility.
  • During the Civil War, the Sisters of the Holy Cross staffed the first U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USS Red Rover.
  • More than 600 sisters from twenty-one different religious communities nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers alike during the Civil War.
  • In the founding days of Alcoholics Anonymous, Sister Ignatia Gavin of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine successfully advocated that alcoholism should be treated as a medical condition.
  • Catholic sisters established the nation’s largest private school system, educating millions of young Americans.
  • More than 110 U.S. colleges and universities were founded by Catholic sisters.
  • Since 1980, at least nine American sisters have been martyred while working for social justice and human rights overseas.
  • Since 1995, numerous congregations have participated as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the United Nations, focusing on global issues such as climate change, human trafficking, and poverty


"Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America" was organized by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an association of leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. LCWR represents about 95 percent of the women religious in the United States. www.lcwr.org

To ensure that Women & Spirit fulfilled expectations of museum visitors and academics alike, LCWR had assembled an expert advisory panel of scholars, historians, and museum and design professionals. These advisors continued to be consulted on current scholarship, bibliography, and historical accuracy throughout the design development process. In addition, LCWR has assembled a committee of sister leaders to oversee and administer the exhibit.


Seruto & Company (S&C) directs all phases of the creation and implementation of exhibitions and attractions. S&C is known for developing high quality experiences while holding to budget and schedule. As producers and project managers, S&C orchestrates complex teams and processes and finds the right resources to bring projects to fruition.

For AEG S&C directed design and production for the touring exhibitions “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” and “America I Am: The African American Imprint.” For Bob Weis Design Island they produced and managed “CSI: The Experience,” and “Top of the Rock.”  www.seruto.com

Media Contacts:

Annmarie Sanders
LCWR Director of Communications