"Nuns in the Newsroom: The Sisters of Marillac College and U.S. Sisters' Involvement in Social Justice Reform" is a senior honors history thesis project. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was guided by the spirit of aggiornamento, or “a bringing up to date” of the Catholic Church. As a result of Vatican II documents such as Gaudium et Spes, they influenced U.S. sisters to expand their ministry from performing works of mercy to advocating for legal, economic, and social justice in addition to their charitable endeavors. However, after doing research at the Daughters of Charity Archives in Emmitsburg, Maryland and looking at newspaper articles written by sister students at Marillac College, a Sister Formation college founded by the Daughters of Charity outside of St. Louis, Missouri that served young sisters from over twenty-five different orders, even before Vatican II convened, some religious sisters had already begun criticizing unjust systems and speaking about the need for social and economic justice. While many secondary sources and oral histories only highlight sisters’ involvement during and after Vatican II, the sister students at Marillac College, were in retrospect, ahead of the times in their engagement with racial injustice, immigrants’ rights, and education, rehabilitation, and housing services for homeless populations.
The first chapter of this thesis, “Sisters’ New Focus on Education and Influences on Sisters’ Interest in Social Justice,” will look at the influences of Cardinal Joseph Ritter, archbishop of St. Louis, Sister Bertrande Meyers, the first dean of Marillac College, and the Marillac curriculum, and how they inspired the sister students' writings to shed light on an expansion beyond charitable work to advocacy for systemic change before Vatican II came to a close in 1965. Chapter Two, “Marillac College Students: Their Discussion and Awareness of Current Issues,” will specifically address the articles that the sister students wrote in the Marillac College Forum and how their articles give insight into what the Midwestern sister students were thinking about and discussing with their peers both before and during the time the Second Vatican Council convened with particular focus on the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War crisis. Finally, the third chapter, “U.S. Sisters on the Frontlines of Social Justice,” will study the oral histories from Carole Rogers’ book, Habits of Change: An Oral History of American Nuns which includes the memoirs of sisters from different orders in the U.S. serving the underserved, and how the spirit of aggiornamento motivated the U.S. sisters to continue to use their special gifts to help the underserved populations. Also, this chapter will include an oral history from an interview with Marillac College alumnae Sister Julie Cutter, D.C., and how the environment at Marillac College and her interest in helping Guatemalan refugees inspired her to leave the classroom and take part in social justice action. This thesis will highlight the sister students of Marillac College allowing the reader to gain a better understanding of the reform in the sisters’ education during the mid-twentieth century. It will further illustrate how the Marillac curriculum helped to expose them to the outside world. Finally, the reader will conclude that the sisters were capable of advocating for social and economic change in addition to performing charity work and teaching in a classroom setting.