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“In the world but not of it”: Adrian Dominican Sisters Negotiating Modernity Through The Body, 1933-39


In her first letter to the community as Mother General, Mother Mary Gerald Barry of the Adrian Dominicans in southeast Michigan instructed Sisters to put God in the center of their lives and pray for others. Pray for patience, she instructed. Be a joy to your Community now and always. See that you have the right disposition; that you are a real Dominican; …It is not so much what we do but the spirit in which we do it that marks us as religious.1 To be “religious” meant to be a part of a religious order, a person professed to a life in the service of God and the Church- the opposite of which was “worldly.” She concluded her advice to the Sisters with “We are in the world but not of it” a frequently used phrase to remind Sisters of the place they occupied as Catholic women religious- inside but not attached to a mainstream “world” of material objects and ideas incongruent to Church doctrine. To be “in the world but not of it” spoke of a requirement for all Sisters2 set by the Church before Vatican II.3 They must live in two environments simultaneously- the larger world of schools, hospitals, and retirement communities where they served and the convent, built on rules from the Middle Ages, where they lived. The measuring stick by which they were judged to have the “right disposition” and be “imbued” with religious spirit existed within the signals given off from their well-trained bodies.

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