Developing a critical consciousness of authority while following the call of vocation:  A study of lessons learned from the women of the Immaculate Heart Community:

Immaculate Heart

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How do eight former Catholic nuns who are members of a traditional canonical religious community for women and who work within the patriarchal/ecclesiastical structures of the Catholic Church develop a critical consciousness of authority while pursuing the call of vocation to religious life? This study examines 4 facets of this question. First, this study focuses on patriarchy and genderism as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. Second, it focuses on some of the ways women develop a strong sense of self and agency given the realities of patriarchal tenets and traditional structures of authority. Third, it is interested in learning how women receive and construct knowledge. Fourth, it looks with a discerning eye to retrieve and preserve critical moments of history when women successfully resisted gender oppression and injustice.

This study, which takes advantage of the traditions and methodologies provided within the evolving frameworks of depth and liberation psychology, including a feminist orientation towards research, is divided into two phases: conducting 8 individual interviews to gather the participants’ oral histories and a modified critical hermeneutical participatory group process that brought together participants and members of a Witness Council in a 4-hour dialogical format.

This study answers its primary research questions by providing insight into the nternal and external factors that inspired 8 former Catholic nuns to challenge the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, to choose to surrender their canonical status within the Church, and to form a lay ecumenical community for Catholic-Christian women and men. The participants’ negotiation of these historical encounters required shifts in their attitudes and beliefs about women’s authority within patriarchal, hierarchical, and ecclesiastical systems.

Following the results, the author applies theoretical constructs to the research findings. From depth-liberation psychology, the author interprets the results through Freirian theories of conscientization and the ontological call of humanization. Through the lens of psychoanalytical social theory, the author places the models of Julia Kristeva and Kelly Oliver in dialogue with the participants’ experiences.



Original illustration created by Patricia L. Caspary