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National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and Clarke University to Bring ‘Women & Spirit’ Exhibit to Dubuque

posted on September 2, 2010

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and Clarke University are pleased to announce that “Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America,” a traveling exhibition featuring the untold stories of the innovative, action-oriented women who played such a significant role in shaping the nation’s social and cultural landscape, will make its way to the museum from February 18-May 22. 

Locally, the major exhibit is sponsored by Conlon Construction. Nationally, “Women & Spirit” is a project of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which is touring the exhibition. LCWR is an association of leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The organization represents about 90 percent of the women religious in the United States.

“Throughout history, women religious have been known as strong leaders with an amazing ability to affect positive change in our nation,” said Clarke President Joanne M. Burrows, SC, Ph.D. “As a Catholic institution, our sponsorship of this national exhibit allows us to honor the legacy of the Sisters and their historical and present-day impact on our region of the country.”

This historic exhibit is a milestone compilation of artifacts and multi-media presentations revealing a new perspective of American history with many inspiring stories. It tells the story of the Sisters of Charity who nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. And, the story of Mother Alfred Moes, founder of the Rochester Franciscans, who built St. Mary’s Hospital, and convinced Dr. William Worrall Mayo and his sons to staff it.  That "partnership" was the beginnings of The Mayo Clinic. There is also the story of Sister Ignatia Gavin, the “angel” of Alcoholics Anonymous, who was instrumental in the designation of alcoholism as a disease.

“As a Smithsonian affiliate, we are pleased to bring such a powerful, high-caliber national exhibit to the Dubuque area,” said Jerry Enzler, executive director of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and the Dubuque County Historical Society. “This exhibit continues to broaden the many ways in which we bring historical perspective to those in the Dubuque area and the entire Midwest.”

As part of the national exhibit, regional congregations of Sisters will present a local history component that highlights the roots of their individual congregation – each of which has a significant connection between its mission and the Mississippi River. They will also present information on their contemporary ministries.

First arriving on America’s shores almost 300 years ago, Catholic sisters altruistically built and led schools, hospitals, orphanages, colleges and other social institutions that have continued to serve millions of Americans in the intervening years.  Remarkably, they created these enduring institutions at a time when most women had few, if any, professional opportunities.

“Few people are aware of the tales of the brave women who came to this country to help immigrants assimilate into the fabric of America,” said Jane Burke, SSND, executive director of LCWR. “Their heroic presence during many of the formative periods of our nation is an important part of American history and the legacy of the Sisters.”

Exhibit visitors of all ages will discover the pivotal presence of these very self-determined women at many of our nation’s dramatic turning points from the Civil War, the Depression and the Civil Rights Movement, through Hurricane Katrina.  The untold stories of these unsung heroes will be recounted through rare, heretofore unseen artifacts, vivid first-person accounts, photographs, and both modern and archival video.

Over the past several years, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has researched the history and worked with communities of Sisters to catalog significant artifacts. The exhibit was conceived by Bob Weis Design Island and produced by Seruto & Company.

The Museum & Aquarium has received a grant award from Humanities Iowa, a state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the City of Dubuque Arts and Culture grant program in support of the Women & Spirit exhibit.

For ticket information, contact the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

Media requesting more information should contact John Sutter from the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium at (563)557-9545 or Mike Cyze from Clarke University at (563)588-6318.

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