When one pictures a nun in this day and age, what is it that comes to mind? Personally, I start envisioning Julie Andrews running around on mountain tops, but when I googled pictures of nuns I saw a range of awkward Halloween costumes and cartoon women in habits, looking stern and holding rulers. The latter is what I think the majority of people see in their mind’s eye, Catholic schools where nuns taught strictly. I say ‘taught’, like they are gone now because, for most people, nuns seem like a thing of the past. But here’s the deal, nuns still exist and they do a ton of different things.
It was through my Histories of Reading, Writing, and Publishing: Medieval Women’s Literacies course led by Dr. Virginia Blanton (Department of English) that that I was drawn to start a service learning project instead of writing a regular paper. With my enthusiasm for the monastic life she guided me to go to Atchison, Kansas for a weekend trip to the Mount St. Scholastica’s convent. There I found that these nuns hold a wide range jobs from being nurses, to artisans, to even being college professors. They wear regular clothing and act like regular people. This is where I really got to thinking about the place of nuns in our modern society.
It makes sense that nuns would be professors; nunneries were a key place to send your daughters in the past if you wanted them to be well educated so nuns should be well educated and good teachers if they are to uphold their traditions. Even though I see the connection when I stand back, it still seemed surreal while inside Mount St. Scholastica’s.
I wanted to know more. Dr. Blanton informed me that Atchison had a mission located in Kansas City called the Keeler Women’s Center so I visited there next. These nuns are as modern-day as it gets. They lead a center to help and educate urban women stuck in poverty and they are busy people. With the help of volunteers, they see a hundred different women each week and try to feed their needs in all areas of life. From offering classes in parenting, teaching people how to read, to introducing them to popular women advocates they cover more life skills than most people are ever exposed to.
After seeing all of this I was drawn in further. Asking the director of the Keeler Center, Sister Carol Ann Petersen, what it was that I could do to help led her to show me their bookcase. For a center that teaches literacy, they are in great need of things to read. When she presented me their two sad shelves of dusty books (most of which are saints’ lives or stories about nuns) we decided that they could use a few more books.
I encourage you to go home and look through your shelves, in case there is something there that you can part with. Giving up a book or two can take you five seconds yet make a life time of difference to these women. They are looking for anything: children’s books for daycare, easy adult reading for their women just learning to read and then books of general interest for the variety of people they see every day. As for me, I’ve been upsetting Isabella, my daily book guardian who did not want to get up off of my bookcase at any point this week. Regardless of cat problems, I was able to score a stack of books, including Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, and Leo Tolstoy, which I am contributing. Please do join me in donating to the Keeler Women’s Center. You can do this by either contacting me: firstname.lastname@example.org , contacting the Keeler Women’s Center: email@example.com , or by simply dropping your books in the book-drive box that has been placed in our own, UMKC Women’s Center located on the first floor of Haag Hall. Give a little, give a lot, give what you can from Monday, March 12th through Friday, March 23rd.
A special thanks to Sarina for initiating the book drive and sharing her post with us! For more information about the book drive please contact the UMKC Women & Gender Studies Program or the UMKC Women’s Center