“A Gentle Whirlwind”: The Mundelein Graduate Program in Religious Studies

My Ramonat project was on the Graduate program for Religious studies at Mundelein College. The program came about during a time of great reform for Sisters and women in general. The 60’s would see the rise of the women’s movements and most important to my subject, Vatican II. The second Vatican council is often credited as the catalyst for women religious taking on more outspoken and visible roles in the church. The habit was gone and convents were no longer mandatory. The Church after Vatican II was one of action, that wanted to connect with the modern world. However, what I found was that women reformed their own roles in the Church. Post Vatican II, women took the works that came from the council and interpreted them in ways that allowed for more opportunities for women. At Mundelein, this meant that the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, BVMs, could begin an undergraduate major and then an entire graduate program.

The Mundelein Graduate Program of Religious studies was began by Sr. Carol Frances Jegen, who was one of the first sisters to receive a masters in theology. Carol Frances received her Masters from Marquette and hoped to give the same opportunity to her students.As well, Mundelein wanted to build a program for women and by women. Therefore, the faculty and masterminds behind the program were mostly women. Other women’s theology programs relied on men to teach the course, but Mundelein would be different. The program centered around giving students a diverse and challenging experience; an experience that equaled what was offered at all male Catholic Colleges. Carol Frances Jegen succeeded in this dream, Mundelein graduated a number of women who would go on to be professors of theology or be a part of ministry. It is thanks to Mundelein that they had that opportunity.


“Kill [my]… darlings”

We got our papers back about a week ago and I was kind of terrified to open the pdf Amelia sent. I was not confident in the paper I sent in. I knew it could have been better; it wasn’t my best. Writing the first draft was so exhausting that I felt I had nothing left to give the project. Somehow, I gathered up the courage to click the attachment file and look through it. It wasn’t too bad. A lot of what I needed to change I knew I’d be called out on. Plus, the smiley faces Amelia put in the margins softened any wounded pride. Of course this was not my revised papers final form. When I met with Amelia and Nickerson I got my paper with both of their comments. Blue and red pin covered each page, and I was a little daunted by all the work that had to be done. I thought having to go through the mess of my first draft would be as bad as writing the paper. Nonetheless, I knew letting that work sit undone for too long would be my undoing. So I set out to start revising as soon as possible. I found out that it’s actually pretty invigorating. Because I have the basic structure and the bulk of the info in my paper already, all I have to do is tweak and mold separate parts of my paper instead of creating it all at once. So far I have a new intro and historiography. I’ve also added background for Jegen and Gannon.

I feel much better about my paper than I did when I sent it in. I remember when I started this project I felt so unsure about what I was really trying to say. Was I talking about Nuns or Lay women? Did Mundelein have an interesting enough story? These thoughts plagued me when I was writing my paper. On top of that, I couldn’t understand how it all fit for some reason. The research was there, I knew it made a story, but mentally I could not put it together. Now, I get it. I understand what I am trying to say and how to say it. Surprisingly, the revision process seems to be my favorite part of my research so far, even if you have to “kill your darlings…” during it.


The First Draft

I’ve never written a research paper longer than ten pages. Writing twenty-five seemed almost impossible. I knew I could get close, but I couldn’t quite understand how I could complete it all. I found that when writing such a long paper I had difficulties keeping track of my organization and what topic I had talked about before. Using the finding tool (CTRL +f) really helped here. I could quickly find a quote to check if I had already used it or find the paragraph I was looking for without scrolling through twenty pages. I think one the hardest part about the first draft was realizing it was only the first draft not the final. I kept berating myself because what I was writing, I believed, was not good enough for a final draft. However, after a few minutes of hair-pulling and anxiety, I reminded myself that it didn’t need to be perfect, I could fix it all later. ‘just get the words on the page,’ became my motto. Another frustration was that after every writing session I was afraid I had run out of things to write about. I had only myself to blame for this; I had not organized all my notes, so I was constantly looking through my notebook and on my computer trying to piece together what I had. Also, google docs kept lying to me about my page count? For example, it would tell me I had 14, but when I printed the paper to edit it, I would have 15. It was almost like a gift, a free page for all my hard work. Even though it was frustrating and exhaustive, I think I enjoyed it. When I got into the rhythm of writing about Jegen or Mundelein I felt I could babble on and on about them. Of course, once I slowed down the fear that I couldn’t full fill the 25 page count came back and I thought I had hit a wall again. It was a great learning experience; I have a new fear and appreciation for research and the time it takes to write the papers. I just don’t think I will wan’t to do another one for a little bit.



I have never used outlines, unless made to. I always felt that my ideas came better when I was actually writing, not organizing them into different bullet points. So when I realized that I would have to write an outline for my paper I was out of my depth. This fact is very apparent when you look at my outline; it is more of a list of quotes and broad ideas smashed together on the page. The roman numerals stop indicating main points around the II or III. The quotes seem to blend together with any analysis that I put in. My amateur is quite apparent.

The whole affair was uncomfortable for me, for sure, but I am glad I did it. It forced me to look at all the notes I got from WLA and organize them into appropriate groups. I saw where I needed to expand on certain things, such as what the Graduates of the program did after, and the effects the shift to only Nun teachers had with Loyola. I now know the logical progression of my paper and even though I still hate outlines, I am glad I did it.

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The Last Lecture


Dorothy Day is one of the heroes of American Catholicism. Those that know her story know that you cannot leave her out of the discussion. Ellsberg’s talk demonstrated that. He showed the listeners that Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker are intertwined with Catholicism in America. Pope Francis himself saw that when he talked about Dorothy Day during his visit to America,  and, as Ellsberg pointed out, acts out religion in a similar way to Day. They both wish to bring love where there is none to be found. Dorothy did this with Catholic worker. Opening up a home to those that had been spurned by society for years. Francis does this by tearing down the walls the Church built around and inside itself. I thought this was the most fascinating part of Ellsberg’s talk because it connected Day with a modern day movement in the Church. By showing this comparison Ellsberg is bringing to light the evolution of the Church from Day’s time to know.


Day(left) and Maurin(right)

When Day and Maurin started the Catholic Worker it was something new and radical. Maurin had been preaching on street corners for years until Day found her way to him to bring Catholic Work into a reality. Before, no one thought his pamphlets and essays were worth much. Yet, as soon as the Catholic Worker was up it found itself with willing volunteers. There was an audience for the Catholic Worker’s style of social justice.The idea of helping the poor by living alongside the poor, not from above them, resonated with people. At first, it seemed radical and so radicals were drawn to it. Then it was perfectly aligned with the peace movement and young kids were ready to fill the space of the radicals before.  However, now the idea of what the Catholic Worker does is not so new and different. There are organizations in a similar vein to Catholic Worker that people flock too.The Catholic Worker got the ball rolling and paved the way for these others to sprout up. It may no longer be the only radical catholic group out there, but it was the first and define American Catholicism a little bit.quote-if-we-are-crazy-then-it-is-because-we-refuse-to-be-crazy-in-the-same-way-that-the-world-peter-maurin-64-17-60



A Gentle Whirlwind

Sister Carol Frances Jegen is morfile_000-1e than I expected. Described by her contemporaries as a quiet woman with a willowy frame, she did not have the outward appearance of the dynamic woman her achievements showed she was. One of her biggest accomplishments was at Mundelein College. Sr. Carol Jegen helped create and nurture the first ever graduate program at Mundelein, which also happened to be in Religous Studies a field newly open to women after Vatican II. She was on so many committees and boards that I could write a whole other blog about it and then some. I spent three hours looking over her folders at the WLA and I don’t think I have seen the whole scope of what she did while working at Mundelein and beyond. Thankfully, this all means I have plenty of primary sources.
There is a total of 18 boxes at the WLA on Sr. Carol France Jegen. Their contents ranging from newspaper articles and photos to a prayer book given to her by a Chicano woman she met and befriended at Fresno. The newspapers are definitely a godsend because they give a good picture of Sr. Jegen and her temperament; I stole the name of this post from an article on her. The prayer book was an unexpected find. While I knew she had strong ties to the UFW I was ignorant of how close she really was.

Prayer Book Of Sara Sanchez

The prayer book was given to her by Sara Sanchez while they were both in Fresno after being arrested for protesting. Sr. Jegen says that they prayed together every day while in prison waiting for release.  “At the kiss of peace, I embraced a young Chicano woman with the greeting,’Our lord’s peace be with you and all your people,’ Her response was,’No, Sister, it’s our people now.'”. She was not just a Catholic nun supporting the UFW, she was a part of the UFW after Fresno. I think this is one of the many great examples of who Sr. Jegen was. She was a tireless and deeply caring woman, who would stop at nothing till the job was done and done right.


I cannot be happier with my choice of topic for my research project, plus we have the same glasses.





A Journey of Discovery: Why Nun’s are cool.

The Sister Act is a beloved movie about a radical diva, played by Whoopi Goldberg, who finds herself in an uptight nunnery and shows the bland nuns how to really live life. She does this by bringing a new funky tune to their choir and showing the sister that rules don’t always need to be followed. Most would take from this movie nothing of importance just a fun hour and a half of two worlds colliding, but what I see in the movie is that we have done American nuns dirty. I know this because when I started looking into research ideas I thought I would be find the same quiet nuns as in the Sister Act. However, I found that American nuns were some of the most progressive and radical actors in the church, even before Whoopi.

It all started with a question on what was the history of the Catholic Church’s ideas on Women’s health. With Abortion a hot topic right now, and the Church taking the pro-life stance, I thought this would be a very interesting line of inquiry to write about. I started with the La Leche group, who are a group of catholic women that supported natural motherhood rather than the advice of male doctors to raise children. Somehow from that, I fumbled my way into researching all-girls catholic schools and racial integration in the southside of Chicago. What I found was the Loretto school for girls, which opened it’s door to black students in 1950, four years before Brown Vs. Board. The sister’s saw the communities demographic changing as African Americans moved in , but the need for education still there. From there I decided to look at how Mundelein may have dealt with race and if it mirrored the Loretto school for girls. Finally, this landed me in a meeting with Nancy Freeman of the WLA (Women and Leadership Archives) here at Loyola. She pointed me toward a number of interesting characters within Mundelein history, but one really stuck out, Sister Carol Jegen.

Sister Carol Jegen

Sister Jegen was born October 11, 1925 and joined the BVM’s in 1944 a month before her 19th birthday. A fellow history nerd, she received her BS in history from the university of ST. Louis(1951)  and would later get a MA in Theology (1958) and PhD in Religious studies(1968) from Marquette University. However, what really got me excited about Sister Jegen was her support for the United Farm Workers (U.F.W) movement. She was so passionate about the movement she spent two weeks in Fresno prison camp for her involvement, take that Whoopi.

I chose Sister Jegen as my subject because I think she is a great example of what many  American Nuns believe in. Catholic nuns do not sit at home twiddling their thumbs and praying. They are active players in the world, willing to put themselves in danger for causes they believe to be just. Catholic America Nuns are just so cool!

Sister Helena Burns (Insta:srhelenaburns)

More on Modern nuns like Sister Helena Burns here!