A new exhibit tells of the joy of religious life and the impact religious sisters have had on the United States and its culture. "God's Women: Nuns in America" is on exhibit in the nation’s capital at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center until Jan. 30, 2005.
The story of nuns in America begins in 1694 with Lydia Longley, who as a child was carried off by Indians raiding her New England village. The Indians sold her to their allies in French-ruled Canada, who sent her to the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal. There she converted to Catholicism, became a nun and died as one. Organizers of the exhibit know of no record that she ever returned to New England.
The exhibit also tells of three American women who have become saints: Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the first new U.S. religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph; Francesca Cabrini, an Italian immigrant who founded schools, orphanages and hospitals in major U.S. cities; and Katherine Drexel, who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
The exhibit includes more than 50 dolls, wearing the habits of different orders. It also explores what it calls "America's love affair with Catholic nuns in film," listing more than 30 actresses who have portrayed nuns.
The exhibit also features the story of a cloistered Benedictine nun – Mother Dolores Hart – who left her life as a Hollywood actress at the age of 24, where she played across Elvis Presley, to enter the abbey.
"I came to understand," she said in a statement issued by the abbey "that God truly expressed himself through his beloved. And through a mystery of great love He broke through the extravagance of the motion picture industry to make my vocation known to me."
There is no admission fee to the exhibit, but visitors are asked to make a free will donation.