Governance, authority and ‘1968’
in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
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Chapter 3 explores the ways in which religious life was reconfigured in regard to governance and obedience, leading to the elimination of, as one sister put it, ‘a Victorian attitude’. It genders our knowledge of the global 1968 movements by exploring an emancipatory movement led, sustained and spread by women. The female leaders of religious institutes rethought governance and replaced deeply embedded structures where the mother superior or abbess and her council made decisions for all members of the community. The result: more women participated in governance, as delegates to General Chapters or as members of provincial structures; more voices were heard via questionnaires and consultative meetings. At the local level, changes in governance practices were experienced by each and every member of a community. Renewal unleashed a social movement that gave voice to grievances and concerns about religious life and encouraged collective action that changed, in many communities, the lived experience of community life. And yet, this was in no way a straightforward story of progress. These changes polarised women religious in groups that were ‘for change’ and ‘against change’ and were highly contentious.