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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Elizabeth Faue


“Sisters of Social Justice: The Social Justice Activism of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters,” examines the late-twentieth-century social justice activism of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters at the local, national, and international levels. It addresses the opposition to their social justice activism by the Vatican and other institutions at the local and national levels and the dangers they faced when ministering abroad. It argues that within the opposition and dangers they faced, and their responses to these challenges, we can see the agency of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters. This dissertation, “Sisters of Social Justice: The Social Justice Activism of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters,” will add to the growing body of research that addresses the invisibility of Women Religious in the historical literature and dispels commonly held misconceptions regarding their work, doctrine, and activism. It demonstrates that Catholic Women Religious were important historical markers of agency at local, national, and international levelsAs the Sisters attempted to work on behalf of the poor and downtrodden, they often faced the opposition of powerful forces from within the Church and society that attempted to hinder their work. While it is common knowledge that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has long asserted control over Women Religious, there were other institutions that worked to curtail and reshape the Sisters’ activism. It is within these struggles that we can locate sites of the Sisters’ agency, one rooted in the changes to religious life prior to the Second Vatican Council, the reforming encyclicals of the Second Vatican Council, Catholic Social Teaching, and after the Second Wave Feminist movement emerged feminism. Their agency was and is also rooted in the long history of the Grand Rapids congregation having to navigate the patriarchal structures of the Catholic Church. This dissertation also considers the foundation of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters’ social justice activism and the impact that activism had on their lives, their communities, the church, and the public. The social justice activism the Dominican Sisters engaged in, and continues to engage in, took place on a broad and vast scale—on the local and national levels and on the international stage. This dissertation documents three case studies of their activism at the following points: On the local level, it examines the ways in which the Sisters attempted to establish a rehabilitation home for former prostitutes and their children in Grand Rapids. At the national level, it explores the lives of Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson, and their anti-nuclear weapons and anti-war activism at various locations throughout the United States, and at the international level it examines the Sisters work in three Latin American countries, Peru, Honduras, and the kidnapping of Sisters Jean Reimer and Helen LaValley in Guatemala. The common thread that connects these campaigns is the connection the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters—and other Catholic Women Religious orders—saw between their faith on the one hand and their mission that applied the principles of that faith to their work in the world.

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