Using the Arts to Impact Society: How the Art of Memoir Preserves the Legacy of Women Religious

By Dan Vaillancourt.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Communities of women religious in the United States flourished throughout the first six decades of the 20th century, reaching their apex in the years 1958-1962 when a record 32,433 women entered the convent and monastery. A few years later, only 18,316 women were willing to leave secular life for a lifetime of commitment to a religious community. This rapid and unrelenting decline has continued into the 21st century. For example, the membership of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs) climaxed at 2400 in 1960 and then declined to 1300 in 1990 and less than 600 in 2009, with more than half of the 600 already retired. As a result of this decline, women religious are experiencing a “crisis of legacy.” In other words, as the communities move toward possible extinction, so does the memory of their extraordinary service and unique charism. One way to capture this memory is through the use of the memoir art form.
This paper describes how Loyola University Chicago aesthetics students employed the memoir art form with retired BVMs to contribute to the creation of a community memory for the sisters. The paper covers four points: 1) a brief history of the rise and fall of American women religious communities, in particular the BVMs; 2) a philosophy of the memoir art form; 3) a description of the memoir project (its objectives, outcomes, and assessments); 4) the strengths and weaknesses of the memoir project.

Keywords: Applied Aesthetics, Memoir, Women Religious, BVM

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp.125-140. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.721MB).

Dr. Dan Vaillancourt

Professor, Philosophy Department, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Dr. Vaillancourt has served as chairman of humanities and graduate school dean, but he considers aesthetics his expertise and passion. He completed formal training in the field by majoring at the undergraduate level in philosophy and French literature and by specializing at the doctoral level in phenomenology and existentialism, with extensive study in the intersection of philosophy and literature. He has won 15 regional and national grants and 12 teacher of the year awards/commendations. He has created and taught ten undergraduate and graduate courses in aesthetics, ranging from Philosophical Themes in Nobel Prize Literature to Philosophy and Theatre, and, of course, Aesthetics. His publications include two books, dozens of articles, and three translations. He also edited a national magazine, Life Beat, for four years. Currently, he is writing for his website ( and working on two books: Beauty: The Sources (a collection of sources on beauty from around the world), and Do Beauty Experiences Boost the Immune System? (a monograph that explores the intersection of aesthetics, neuroscience, and immunology by investigating the impact of beauty, via the brain, on the immune system). He recently completed four chapters of The Genius Next Door Beauty Series, which celebrates and analyzes philosophically the beauty created by people like you and me, and he completed in 2007 Aania (a philosophical novel), which chronicles the life of a young orphan and Kosovo survivor, who uses beauty to change the world. He dances and plays the tenor recorder. Like Dostoevsky, he believes beauty changes the world.


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