This book is an autobiographical account of the clash in the 1960s between by a member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy who did not welcome the changes recommended by the bishops of the world at Vatican Council II and the members of a pontifical community of religious women who embraced the council documents. Anita Caspary (Sister Humiliata) was at that time the Mother General of the California Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. After briefly discussing the Cardinal's accusation in the first chapter, the author devotes four chapters to her own life prior to the controversy. She then draws on the original information from interviews with community members conducted by Sister Doris Murphy, IHM, that reveal various aspects of this controversy. Six appendices include background and decrees from the IHM community meeting in October 1967, as well as the text of Sister Anita Caspary's talk to the IHM community in December, 1969.
At the time of the controversy, most of the diocesan grammar schools and high schools staffed by Immaculate Heart sisters, and Immaculate Heart College, were located in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which was headed by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre. Other dioceses with schools staffed by the IHM sisters include San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Flagstaff (Arizona) and Victoria, BC (Canada). A key issue in this controversy is the fact that the Immaculate Heart Community was established as a pontifical community. Caspary quotes Church law (Canon 297.2), which makes the distinction between religious institutes of pontifical right that are established by the Holy See or approved by it, and thus are less subject to episcopal supervision than other (diocesan) institutes.
In spite of their pontifical status, Cardinal McIntyre demanded that the members of the Immaculate Heart Community working in his diocese return to a pre-conciliar life style, and to wearing the traditional religious habit. Unless they complied with this ultimatum, they would be fired from teaching in the Catholic schools in Los Angeles. Although it was a wrenching experience for the sisters who were forced to leave these schools, one positive feature of the firing episode was the welcome influx of credentialed and experienced teachers into the public school system in Los Angeles.
Another painful episode was the visit from a Vatican representative, that resulted in a letter containing the following four decrees: adopting a uniform habit and prohibiting lay clothes, meeting daily for religious exercises in common, limiting their work to education, and collaboration with the local bishops in their work in the dioceses. On the other hand, the community received considerable support in letters from other religious men and women, as well as officers of the Canon Law Society of America, whose letter described the IHM decisions and legislation as a "prompt, respectful compliance with the directions given by Pope Paul VI for the implementation of the Council Decree regarding the renewal of religious life."
Caspary includes in the appendix the community decrees on education, a documentation of actions on the part of the hierarchy in Los Angeles that created difficulties for the IHM community, and copies of correspondence to and from authorities in Rome. She also includes a copy of her talk to the IHM community on December 6, 1969, that provides the rationale for this historic decision by the community. She describes her book as "a first-person account of the conflict, intrigue, and betrayal of women challenging the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, and choosing a new religious life based on our experience as women."
Readers of this book will come away with a clearer understanding of the struggles for organizational change that will insure dignity for women and other less advantaged groups in all social institutions.