Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Nuns-Employment, Nuns-Psychology, Social workers, Spirituality-Catholic Church, Social services-Religious aspects-Catholic Church, Social justice, Catholic Church, Spirituality, Catholicism, Women religious, Nuns, Sisters, Qualitative


This qualitative study explored how Catholic sisters who practice social work understand their experiences in both religious life and the field of social work. Sisters have made significant contributions to professional social services for centuries and have done so out of deep spiritual commitments; yet, modern sisters' experiences have not been examined by researchers as a source of knowledge about how spiritual belief and social work practice intersect and impact both individual growth and institutional action. A total of 12 Catholic sisters who had worked in social work settings across the U.S. participated in semi-structured interviews for this study about meaning behind their choice of lifestyle and work, the motivations that sustained those choices, and finally, their understanding of any areas of reciprocal influence, overlap, or evolution in terms of their beliefs and behaviors as social workers and as sisters. Noteworthy findings from this sample are as follows: (1) a "generative" spirituality motivated sisters' work for social justice alongside oppressed communities, (2) membership in religious community functioned as an embrace of "woman-centered" spirituality, (3) community structures buoyed and enhanced their social work practices and development as sisters, (4) spiritual beliefs and behaviors were sometimes renegotiated to better meet the needs of social justice as understood through social work experience




iii, 82 pages. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, 2014. Includes bibliographical references (pages 69-76)