Graceful Exits

Graceful Exits

Catholic Women and the Art of Departure
Debra Campbell
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/27/2003
ISBN: 978-0-253-11071-8
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The personal narratives of nine 20th-century Catholic female authors—Monica Baldwin, Antonia White, Mary McCarthy, Mary Gordon, Mary Daly, Barbara Ferraro, Patricia Hussey, Karen Armstrong, and Patricia Hampl—speak eloquently about the process of departure from the church and its institutions. This study explores each author’s breaking of the taboo associated with women leaving their "proper place." It locates five themes at the heart of all of their narratives: reversal, boundary crossing, diaspora, renaming, and recycling. Debra Campbell grapples with the spirituality of departure depicted by all nine women, for whom the very process of leaving Catholic institutions is a Catholic enterprise. These narratives support the popular maxim that no one ever really leaves the church. In the final chapter, Campbell examines narratives of return, confirming the book’s overarching theme that neither departure nor return is ever finished.

Author Bio

Debra Campbell is Professor of Religious Studies at Colby College, and co-author (with R. Scott Appleby, Patricia Byrne, and Jay P. Dolan) of Transforming Parish Ministry. She lives in Waterville, Maine.


“. . . this is a brave examination of many different kinds of spiritual border crossings.”
 — Publishers Weekly

“ . . . the humanity and open—endedness of the narratives [come through]. Unique in gathering these contemporary patterns of departure from the Church, this is a study in slow, complex, and often agonizing self—realization as well as a consideration of the role of women in the Church today. Recommended.”
 — Library Journal

“In a sensitive and empathic study, Campbell (Colby) examines candid autobiographical writings of selected Roman Catholic women who have departed from the institutional church. These exit narratives explore women's strategies of religious self-representation of flight, escape, and crossing over, complete with internal cracks and disjunctures, rifts and ruptures. These women—Monica Baldwin, Antonia White, Mary McCarthy, Mary Gordon, Mary Daly, Karen Armstrong, Barbara Ferraro, Patricia Hussey, and Patricia Hampl—were all deeply shaped by their early commitments to the Church; they also found themselves isolated, marginalized, and mostly liberated as they discovered their own religious meanings and unleashed their passionate, dissenting, subversive voices. Some never went back to the organized Church; some went elsewhere; some returned; some moved back and forth across the boundary. In all cases, they spoke in dramatic ways about their spiritual journeys. Campbell highlights these neglected flight narratives in order to inspire and empower women who find themselves tempted to leave their proper, prescribed spaces and duties. This is a refreshing and lively book for anyone interested in the transformations of women struggling with institutional religion. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers, lower-level undergraduates, and professionals/practitioners.July 2004”
 — P. K. Steinfeld, Buena Vista University

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Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:
Introduction: Flight
1. "I Leap Over the Wall"
2. Falling Away or Crossing Over?
Antonia White, Frost in May
Mary McCarthy, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
Mary Gordon, Final Payments
3. Be-ing Is Be/Leaving
4. A Nun Forever: Two Post-Vatican II Convent-Departure Narratives
Karen Armstrong, Through the Narrow Gate
Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey, No Turning Back
5. Coming Home
Antonia White
Mary Gordon
Patricia Hampl
Sources Consulted