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Monica Appleby and Helen Lewis reveal the largely untold story of women who stood up to the Church and joined Appalachians in their struggle for social justice. Their poignant story of how faith, compassion, and persistence overcame obstacles to progress in Appalachia is a fascinating example of how a collaborative and creative learning community fosters strong voices. Mountain Sisters is a prophetic first-person account of the history of American Catholicism, the war on poverty, and the influence of the turbulent 1960s on the cultural and religious communities of Appalachia.

Founded in 1941, The Glenmary Sisters embraced a calling to serve rural Appalachian communities where few Catholics resided. The sisters, many of them seeking alternatives to the choices available to most women during this time, zealously pursued their duties but soon became frustrated with the rules and restrictions of the Church. Outmoded doctrine—even styles of dress—made it difficult for them to interact with the very people they hoped to help. In 1967, after many unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Church to ease its requirements, some seventy Sisters left the security of convent life. Over forty of these women formed a secular service group, FOCIS (Federation of Communities in Service). Mountain Sisters is their story.

An inspirational work that is meaningful on a variety of levels, demonstrating an overwhelming commitment to social and economic justice as well as the empowerment of both women and the individuals they chose to serve. -- Appalachian Journal

An important examination of Appalachian advocates and an immensely enjoyable read as well. Mountain Sisters provides scholars with a treasure trove of firsthand information and the general public with yet another example of how individuals can make a difference in the world. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

A moving testimony to the determination of Catholic women to implement the reforms of Vatican II in a predominantly Protestant environment. . . . A must for students of twentieth-century American social history and historians of Appalachian religious life. -- Religious Studies Review

Any readers interested in the utopian visions and dystopian realities of communal life will appreciate this documented history of a group whose spiritually-motivated social work began with post-World War II and pre-Vatican II optimism. -- Utopian Studies

A dramatic and inspiritory story. -- Appalachian Heritage

An engaging internal story about a group's vision of ministry during a time when the paradigm of authority and obedience for both church and society was being transformed. -- Catholic Historical Reviewng

An American story of challenging authority, re-inventing community, and adapting and changing within the context of the times. Mountain Sisters conveys a story worth telling and reading, as it says much about the nexus between religion and gender in late-twentieth-century America. -- North Carolina Historical Review

A magnificent memoir. -- Journal of Appalachian Studies

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Federation of Communities in Service, FOCIS, Glenmary Sisters, Appalachian Region


Foreword by Rosemary Radford Ruether.

Mountain Sisters: From Convent to Community in Appalachia
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