Mariam Schmitz
Freelance Writer
May 4, 2018 // Diocese

Cathedral Museum display highlights women religious

Mariam Schmitz
Freelance Writer

An exhibit in Fort Wayne’s Cathedral Museum provides visitors with a deeper appreciation of the 17 women’s religious orders that have served or are currently serving in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Known as the “nun doll” collection, each of the approximately 15-inch dolls is wearing the original habit, or clothing ensemble, of the order it represents.

The Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters made the habit for this doll, representing their order.

At first glance, one is drawn to the intricate design and stitching of the headdresses, tunics, capes and veils, which vary in style and color since each order must have its own unique habit. Despite the differences, though, the clothing displays a common theme of presenting a beautiful and dignified vocation to the rest of the world. In fact, during times of religious persecution in various countries, it was illegal for women religious to wear their habits. Secular clothing was considered a sacrifice as they navigated living out their religious vocation in a hostile climate.

The exhibit delves deeper into the contributions these religious have made. In front of each doll there is a brief description of the order’s mission, history and how it is connected to the diocese. There are many references to orders serving in schools, parishes and hospitals. The orders are also united in their vocation of prayerfully serving God through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Founded in Vienna, Austria, in 1868, the Daughters of Divine Charity came to America in 1913. They served in three South Bend parishes: Corpus Christi, Our Lady of Hungary and the now-shuttered St. Stephen.

Cathedral Museum’s director, Father Phillip Widmann, who also serves as pastor at St. Mary, Mother of God Parish in Fort Wayne, said he purchased the dolls from a company in Michigan about 20 years ago in response to visitors asking for an exhibit about women religious. He also acquired additional rosaries or medals as needed to complete the habits. Father Widmann said the only exception was a doll representing Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, who are more commonly known as Victory Noll Sisters: The company said that since it was a small religious order, there wasn’t enough demand for them to produce the clothing in mass quantities. Father Widmann purchased a doll anyway, and the Victory Noll sisters made the clothes for it.

A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which dates to the 1950s, is the centerpiece of Cathedral Museum’s collection of “nun dolls.” Upon entering religious life, women will usually choose “Mary” as part of their name in honor of the Blessed Mother.

All are welcome to visit the Cathedral Museum, located in the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center, 915 S. Clinton St., Fort Wayne, for a closer look at this exhibit and much more. Admission and parking are free. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or anytime by appointment. Call (260) 422-4611 for more information.

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