I’ve been visiting a Benedictine monastery close to my apartment in Chicago lately. It’s for a class project, but I’ve been surprised to notice how much a part of my life Benedictines have been. I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m interested in the the ins and outs of daily live in a Benedictine community…I’ve bounced around on their edges for years.

I grew up in Watertown, South Dakota–home of the Benedictine Mother of God Monastery, located on the appropriately named Harmony Hill. My mom used to take classes out there and my grandparents lived at the assisted living center the sisters owned. I knew several of the sisters from my summers at Vocation Camp. Without explicit consideration of Benedictines, I chose to attend the College of St. Benedict and moved on the fringes of that community, occasionally attending the evening Liturgy of the Hours and supper with my “Benedictine friend.”

These Benedictines inspire me. I met women who teach and write and garden and minister; they set a model just by living their lives. I remember asking one of them if they were worried about the decline in numbers of sisters joining. She shocked me by explaining that Benedictine communities have been around for hundreds of years, in lots of different forms and shapes. She explained that they are open to the ways the Spirit reshapes the community and there is very little sense in worrying too much about it.

To find myself moving, again, on the edges of a Benedictine community feels oddly familiar. Their signals of hospitality, their prayers, their care; these are things I have come to appreciate.

Kate Dugan is a PhD student at Northwestern University and co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women & Catholicism.

Nuns Under Question

Mother Mary Clare Millea (

Mother Mary Clare Millea (

I’m a little embarrassed that the recent Vatican investigation of American Catholic Sisters has just recently come to my attention. Here is a nice summary of events: Religion in America

In short, “Mother Mary Clare Millea, Superior-General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who was appointed to head the investigation, will prepare a confidential report to the Vatican on the state of each of about 340 qualified congregations of nuns in the United States.”

I have no idea what the resulting report will mean for these 340 congregations, nor do I really understand what spurred the need for a report. I do know that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, historically, has worked tirelessly to support Catholic women religious…and I am saddened to learn that their intentions seem to be being brought into questions. I am also always inspired by religious women and confident that their collective wisdom and ability to discern right action will shine through.

Let me know what you think and now about this development: What do you know about this visit by Mother Mary Clare? What is the role of investigations like these in American Catholic life? What kinds of concerns do you expect to be in this report?

Kate Dugan is co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women & Catholicism and a PhD student in religious studies at Northwestern University.

Gabbing with Middle-Aged Catholics


St.  Edward's Catholic Church, Shelton, WA

St. Edward's Catholic Church, Shelton, WA

I work in a county office here in rural Washington—and, sometimes the stereotype about county workers are true: middle-aged women who like to gab populate these positions. So, true to form on a late Thursday afternoon, the ladies at Mason County Extension started gabbing about their weekend plans. And yesterday, the topic was going to church on the weekend.

I had no idea I worked with so many cradle Catholics!

The Latina in the group grew up Catholic and now sort of disdains the whole institution. She takes her family to Mass every once in a while, mostly because her husband wants them to go. She does keep her kids enrolled in CCD and Confirmation classes. Why, I asked. Just because that’s what you should do.

My fellow Midwest transplant hasn’t been to Catholic Mass in years—wouldn’t even dream of it. She goes to the upbeat (?!) Lutheran service where the county commissioner plays harmonica in the church band.

The local busy-body is married to a Catholic who started asking the family to go to Mass on Sundays several years ago. He teaches CCD and she wishes she spoke Spanish so she could attend the Spanish Mass—she spotted guitars going in the door; a would-be vast improvement over the apparently lackluster English Mass musician.

I have spent so much time and energy thinking about young women’s Catholic identity, that I was startled to hear these 40- 50-something women talking about their Catholic lives.

Have you had similar conversations? How do middle-age women you know talk about being Catholic? Why do they or don’t they attend Mass? What sorts of tones do they use to talk about Mass?

Kate Dugan is a 29-year old Catholic living on Harstine Island in Shelton, Washington. She is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women & Catholicism.

My first First Salmon Ceremony

Yesterday, I had the privilege and joy of attending the Squaxin Island Tribe’s First Salmon Ceremony (though, the video here is from Stillaguamish).  This is the annual blessing and offering of the salmon in anticipation of the coming fishing season.  The Squaxin are salmonpeople of the Puget Sound who have lived off of the good graces of salmon (in various ways) for generations. In the ceremony, the first salmon caught of the season is blessed and filleted and the skeleton is taken into the water as proof to the salmonpeople that the Squaxin treat salmon well.  It is a way of asking the salmon to allow the Squaxin to catch and eat them.

And then everybody eats salmon cooked over open fire, clams, and fry bread.

It was a simple, beautiful ceremony.  I enjoyed watching a few people that I’ve gotten to know over the last six months participate and I savored my delicious portion of the 300 pounds of salmon the tribe fed to more than 250 people.  And, of course, it got me thinking about the real power of ritual in human life.

No one officiating the ceremony yesterday could remember exactly how long this particular iteration of the First Salmon Ceremony has been going on—15, 20, 25 years.  But the Squaxin have been participating in the life cycle of Puget Sound salmon for, as one Elder put it, “many, many years.”

As we stood on the low-tide beach, I felt all the markings of ritual that I know well from my Catholic life.  Elders sat in the front rows of folding chairs and young people stood behind them, holding their kids or chatting quietly with one another.  The officiant gathered everyone together by thanking us for coming and explaining what would happen today.  He explained the significance of the actions and welcomed Elders in the crowd to do the same.  We watched as a tribal member filleted the salmon—and chuckled when he exclaimed “it’s a whale” when he saw how big the King Salmon was.  Kids fidgeted and ran around, occasionally crying out.  And then we broke fry bread & salmon together, and wished each other peace and wellness.

I drove away happy and connected.  Ritual is powerful business.  And I am indebted to Catholicism for tuning my body and soul and mind to recognize it.

Kate Dugan is a 29-year-old Catholic living on Harstine Island, Washington.  She is co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women & Catholicism.

Re-reading: The Prodigal Son

Photo cred:

Photo cred:

I remember learning about the parable of the prodigal son.  I learned from teachers’ and family’s and friends’ interpretation that I should be compassionate and avoid jealous. I understand the story’s parallels—prodigal son=sinful humans; father=God…and we are forever basked in God’s forgiveness and welcomed into an everlasting life.

I haven’t thought much about this parable in the last ten years.  I don’t have much use for this eschatological leaning; am too eager to be caught up in earthly life to be concerned with my odds at getting into heaven.

I’ve been reading Scott Korb and Peter Bebergal’sThe Faith Between: A Jew & a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God. It’s really a beautiful reflection by two men about their faith lives—sort of a dual spiritual autobiography. Last night, the Catholic of the two (Scott Korb) was reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son and shed new light onto this story for me:

“Yet what if the sons are…both blind to the only real inheritance offered in the parable—a wordly one?  Feeling the world as we’ve never felt it before” (168). He goes on to wonder what happens if we think of the parable as teaching us to embrace the world in all its holiness and divinity—as our inheritance.  We are sinful when we ignore that fact.

This I can get behind, get excited about, return to thinking more about the parable of the prodigal son.  When Heaven is not the entire story, when creativity is employed to re-imagine entrenched stories, I find ways to embrace Catholic thinking and loving.

Kate Dugan is a 29-year-old Catholic living outside Shelton, Washington.  She is the co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women & Catholicism.

Institution, Shminstitution?

It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately: what is the relationship between the institutional Catholic church and my Catholicism (or anyone’s Catholic identity)? Can there be a distinction? Are the two a symbiotic relationship?  Or is it antagonistic? My lack of clarity on these questions has, recently, started to bother me.  I blog today in search of your insight.

I was recently asked to give a reference for a possible presentation at a Catholic conference.  I am a pro at giving references—I have been fortunate enough to have had a series of great bosses and wonderful coworkers.  But for this particular conference, they wanted to talk to my local bishop about me.

Um.  Until then, I wasn’t even sure what my bishop’s name is (it is, by the way Archbishop Brunett).  After some conversation, the conference folks were willing to take my local priest as the reference.

But I just moved to Shelton, Washington.  Even though I have attended Mass here a couple of times, I haven’t had a heart-to-heart with the priest.  He wouldn’t even recognize me, I bet.  And my hometown priest retired a while ago.

Continue reading


conversationsI was driving down the road, home from the grocery store, when I heard the news about Dr. Tiller.

I almost drove off the road.

I write with a heavy heart this week, though so fortunate to have a forum like this one for thinking about what this means for my young adult Catholic identity (p.s. happy birthday, blog!!)

Dr. Tiller once said: “Together, we will create a society and a paradigm shift so that every pregnancy is an invited guest in the woman’s body and a welcome addition to her family.”

I share this dream with Dr. Tiller.

As a teenager, I helped decorate the Youth Pro-Life Float through our parish in our town’s local 4th of July Parade.  In college, I began to wonder why pro-choice should mean anti-life.  Today, I am tending toward Pres. Obama’s camp—we have to learn how to have conversations across the chasm between perspectives on the debate. Continue reading