Spill that Tea: Catholic Nuns, Meghan Markle, and Theological Feminism by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

I wrote a piece in March 2021 regarding the British Royal Family and their horrendous treatment of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. On August 23, 2022, Meghan released her first podcast episode for her series titled “Archetypes”. The first episode had guest speaker, famed legendary tennis player Serena Williams. They talked about the misconceptions of ambition and the two-edged sword that women have to endure in society when striving to be their best in a male centric world. And for many of us within Religious and Theological spaces, the disparities that women, queer folk, and non-binary peoples have endured in society are also tied into the misconceptions and harmful archetypes found within religious spaces.

Meghan introduces the episode as saying this series will focus on “The labels and troupes that hold women back” and “how to move past them.” The first example that Meghan shares is about the all-girls Catholic high school she attended in Los Angeles, Immaculate Heart High School. IHHS was founded in 1906 by the Catholic Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Meghan talks about the particularly important event that took place in the 1960s. The Sisters were implementing a new women-centered lifestyle of prayer, shared authority, more education for the sisters, and secular dress instead of a traditional habit. All of which were met with disapproval. Under severe pressure to obey and confirm, or leave canonical status, many of the nuns reluctantly renounced their vows, established an order outside of archdiocesan control, and found multiple ways to continue to be positive agents of faith, change, and growth. The IHM headquarters are still at the corner of Franklin and Western in Los Angeles, CA and still thriving.

This example is so important here at FAR as the history and importance of what these nuns were doing in the 1960s would create tidal waves of feminist and liberation movements for decades to come. Three hundred sisters changed their status with the Catholic Church and formed the new ecumenical Immaculate Heart Community which sponsored The Immaculate Heart College and several ministries. Renowned for its excellence in liberal arts, social justice and education it was a source and location for progressive, activist, and revolutionary philosophy and praxis. As Meghan states in the episode:

And they molded their school, Immaculate Heart, in their new image, theologically driven, but feminist.”

Markle, Meghan, and Serena Williams. “The Misconceptions of Ambition.” Archetypes, Spotify, 23 Aug. 2022.

 I have known about this amazing community through Dr. Susan M. Maloney, SNJM. Susan, a former American Academy of Religion, Western Region President is working on the biography of Anita Caspary (1915-2011).

Photo courtesy of the Anita M. Caspray Trust

Sister Anita Caspary was the Mother Superior of the Immaculate Heart Nuns. On top of two of Susan’s articles, “The First Feminist Nuns: The Immaculate Heart Community of California” and “The Choices Before Us: Anita Caspary and the Immaculate Heart Community” I interviewed Susan to ask about not only how we should remember Sister Anita but what the nuns of the Immaculate Heart Community represents.

            Susan states,

Anita lives on as a popular cultural and historical figure – most Catholic sisters in the late 1960s followed the directives of the Second Vatican Council which called for a modernization of all aspects of the Church. Anita and IHMs were the first community of sisters to embrace important changes, such as, promoting graduate education for their sisters, abandoning the habit for modern dress, updating their prayer lives and most especially allowing the sisters to select new ministries. Anita always worked with the sisters in a collaborative model of leadership. This model replaced the hierarchical model of traditional convent life.

      Featured on the cover of Time Magazine on February 23, 1970, Anita became the woman to represent Catholic sisters transforming their lives based on the renewal of the Second Vatican Council and their own moral and authority. The central point was to have the sisters respond to the contemporary needs of the people.”  

         This was also the time of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights, Anita was involved in the national educational issues, social justice causes, the peace movement, and the promotion of the ordination of Catholic women. Anita was able to write and publish about this pivotal history in her 2003 award winning book Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of California.

Author’s personal correspondence with Dr. Maloney on September 4, 2022
Photo Courtesy of the Anita M. Caspary Trust

Susan walked me through how important Vatican II was for so many people, including women religious. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart accepted the call of the Church and spent a two-year internal review process. They produced four areas to which their community could change and update, 1. Authority; 2. Dress; 3. Spirituality/Prayer;4. Ministry. Susan affirms that

everything they decided on was not a threat to the Catholic Church nor was it radical as it was under the guidelines of VATICAN II. “At the heart of this community, is adult women choosing their lives and reforming which is still in line with the Church and Vatican II”, Susan Maloney added.

The additional history and lives of the Sisters add to the underlining theme of the Archetype’s first episode, Ambition. Vatican II was a call for renewal and change in liturgy, education, and rituals, yet some of the very men who helped to initiate that call were fiercely against the actual implementation of said renewal. The histories of the Sisters pairs beautifully with Meghan’s first podcast episode. As a Religious Scholar and as a Feminist Scholar this episode hit so many topics and important conversations. Concepts of how language and titles and words are gender bias, harmful, and detrimental to the success of half the population. While for many, Archetypes and the Duchess of Sussex lives beyond the realm of academics and theology, we here at FAR know the interconnection that exists in this world and how important voices and representation is. Susan affirms this,

It’s very clear from the podcast and Meghan’s statement of the distinction of theologically driven and feminist that the heart and the legacy of Sister Anita and the Immaculate Community lives on.

Author’s Personal Correspondence with Dr. Maloney on September 4, 2022

***For more information regarding the extraordinary life of Sister Anita, you can access her website, www.anitacaspary.com and watch the amazing documentary Rebel Hearts. See www.rebelheartsfilm.com

**** Megan Markle’s podcast can be accessed on Spotify.

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is currently the World Religions Professor at Saint Louis University. She continues to be the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. She has also recently helped to set up and is the current Chair of the Disabilities Studies Unit for the Western Region. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. One of the main themes in Anjeanette’s work is seeking out representations of women and queer people in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is still exploring St. Louis and finding treasures beyond measure.  



Categories: Catholic Church, Feminist Theology

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