Read: There Were Also Many Women There

Arts & Culture

By Katharine E. Harmon (Liturgical Press, 2013)

Ellen Gates Starr, cofounder of Hull House and convert to Catholicism in 1920, was frustrated by “the apparent unconsciousness of the worshippers about what was happening on the altar.” As Katharine E. Harmon writes, “Starr once asked her ‘good and very devout’ laundress what people did during Mass; the laundress responded, ‘Oh, some of ’em stands and some of ’em sits.’ ”

That mindset, and Starr’s frustration with it, spurred her involvement in the nascent liturgical movement in the United States. Harmon profiles a dozen laywomen in an attempt to set the record straight that—as in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion—“there were also many women there” in the movement that helped lead to Vatican II. Other early pioneers included are Maisie Ward, Nina Polcyn Moore, and Ade Bethune.

Harmon also highlights Therese Mueller, Mary Perkins Ryan, and Florence Berger, who in the 1940s and ’50s juggled work in the liturgical movement with family life, often striving to integrate the two. Their stories illustrate how the liturgical movement’s focus expanded from participation in the Mass to incorporating liturgy and liturgical elements into everyday life.

This is a scholarly work; the casual reader may be tempted to skip the voluminous footnotes, but would miss some funny and illuminating material. Readers who are neither liturgists nor academics will appreciate this book for its fascinating topic and Harmon’s accessible style. If nothing else, they can expect to come away feeling like Ade Bethune did after attending a liturgy class at the Summer School of Catholic Action in New York in 1934: “I was elated because a lot of the things I had lived with and heard about vaguely I was now able to understand better and put in place in my mind. That class was a revelation.” Harmon brings the contributions of laywomen in the liturgical movement into satisfyingly clear focus.


This article appeared in the January 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 1, page 43).

About the author

Heather Grennan Gary

Heather Grennan Gary is on staff at the University of Notre Dame's Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism.

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