An exhibit at St. Louis Public Library, which opened Saturday, March 3, celebrates 200 years of continued presence in the St. Louis area by Catholic sisters of numerous religious orders. The exhibit, “Catholic Sisters: The Spirit of St. Louis,” runs through April 28 on the third floor at Central Library, 1301 Olive Street, St. Louis.

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The first Catholic women religious arrived St. Louis in 1818. Among them was St. Rose Philippine Duchesne of the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Invited by Bishop William DuBourg, the first bishop in St. Louis, she founded the first free school west of the Mississippi River.

Today, her legacy lives on at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles.

Thousands of Catholic religious sisters have devoted their lives to God through a host of ministries in the St. Louis area since 1818 by working in fields such as education, healthcare, and charitable work for the poor and needy. In 2018, the Archdiocese of St. Louis is home to 58 consecrated women religious communities with 1,211 women in these communities.

“Women religious have played an important role in the life of the Catholic Church around the world, and especially in the life of the Church here in St. Louis,” said Sister Marysia Weber, RSM, DO, director of the Office of Consecrated Life of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “The prayers and works of these women on a daily basis strengthen the Church and bring the love of Jesus Christ to those who need it most. The enormous influence of women religious in our region is part of the reason why St. Louis is known as the ‘Rome of the West.’ ”

The opening of the library exhibit coincides with National Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14, which is an annual celebration to honor women religious. The purpose of the week is to “instruct, enlighten and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women,” according to the NCSW website.

Communities of women religious are formed in a variety of ways. Though the terms “nun” and “sister” have often become interchangeable in common usage, technically “nun” applies to women religious who live a life dedicated to prayer for the Church and the world in a cloistered environment. A “sister” is one who, while also being dedicated to prayer, engages in some form of public ministry.

Some women religious are identified by the particular manner of dress they wear, known as a “habit.” All women religious take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Sister Marysia went on to say: “As we mark 200 years of Catholic women religious in St. Louis, we look forward to the future, confident that Catholic sisters and nuns will play an important role in our changing world because above all they are animated by a love for Jesus Christ and desire to share that love with others.”