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Leadership Conference of Women Religious of the United States Records

Identifier: LCW

Scope and Content

Records, 1956-[ongoing], of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), including correspondence (1958-1983); meeting material from the national board and executive committee (1962-1979); papers from the group's national assembly (1961-1983); extensive subject files (1957-1984); correspondence and minutes (1964-1979) relating to joint committees of LCWR and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the United States Catholic Conference; records (1958-1979) of the Sister Formation Conference (now the Religious Formation Conference); printed material and tape recordings.

The records of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), 1957-1992, reflect the diversity of the group's interests and activities. From its inception in 1956 the Conference has helped define the role that women religious play in the church and in secular society. The collection documents these wide ranging activities and the affect they have had on the lives of women religious.

Information on the administration of LCWR is provided by minutes, reports, memoranda and similar meeting material for the national board, executive committee, and other administrative committees. The Conference's close relationship with other national Catholic organizations is documented in the records of liaison committees with such groups as the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the United States Catholic Conference. The documents from the administrative and liaison committees provide the clearest indication of the thoughts and actions of the LCWR administrators and staff. The correspondence files, though useful, cover a more limited range of subjects and a smaller time period. Further evidence of the group's administration can be found in the records of its regions, which include correspondence and reports on regional activities.

The collection also includes papers from the LCWR national assemblies and other conferences. The national assemblies, held annually, constitute the legislative body of the Conference; the documents produced at these meeting shed light on the attitudes and direction of the general membership. The remainder of this series relates, primarily, to the Inter-American Conferences of Religious Superiors, sponsored in part by LCWR. These records document LCWR's international interests, while revealing the concerns of religious men and women from North and South America.

The subject files constitute the largest series in the LCWR Collection and provide the most complete documentation of the Conference's activities. The project files include records from an extensive study of the health of women religious, a report on tax laws, a law suit resulting from the ERA boycott, and the publication of a guide to the records of religious orders of women in the United States (Women Religious History Sources, New York, 1983). Studies of religious conducted by Sister Marie Augusta Neal, SNDdeN (formerly boxes 89-157 and 165-177) may now be found in the Sister Marie Augusta Neal Papers (CNEA). The organization files reflect LCWR's attempt to fulfill its priorities by working with a wide variety of religious and secular organizations. The files document an interest in approximately 125 organizations, including the National Organization of Black Catholics, the National Organization of Women, Serra International, Sisters Uniting, International Union of Superior Generals, Catholic Hospital Association, National Women' Political Caucus, National Council on Aging, and the Presbyterian Task Force on Women.

The next series in the collection documents the changing relationship between LCWR and the Sisters Formation Conference (the SFC, now called the Religious Formation Conference). LCWR has maintained close ties with SFC through a variety of administrative arrangements. The records in this series, including correspondence and minutes, offer much information on SFC and its relationship with LCWR. This relationship is also documented in the correspondence with apostolic delegates which is filed in the correspondence series (box 1).

The final series in the collection consists of financial and legal records, cases and publications, including "Legal Counsel" files, finance reports, Legal Bulletins, and Finance Committee Minutes.

The character and direction of LCWR are evident from its records. The Conference has maintained an interest in the day to day welfare of its members, as demonstrated by its studies on social security, health, and personnel issues; but the energies of LCWR have also been directed at changing the role of women in the Catholic Church and in society at large. Some of the stands taken by LCWR have been controversial, such as the papal greeting offered by LCWR president Sister Theresa Kane RSM to Pope Paul II during his visit to the United States in 1979. Sister Kane took the opportunity to express her hopes for an expanded role for women in the church; the correspondence she received in response to her speech offers ample evidence of the sensitive nature of questions surrounding women's issues and the authority of the hierarchy. Many of these questions were also part of the renewal that took place within many religious communities following Vatican II. LCWR's interest in these changes in Canon Law and their effect on women religious is documented in the studies, committees, and reports which the Conference produced.

The LCWR collection was acquired by the Notre Dame Archives in 1981. Subsequent additions have been incorporated into the collection, but not interfiled, as can be seen by the many different box locations of each series. Restrictions apply to portions of the collection. As of April 1993 the collection includes 191.9 linear feet. Published items, including both LCWR publications and books collected by the Conference, have been transferred to the LCWR Printed Collection (PLCW). Audio-Visual material has been transferred to the LCWR A-V Collection (ALCW), and photographs and scrapbooks to the LCWR Photo Collection (GLCW).


  • Creation: 1956-[ongoing]


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Restricted by contract.


LCWR was founded in 1956 as the Conference of Major Superiors of Women; the current name was adopted in 1971.

The founding of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) can be traced to the General Congress of the States of Perfection, a meeting held in Rome in 1950. During the next few years a series of meetings furthered the idea of a conference for women religious. In 1952 the Holy See established a commission of General Superiors of Orders of Men and Women, a National Congress of Religious USA was held in South Bend, and the First World Congress of Mothers General was held in Rome.

The first statutes of LCWR were adopted in 1956 at a meeting in Chicago (the name initially adopted for the group was the Conference of Major Superiors of Women, which was changed to LCWR in 1971). The founding convention recognized the important contribution of established groups, such as the National Catholic Welfare Conference and the movement that later became the Sisters Formation Conference, to the growth and work of religious communities. This recognition was later formalized in liaison committees with other national Catholic organizations. The founders of LCWR also considered the formation of a joint conference of religious men and women, but the idea was abandoned and separate conferences were formed. A final point of deliberation was the question of a regional or national structure. The decision seemed to favor regional groups, with national meetings planned for every five years, an executive committee composed of regional chairwomen, and regional meetings planned around themes established by the national executive committee. Through the years this emphasis on regional governance has been modified to support a stronger national organization. In 1959 the Holy See gave the Conference final approval.

Membership in LCWR is open to the chief administrative officer of all institutes, provinces, and regions of women religious in the U.S. and territorial possessions. The membership grew from 392 in 1957 to 650 in 1970. According to the bylaws (11.1) the primary purpose of LCWR is to assist members "personally, collectively, and corporately in developing creative and responsive leadership and in undertaking those forms of service consonant with the evolving Gospel mission of women religious in the world through the Church." The priorities of LCWR, as stated by Sister Mary Daniel Turner SNDdeN (executive director 1972- 1978) include "the development of an apostolic spirituality which sees religious as vitally involved in the mission of the Church; action for justice; the fullest participation of women in ecclesial and civic life; the promotion of leadership; and collaboration with other groups of similar orientation."

In 1969 a survey of CMSW by Booz, Allen, and Hamilton, Inc. proposed changes in the group's structure, which led to the approval of revised bylaws and a change in name (to LCWR) in 1971. LCWR is divided into fifteen geographic regions. Annual assemblies bring the general membership together and constitute the legislative body of the Conference. The group is governed by an executive board made up of five national officers, one representative from each region, and the executive director. The national office is located in Silver Springs, Maryland. A list of national officers (1957-1991) can be found in the 1992 LCWR Directory (LCWR records, box 163/folder 30). Information on the duties and responsibilities of LCWR officers and committees can be found in the Handbook of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of the U.S.A., 1975 (box 16/folder 22).


270 linear feet.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious of the United States Records
University of Notre Dame Archives
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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Archives Repository

607 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame Indiana 46556 United States
(574) 631-6448