From the Collections

How To Dress Like A Maryknoll Sister

When processing a collection it’s always fun to be on the lookout for interesting items that really define what the collection is about.  Just recently I was given the task of re-processing the Sisters’ Heritage Collection, which is now called the Legacy and Culture Collection.  This artificial collection highlights the customs and traditions of the Maryknoll Sisters.  What stood out to me in particular were the numerous items concerning the clothing requirements for the Sisters.  The first such item I came across was the clothing list for the Postulants from March 3, 1921.  Items required included a veil, bathrobes, black gloves, leggings, a long dark coat or cape, winter union suit (known today as long underwear), corsets, handkerchiefs and petticoats as well as numerous other clothing items.  The Postulants were also tasked with bringing their own napkins, towels, sheets, pillowcases and toiletries, which included hair brushes, a nail file, and a sewing bag.

Clothing list side 1   Clothing list side 2

The religious habit of the Sisters was a part of their everyday dress in the earlier years of Maryknoll.  Wearing the habit regularly meant that mending would be required.  The Sisters, therefore, created a tool to aid in this process.  I came upon “Helpful Hints on Habit Mending for the Amateur Seamstress”, an in-house guidebook made by the Sisters.  It is full of different topics that would help the Sisters in all aspects of mending their Habits.  It contains sample fabric and patterns that would allow the Sister to follow along while doing her mending.

Mending

Lastly, I came upon another set of clothing requirements.  These lists were from 1952 and were divided by region.  The regions included Africa, Korea, Nicaragua, Panama, Japan, Hawaii, and the Yucatan.  Based on the region of the world a Sister was assigned to her clothing requirements varied.   For example, in Africa, it was permitted to wear a grey fugi habit for travel.  In Nicaragua it was required to bring a mosquito net.  Hawaii’s list included a bathing suit, unique to the regional lists.

Africa clothing list   Nicarauga clothing list

By taking a closer look at a certain items in a collection you can get a better understanding of the collection as a whole.  The clothing requirements of the Sisters are just one tiny part of their legacy and culture, yet makes up so much of their identity.  Almost anyone shown a picture of a woman in a habit would say that she is a nun.  Shakespeare said that clothes make the man.  Well I think we can argue that they make the woman too.

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