Anita Caspary

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Dr. Anita Marie Caspary (November 4, 1915, Herrick, South Dakota – October 5, 2011, Los Angeles, California)  was the only woman in American history to hold the positions of Mother General of an order of Catholic Sisters and the first president of a Christian ecumenical community.  Under her leadership over 300 Sisters relinquished their canonical status and religious vows and formed the new Immaculate Heart Community of California.  This was the largest exodus of Catholic Sisters in U.S. history. Acknowledged as a transformative leader in the post Vatican II Catholic Church, she was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine February 23, 1970. 


A "cradle Catholic" who took her vows in 1936 as Sister Humiliata in the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Caspary became increasingly at-odds with the Archbishop of Los Angeles, James Cardinal McIntyre in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. In December 1969, after a standoff, more than 300 sisters at an Immaculate Heart community meeting voted to become a non-canonical community, thereby freeing themselves of Cardinal McIntyre's jurisdiction. Around fifty of these continued to operate with diocesan recognition. [clarification needed] Approximately 250 sisters ceased teaching in the archdiocese's Catholic schools. Caspary recalled that establishing a voluntary lay community "relieved us from threats and difficulties with the church under which we lived at that time".[1]

Caspary was president of Immaculate Heart College, which was operated by her order, from 1958–63. (The school continued to operate after the schism in 1970, but closed in 1980.) After the break with the Church, she taught at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and served on the staff of the Peace and Justice Center of Southern California.[2]


Caspary taught high school English while studying toward a master's degree at the University of Southern California. She received her Ph.D. in 1948 from Stanford University. She wrote a 2003 memoir, Witness to Integrity. In 2012, a collection of her poems, FROM THE HEART: Poems by Anita M. Caspary, I.H.M., was published posthumously.


Anita Caspary died in Los Angeles, California on October 5, 2011, aged 95.[3]


  1. ^ Nelson, Valerie. "Anita Caspary dies at 95; 'rebel nun' founded Immaculate Heart Community". LA Times. Retrieved October 22, 2011. 
  2. ^ Fox, Thomas. "Anita Caspary, religious visionary, dies in Los Angeles". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on October 20, 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2011. 
  3. ^ Vitello, Paul. "Anita Caspary, Nun Who Led Breakaway From Church, Dies at 95". New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2011. 

4. Anita M. Caspary, IHM, PhD. The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of California (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2003).

5. Susan M. Maloney, SNJM, PhD. “The First Feminist Nuns: The Immaculate Heart Community of California” in (Re) Interpretations: The Shapes of Justice in Women's Experience, eds. Lisa Dresdner and Laurel Peterson. (London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 151-167.

6. Susan M. Maloney, SNJM, PhD. “Changing Catholic Commitments: Anita Caspary and the           Immaculate Heart Community of California” in Impossible to Hold: Women and Culture in the 1960s, eds. Lauri Umansky and Avital Block. (New York: New York University Press, 2005),177-195.

7. Susan M. Maloney, SNJM, PhD. “Obedience, Responsibility, and Freedom: Anita M. Caspary, IHM,
and the Post-Conciliar Renewal of Catholic Women Religious” in U.S. Catholic Historian, Fall 2014, Vol. 32, No. 4, 121-150.

8. Mark. S. Massa, S.J. The American Catholic Revolution: How the Sixties Changed the Church Forever (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 90.