Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Professional Studies


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph B. Shedd


Catholic, Education, History, Mentoring, Sisters, Teaching

Subject Categories



This dissertation is a qualitative study that explores mentoring experiences of Catholic teaching nuns– hereafter called sisters and/or women religious– who served in parochial schools in the mid-twentieth century in the Diocese of Syracuse, NY. Teaching sisters comprised the majority of the professional workforce in Catholic schools through ministry as classroom teachers, building principals, diocesan-level administrators, service providers, and more. The purpose of this qualitative study was to develop an understanding of how teaching sisters engaged in mentoring to develop instructional and pedagogical skills in the mid-twentieth century, specifically 1940 through 1965.

In addition to researching archival records, this study employs a phenomenological approach and uses oral history methods, enabling sisters to share their experiences in focus groups and oral history interviews. Interview data were recorded, transcribed and analyzed. This study asks the following research questions: 1) What do teaching sisters’ oral histories reveal about their development of teaching skills?; 2) What do teaching sisters’ oral histories reveal about how formal and informal networks supported their development of these skills?; 3) What do teaching sisters reveal about how support evolved over time?; 4) What do teaching sisters’ oral histories reveal about the roles formal and informal networks played in their development as teachers?; 5) Did their support for each others’ teaching change over time?

The findings suggest that during the first half of the period studied, mentoring was a critical practice that sisters depended upon to develop skills in pedagogical practices, including lesson planning, instructional delivery, student assessment, and daily operations. In the second half of the time period under consideration mentoring practices continued; however, sisters began providing support to help them cope with substantial changes occurring in religious life. Sisters have shared empathy and symbiotic penchants to provide emotional and compassionate support to cultivate congregational and professional success. This research provides individual and congregational experiences that illuminate how mentoring was used as a form of occupational support. First-person narratives, based on the lived experiences of teaching sisters, further add to the existing literature on the history of women religious.


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