View the Recording 

Dr. Shannen Williams spoke Feb. 1 in Convocation Hall. A recording of her lecture is available at the link above.

For most people, Whoopi Goldberg's performance as Sister Mary Clarence in the Sister Act film franchise is the dominant interpretation of an African American nun and the desegregation of white Catholic sisterhood in the United States. In this lecture, Dr. Shannen Dee Williams will explore the story of America's real sister act: the story of how generations of Black women and girls called to the sacred vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience fought against racism, sexism, and exclusion to become and minister as consecrated women of God in the Roman Catholic Church. In so doing, she will turn attention to women's religious life as a stronghold of white supremacy and racial segregation, and thus an important battleground in the long African American freedom struggle.


Dr. Shannen Dee Williams is associate professor of history at the University of Dayton. A historian of the African American experience with research and teaching specializations in women’s religious and Black freedom movement history, Williams is the author of Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle, which was published by Duke University Press in May 2022. Subversive Habits was named a top five book published in religion by Publishers' Weekly in 2022. It also received the 2022 Letitia Woods Brown Award for Best Book in African American Women's History from the Association of Black Women Historians and the 2023 Wesley-Logan Prize for Outstanding Book in African Diaspora History from the American Historical Association and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

Dr. Williams’s research been supported by a host of fellowships, grants and awards, including a Scholar-in-Residence Fellowship at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, a Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Fellowship in Religion and Ethics from the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, an Albert J. Beveridge Grant from the American Historical Association and the John Tracy Ellis Dissertation Award from the American Catholic Historical Association. Her work has been published in the Journal of African American History, American Catholic Studies, the Washington Post, America Magazine, and the National Catholic Reporter.

A Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, Dr. Williams also authored the award-winning column, “The Griot’s Cross,” published by the Catholic News Service from 2020 to 2022.