Immaculate Heart Community

Nan Deane Cano



1848:  In Olot, Spain, Father Joaquin Masmitjá founded a religious order for women, the Daughters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM).

1871:  At the request of Bishop Thaddeus Amat y Brusi of California, ten IHM Sisters arrived from Spain in Gilroy and San Juan Bautista, California.

1886:  Several IHM Sisters moved to Los Angeles to open Saint Vibiana Cathedral School.

1906:  Immaculate Heart Motherhouse and Immaculate Heart High School were established in Los Angeles.

1916:  Immaculate Heart College was chartered in Los Angeles as the first standard Catholic college for women in Southern California.

1924:  IHM Sisters in California separated from Spain and founded a new order.

1943:  Immaculate Heart Novitiate was established in Montecito, California.

1955:  La Casa de Maria Retreat Center, located on the property in Montecito, was opened for married couples’ retreats.

1965:  The IHM religious community inaugurated a renewal program in accordance with the directives of Vatican II, including wearing contemporary clothing instead of habits (outer dress traditionally worn by Sisters) as each Sister chose, praying together when and where the Sisters could assemble, improving the educational credentials of Sisters who taught in the community’s schools, and teaching smaller classes of students.

1967:  The IHM Sisters were ordered by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre to end their renewal innovations, or withdraw from teaching in all Los Angeles Archdiocese schools.

1969 (May):  The IHM Sisters were told by representatives of the Vatican that they could not remain Sisters unless they agreed to return to wearing habits and other stipulations concerning life, ministry, and worship made by the Vatican.

1969 (December):  327 IHM Sisters, the majority out of 560 Sisters, decided to ask to be released from their vows.

1970 (March 28):  The new lay Immaculate Heart Community was founded by 220 of the former IHM Sisters, no longer under the control of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

1974:  The ecumenical Center for Spiritual Renewal opened on the La Casa de Maria grounds in Montecito.

1980:  An apartment complex, the Kenmore Residence, was purchased for elderly Community members wishing to live together.

1982:  Immaculate Heart College Center opened as the first national program for Feminist Spirituality conferring advanced degrees.

1992:  Casa Esperanza, an outreach and immigrant support center, was founded in Panorama City, California focusing on acculturation experience and gang prevention.

1995:  The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Immaculate Heart Community was celebrated.

1995:  The Corita Art Center was established in Los Angeles.

1996:  Alexandria House was founded in collaboration with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph as transitional housing for women and children.

1998:  The 150th Anniversary of the Spanish foundation of the IHM order took place.

2003:  Housing Works was founded to ensure housing as a basic human right for homeless people seeking permanent housing in Los Angeles.

2007:  The fINdings art and community center was founded in San Pedro, California.

2010:  The Fortieth Anniversary of the Immaculate Heart Community was celebrated.

2016:  IHC established three commissions to focus on collaborative work: Commission for Justice for Women, Environmental Commission, and Commission on Justice for Immigrants and Refugees.

2020:  The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Immaculate Heart Community of California was celebrated.


The Immaculate Heart Community  [Image at right] includes as one of its goals to “build relations in society which foster access of all persons to truth, dignity and full human development” (“Our Mission and Vision” 2019). The story of how a Roman Catholic order of Sisters evolved into a lay ecumenical community whose members attempt to live this out in practice is unique.

The Daughters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) were founded in Olot, Spain, in 1848 by Father Joaquin Masmitjà de Puig (1808–1886) [Image at right] in response to the spiritual, educational, and social needs of young women living perilously on the streets in wartime Spain (Cano 2016:xiii). By 1868, their reputation as skilled educators prompted the first Roman Catholic Bishop Thaddeus Amat y Brusi (1810–1878) of Los Angeles, California to invite them to found an educational apostolate in the city. In the Catholic Church, an apostolate is a project directed toward fulfilling human needs. In 1871, ten pioneer IHM Sisters arrived in Gilroy and San Juan Bautista, California, before settling in Los Angeles.

IHM Sisters opened and staffed the Saint Vibiana Cathedral School in 1886 in the center of Los Angeles. In 1906, the Sisters opened the Immaculate Heart Convent [Image at right] and Immaculate Heart High School on Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles; in 1916, they chartered and opened Immaculate Heart College on the same property (Caspary 2003:16). They taught in elementary and secondary schools throughout California as well as the college, eventually pursuing advanced degrees and establishing six hospitals in central and southern California. In 1924, the order became independent of Spain and formed a Pontifical Institute, under the authority of the Vatican, but aligned with American customs and sensibilities (Caspary 2003:xiv). Over the next few decades their service extended beyond California to include schools in Texas, Arizona, and Canada.

Moved by contemporary philosophies encouraging freedom in individual expression and the early women’s liberation movement in the 1960s, the IHM Sisters welcomed change. Vatican Council II (1962–1965) called for renewal of the Catholic Church and, in particular, asked both men’s and women’s religious orders around the world to renew and adapt to the signs of the times. The 525 Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious order engaged in a study of the Second Vatican Council documents and benefited from hearing eminent theologians speak to them about the meaning of the documents and living out the call to renewal.

Eagerly responding to Vatican II’s call for reform, [Image at right]  the IHM Sisters met in their order’s Ninth General Chapter throughout 1967 to make decisions about renewal. A chapter is a meeting held with the entire membership of a religious order. In Pontifical Institutes such as IHM, the chapter had overall governance authority with no requirement of approval by the local archbishop. By the conclusion of the Ninth General Chapter, the IHM Sisters felt secure in their decisions regarding flexible prayer times, wearing contemporary dress instead of habits, ministries beyond health and education, and the importance of professional formation for educators.

In concert with Catholic Sisters all across the United States, the IHM Sisters proposed small and large changes in how they prayed, worked, lived together, and governed themselves. They proposed:

Praying when and where they could assemble.

Embarking on apostolates in the working world of the twentieth century.

Wearing contemporary dress of individual choice.

Restricting class size in schools and staffing classrooms with professionally-credentialed teachers (Cano 2016:64)

They did not foresee the complete and obdurate rejection of all their proposed changes by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre (1886–1979), archbishop of the Los Angeles archdiocese from 1948 to 1970.

Between 1947 and 1961, the IHM Sisters had opened thirty-four schools in Los Angeles, a 160 percent increase over the previous eighty years in the archdiocese (Weber 1997:328). [Image at right] Cardinal McIntyre was expanding the reach of the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles, with the majority of new parishes pushing into the suburbs and valleys around the city. It was essential to staff these schools with Catholic Sisters. This came into play in the controversy that ensued. In spite of efforts to prepare Sisters for teaching careers, in May 1967 seventy Immaculate Heart Sisters were without baccalaureate degrees, even though thirty-five of them had been professed religious for ten years or more (Caspary 2003:228).

The academic life of Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood drew the cardinal’s particular ire. As college president from 1963–1977, Sister Mary William, IHM (Helen Kelley) considered the defense of academic freedom central to intellectual integrity. Every semester she faced archdiocesan scrutiny over required readings, faculty assignments, speakers, and events. She encouraged student opinions, freedom of thought for faculty including Sisters, engagement in public forums, and individual political expression. The stream of letters from the chancery forbade all of this noting “immature assessments by students should not be made” (Kelley 1963).

When Mother Humiliata, IHM (Anita Caspary, Ph.D.) [Image at right] was invited by the University of Judaism in Los Angeles to lecture on the French author and philosopher François Mauriac in 1964, Cardinal McIntyre demanded that a lay professor be sent in her stead. Sister Mary William, with determination and restraint, replied:

I can say in all honesty that there is no lay professor on our staff who could lecture on the subject of François Mauriac with the same depth or skill that Reverend Mother would bring to the subject. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that there is no one in southern California, in Catholic or secular universities, who would be as qualified as she (Kelley 1963).

Sister Mary William concluded by stating that she would abide by the cardinal’s recommendation, adding, however, that it would be embarrassing to the college and to the University of Judaism. Mother Humiliata spoke on François Mauriac at the university. Frustrations at the Chancery Office of the archdiocese with the IHM Sisters increased over time. Between 1965 and 1967, two archdiocesan investigative visitations occurred, with priests chosen by the cardinal, interrogating Sisters on the coming reforms. The IHM Sisters were interviewed multiple times, in insulting and personally demeaning terms, regarding their motives and religious devotion (Cano 2016:64). Some of the questions were:

Do you think the Sisters’ sex life is affected by reading novels?

Don’t you think it will take too much time to fix your hair if you were to change your habit?

Do you want to look like a little girl?

Do you want to look like a floozie on Hollywood Boulevard? (Cano 2016:64)

As a Pontifical Institute answering to the Vatican, the IHM Sisters could expect clarification requests. The official visitations by priests and bishops were not collegial meetings, however, especially since wrong-doing was implicit in a request from a cardinal. (In the twenty-first century, American religious orders of women underwent similar investigations. Most recently, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was subjected to a doctrinal assessment and a mandate for reform.)

Trips to Rome to attempt face-to-face meetings with officials in the Vatican were to no avail. Over a period of three years of study and discussion of the Vatican II call to renewal (1967–1970), the IHM order found itself in disagreement with local church officials over the direction it was taking. Ultimately, the renewal process led to an impasse between the religious order and Cardinal McIntyre. Even though Pope Paul VI (p. 1963–1978) had himself decreed such review and revision on the part of religious orders, his call mattered little at this particular local level. Cardinal McIntyre opposed everything the majority of IHM Sisters proposed. While the Sisters requested comprehensive education and certification before teaching, the cardinal chose to emphasize that wearing contemporary clothing was the core problem, one he could solve by edict.

Meetings between the Immaculate Heart of Mary leadership and Cardinal McIntyre ended with his vow: “You will suffer for this” (Caspary 2003:1). The Los Angeles interrogations of 1965 and 1967 were followed by two more visitations from Rome, requested by McIntyre in 1968 and 1969. In April 1968, the Vatican sent four points to all institutes of American women religious in advance of the May 1968 Papal Visitation to the IHM Sisters requested by Cardinal McIntyre. The Visitation was conducted by several American bishops selected by the Vatican at the cardinal’s suggestion. An a priori decision appeared to be in place. The directive to all American Catholic Sisters stated, in summary:

Sisters must wear uniform habits.

Sisters must at least attend Mass together every day, even though other prayer times are arranged.

Sisters must maintain the directive, found in the constitutions of their orders, to engage in the education of children.

Sisters, especially those who are members of Pontifical Institutes, must observe due collaboration with the local ordinaries (Caspary 2003:156–58).

[An ordinary is an officer of the Church invested with authority, such as a bishop, archbishop, cardinal.] If the outlook on the IHM order was critical within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, public support for the Sisters themselves was overwhelming (Dart 1968), as was support from thousands of other women religious (“3,000 Sisters” 1968). With a petition signed by 25,556 Catholic clergy from a variety of regions, and members of the public decrying the four points as harmful to the vitality of all American women religious, Mother Humiliata decided to deliver the response of the Sisters of the IHM order to Rome in person. However, after being informed she was a persona non grata who would be denied admission to official offices, she canceled her March 29, 1968 flight (Raimondi 1968). From May 4 to May 7, the Sisters from the entire religious institute came to Los Angeles to be interviewed singly and in groups with open-ended questions. Unable to come to a conclusion, the commission left and returned to Los Angeles in June.

By June 1968, some members had left the IHM order in a gradual attrition for multiple reasons, but the majority of 560 members, whose average age was thirty-six, under the direction of Mother Humiliata were to be allowed by the IHM Sisters’ approval to continue their experimentation as to dress and prayer in accord with the renewal process (Caspary 2003:115). A minority of fifty-one members, with an average age of sixty-two, would continue to follow the order’s constitutions in effect before the Ninth General Chapter and proceed with their own renewal and make arrangements regarding schools with diocesan authorities.

In response to these meetings, Mother General Humiliata declared:

I have felt for some time that the IHMs for no reason one could analyze, are being asked in a special way to read the signs of the times, to forge ahead, to begin with enthusiasm to work as a community of hope. . . (Cano 2016:66).

The final visitation of bishops selected by the Vatican came in May 1969. Over and over, groups of Immaculate Heart Sisters filed in front of the assembled men to be told repeatedly that they would not be consecrated women religious unless they adhered to the infamous four points. If they refused, they must request dispensation from their vows; then they could form any sort of “association” they wanted (Cano 2016:65). The majority of the Sisters signed requests for dispensations from their vows and were ordered to vacate forty-three parochial schools in Los Angeles in a week’s time. Each Sister indicated her personal decision to Mother General Humiliata by December 15, 1969.

Given new opportunities for complete independence, 372 Sisters left the order. Of the 372 who left, 220 decided to form an independent, lay, faith-based community, Immaculate Heart Community (IHC) in 1970 (Navarro 1998). IHC members serving in other dioceses continued to teach in parochial elementary and high schools, but those in Los Angeles were barred from teaching. As a result, several IHM institutions became separate nonprofit corporations, including Immaculate Heart College, Immaculate Heart High School, Queen of the Valley Hospital, and La Casa de Maria Retreat Center. [Image at right] The community incorporated under its new name, Immaculate Heart Community, as a public benefit corporation in the state of California. Sustaining devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the former Sisters put “IHM” after their names.

The new Immaculate Heart Community came into existence at the Easter Vigil (the Saturday between Good Friday when Jesus Christ was crucified and Easter on Sunday when he was resurrected) of March 28, 1970. The former Sisters did not have the luxury of grieving for the past. The pain of rejection was felt deeply; there was no way for each one not to take it very personally. Guided by their leader [Image at right] Anita Caspary, IHM (1915–2011) (the former Mother Humiliata of the IHM religious order) 220 women willingly, albeit with great trepidation, agreed to begin a new life. Some would live in community; some would marry; new members could be Christian men or women, gay or straight. Indeed, it was a new community without walls, in which members came from many life and work experiences in a variety of fields, including education, social work, law, parish ministry, the arts, healthcare, and administration of public and nonprofit organizations.

At the same time, a small group of Sisters chose to stay in canonical status, as the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. As of this writing (2019), only a single member is still living. Cardinal McIntyre retired as prelate on January 21, 1970.

Since establishment of the IHC, former IHM Sisters have gained recognition for their commitment to justice. For example, Corita Kent (1918–1986), an internationally-acclaimed artist, used the accessible art form of serigraphy to voice protest in the 1960s (Ault 2006; Berry and Duncan 2013; Pacatte 2017). Her prints depicted the horrors of the Vietnam War, racial injustice, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Matched with poetry, scripture, and political insights, Kent’s works call for peace and justice. [Image at right] Her art is found in notable collections of major museums all over the world and continues to be enjoyed by local and international audiences.

Another example is Patricia H. Reif, IHM (1930–2002), an activist philosopher who chaired the Graduate Department of Religious Studies at Immaculate Heart College. In 1984, she founded the Master’s degree program in Feminist Spirituality, the first in America, at the Immaculate Heart College Center. A commitment to social justice drove her life, and she grappled with issues of domestic abuse, immigration, the feminization of poverty, welfare, and the anti-nuclear movement (Reif 1970–2002). She worked with Caesar Chavez (1927–1993) for Latino/a civil rights, Bread for the World, and the Pledge of Resistance, an ecumenical group in the cause of refugees fleeing from civil wars in Central America. Liberation theology helped Reif see God in the midst of the struggles for liberation (Cano 2016:78). She fought for full participation of women in all the ministries and decision-making bodies of the Roman Catholic Church. An early supporter of the ordination of women as priests in the Catholic Church, she would be pleased to know the Immaculate Heart Community counts several ordained women in the Roman Catholic Women Priest  movement in its membership as well as women ordained in the Episcopal, Baptist, and Lutheran denominations.

As envisioned, the Immaculate Heart Community, informed by insights from ecofeminist spiritualities, engages the modern world. Instead of “being diminished by pain and misunderstanding, [they] continue their commitment to justice, transformation, and renewal,” as Sister Edith Prendergast, RSC observed (Cano 2016:cover).

The Immaculate Heart Community today honors its founders by volunteering in three primary  commissions in areas of justice: for women, for immigrants, and for the environment. Immigrants themselves so long ago, the Community pledges to protect the safety and rights of the newest generation of immigrants and refugees in the United States. One project, Casa Esperanza, offers support to newly arrived families. Alliances with nonprofit organizations like Housing Works and Alexandria House seek stable living conditions for people living without homes. Individual ministries linked to women’s rights and the environment align with the formal commissions within the IHC.


The Immaculate Heart Community is historically grounded in Catholic belief and tradition. At the same time, there is no tie or allegiance to the pope or Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. Ecumenical, not interfaith, the Community follows the Christian liturgical year in celebrations, worship, and retreat themes. Members acknowledge the sacredness of creation participating in the divine cosmos. There is no singular creed of beliefs that must be followed. Women priests are welcomed from Christian faith systems as well as ordained Roman Catholic Women Priests who celebrate Mass. Although the Catholic Church does not allow women to be ordained, the Community recognizes the priestly office of these ordained women members.

The Community honors the sacred feminine embodied in Mary of Nazareth. Confessing that God entered the world in Jesus through the catalyst that Mary’s willing love provided, the IHC identifies with this “life-nurturing capacity as it manifests itself in our history and in the ongoing life of our Community” (“Our Life of Prayer”  2018). Mary remains a model of compassion, patience and forgiveness, personal strength, courage and renewal, and a symbol of the birth of new life in all its forms.

Rooted in Jesus the Christ, members respect multiple paths to the Holy. Both in readings and gatherings, paths such as Islam, Buddhism, Judaism provide inspiration. The IHC acknowledges its ecumenical orientation, recognizing the multiple concepts, images, and symbols of the Holy within Christianity. It embraces this diversity in belief in the underlying reality and unity of all existence in the divine. Thus, the Immaculate Heart Community is able to blend both individual and shared spiritual experiences.


The Immaculate Heart Community worships creatively and spontaneously. A key component of religious life for IHC members is prayer that unites all in the experience of the Holy, since it is “a significant part of human connection with the sacred mystery of life.” Through prayer and meditation, individuals are reconnected to each other and to all of creation. “Divisions between sacred and secular disappear and all is one with divine reality.”

Through prayer we direct our minds and spirits to this underlying Source, and we experience the immanence of divine energy. This personal connection through prayer enlivens each of us, draws us into the global community, and, ultimately, returns us to our connection with creation itself (“Our Life of Prayer” 2018).

Members of the Community gather in pairs or small groups to listen and share their understanding of what is sacred. They may sit in silence, read together, listen to uplifting music, or share simple rituals, such as communal meals. They often participate in a Christian worship experience. By sharing bread and wine, they believe that the risen and cosmic Christ (Fox 1988) enters their very being. The concept of the cosmic Christ is that every particle of the universe is imbued with the divine, hence all matter engages in divine energy and presence. “The gifts of bread and wine, blessed by the Spirit through Community, connect us to the energy of all life and build solidarity with one another and all humanity” (“Our Life of Prayer” 2018).

Successfully integrating various Christian systems, Episcopalian women priests, Lutheran women pastors, and Roman Catholic women priests lead liturgies, as do individual lay members. Elder community members who were Sisters in the canonical Immaculate Heart of Mary order usually opt for a traditional Catholic Mass celebrated with a priest as their silver and golden anniversary commitment celebrations arise. At annual Assembly meetings one sees a variety of worship opportunities, ranging from agape meals (simple communal meals shared together) accompanied by readings selected by members, to full communion services including several Christian approaches. Consequently, there is no prescribed liturgy. In fact, each gathering at the table is unique.


The IHC diverse faith community is formed by insights from ecofeminist and justice spiritualities, and engages in communal decision-making and listening to the Holy Spirit. IHC members seek to build bridges of reconciliation and to build a community faithfully working for peace and justice.

The IHC has followed a variety of leadership models, with teams, elected officials, and other styles of management and organization, all elected by the full membership. Each expression met the needs of different times and historical contexts. The governance model described below is in place in IHC today (“The Spirit in Which We Share Responsibility for Governance” 2018).

IHC members exercise individual authority by actively engaging in leadership roles, involvement in group decision-making, and delegating short-term authority to Community leaders and committee members. Members explore commitments and prioritize future directions in prayer groups, discernment days, retreats, conference calls, and computer-assisted meetings.

A president is elected by IHC members to be the spiritual leader of the Community and to provide direction to the Community. The president provides spiritual leadership and guidance, especially with regard to sponsored ministries, membership activities, development efforts, and by building relationships with organizations that share similar values and goals. A vice-president, also elected, serves a pastoral role by assessing and supporting the personal needs of individual members and helping to create community rituals and celebrations. Both president and vice-president serve three-year terms, renewable once by vote.

A Board of Trustees, elected directly from membership for three-year terms that are renewable once, oversees all operations of the Community, its sponsored ministries, and its assets. The Board ensures that the resources of the Community are managed effectively so as to sustain its commitment to service.

Members of the Community meet each year in Assembly to address important issues and to guide the Board of Trustees. The annual Assembly discerns developments within the Community and the larger world, invites communal responses, and engages in communal contemplation and dialogue related to mission and ministry.

The Immaculate Heart Community is structured as a nonprofit, public benefit corporation in compliance with both the laws and regulations of the State of California and United States Internal Revenue Service code 501(c)3.


In rejecting the control of their lives by the patriarchal male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the Immaculate Heart Community members faced daunting challenges in the creation and implementation of a lived commitment to the contemporary world. This is the only group of Sisters in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States to have followed this path of resistance resulting in a contemporary Christian faith community open to membership without denominational or gender restrictions.

Because of the sheltered lives the IHM Sisters had maintained in a traditional Catholic religious order for women, the founding members of IHC did not know how to write checks or open bank accounts. They had to learn to drive and obtain cars. Friends and family members offered clothes and shopping trips. Male relatives had to vouch for women so they could get their first credit cards. Small groups of women lived together, renting houses, learning to cook, and pooling all monies. Members of one house voted to contribute to the education of a resident member so she could complete her degree, since there was no longer a religious order that routinely paid for education. Newsletters of the time are filled with personal accounts, requests for information, and calendars of upcoming talks, retreats, and opportunities to gather. In this new life of complete freedom, some of the women who had signed papers relinquishing their vows eventually left the new Immaculate Heart Community.

Outside of Los Angeles, IHC members continued their teaching and nursing work. True to the decrees, the guiding principles of living, praying, and working together, of the new Community, members could now engage in any work they chose. While many remained in education and nursing, some sought social service jobs; several began working directly to benefit the poor. Others found great satisfaction as commercial and fine artists, professional musicians, authors, counselors, journalists, and lawyers. A number of women embraced roles in the growing social justice works throughout the United States and beyond, for instance, in the Peace Corps and anti-nuclear protests.

Having resisted Catholic Church barriers, the IHC members broadened their concept of Christian life. The Community now welcomes priests and former vowed religious, widowed, divorced, remarried, single, gay and lesbian new members. Theologian Dr. Alexis Navarro, IHM summarized this change by pointing to “all persons who do not wish to be defined by celibacy or gender relationships but rather feel called by Baptism to greater fidelity to Jesus through and in Gospel discipleship” (Cano 2016:76; Navarro 1998). The Community conducted a study of many models of faith and intentional communities across the world, including the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Sojourners Fellowship, and the Catholic Worker Movement, and resolved to keep its own unique mission with an awareness of other groups (Newsnotes 1970–1980).

The actual process of joining the Immaculate Heart Community was unclear at first. Former women and men religious or priests were asked to wait several years to clarify their past experiences before committing to a new intentional life. Interested people were linked with founding members for extended dialogue and invited to all Community events. The actual criteria changed over the first decade, and this frustrated some applicants to the point of withdrawing. Early on, one suggested path would have required candidates to have thirty units of religious studies courses or two years of community service work, but this was not implemented. Eventually, a two-year orientation program evolved with a final internship year before making a commitment to IHC, which is a promise of service that may be renewed annually (Assembly Notes 2001–2006.).

Today, Immaculate Heart Community teams help a new candidate discern the divine voice in their life and how best to respond to the call to community. By sharing individual histories and those of the Immaculate Heart Community, the applicant experiences many ways to acknowledge the stirrings in their heart and enjoys the company of fellow candidates over time in social events, retreats, and Community studies. While members do not necessarily live in community, they are called to live as community, that is, intentionally belonging to one another in prayer, support, and service.

A major challenge today is financial. Facing housing payments, education costs, health insurance, and care for elders, the amount of money available for community use from each member varies widely. Each member annually reevaluates their personal assets, however, and determines privately the amount of their monthly contributions. This can and does change as circumstances warrant. The annual operating expenses come from a general fund, and an investment portfolio provides support for larger projects as needed. As a charitable nonprofit, the Immaculate Heart Community pays no income taxes, but its individual members do.

In 2014, the legacy of the Immaculate Heart Community and Anita Caspary were remembered by Sister Theresa Kane, RSM, [Image at right] former president (1979-1980) of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She stated:

The Immaculate Heart experience was a pivotal point, a lightning rod. American religious women would not have been as effective in making the renewal changes without Anita Caspary and the IHMs. In a very powerful manner, Anita Caspary and the IHMs expanded the environment of change for U.S. women religious and led the way. This is a new form of religious life (“Visionary, Activist” [2019]).

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters intended to remain vowed religious for the rest of their lives. They believed that the rational basis for the renewal of their religious order was in fidelity to the call for renewal by Vatican Council II. Resistance or rebellion on their part toward the Catholic hierarchy was not on the horizon. Yet simply by persisting with integrity, the IHM Sisters were in fact resisting, and their resistance came at great cost. At each critical stage in their evolution, the clear majority of IHM Sisters advanced into the next phase of their communal spiritual life. In the era of women’s liberation during the second wave of feminism, the majority of the IHM Sisters left religious life and chose even more freedom from patriarchal control.

In 2020, the 120 members of the Immaculate Heart Community celebrate fifty years of serving the marginalized. President Karol Schulkin, IHM (2017–present)  [Image at right] has observed: “Our liberation as a community was never meant for us alone. Leaving a structure no longer life-giving for us, we are called to take our Community into the marketplace. We go forward with a grateful backward glance” (Schulkin 2018).


Image #1: Immaculate Heart Community members at their annual Assembly to review finances, policies, and mission, 2013.
Image #2: Father Joaquin Masmitjá, founder of Daughters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary, 1848. The founding purpose of the religious order of women was to educate and protect young women in Olot, Spain.
Image #3: Energetic and committed, the Sisters eagerly addressed the call of the Second Vatican Council to renew their core mission and relevance to the contemporary world, 1960s.
Image #4: Sister Mary Humiliata (Anita Caspary) on right; Sister Eugenia Ward, treasurer, on left; Sister Mary William (Helen Kelley), center. As Mother General, Sister M. Humiliata led the Immaculate Heart Sisters through years of negotiations with the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the Vatican.
Image #5: Sister Mary Humiliata (Anita Caspary), on left. Cardinal McIntyre in 1964, on right.
Image #6: The retreat center at La Casa de Maria in Montecito, California began as the novitiate for Sister formation.
Image #7: Sister M. Humiliata returned to her baptismal name Anita Caspary. She became the only woman to have served as Mother General of a religious order of women and the president of a faith-based Christian community of lay women and men.
Image #8: Corita Kent, active, 1982. Image courtesy of Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community.
Image # 9: Sister Theresa Kane, RSM, President of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (1979–1980), emerged as a strong supporter of the Immaculate Heart renewal movement. She called for the full inclusion of women in all ministries of the Catholic Church, including the priesthood.
Image #10: Karol Schulkin, IHM, a peace and justice activist, has led the Community as president from 2017 to the present.


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Ault, Julie. 2006. Come Alive! The Spiritual Art of Sister Corita. London: Four Corners Books.

Barry, Kathleen. 2010. “Developing a Critical Consciousness of Authority While Following the Call of Vocation: A Study in Lessons Learned from the Women of the Immaculate Heart Community.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Pacific University. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Berry, Ian, and Michael Duncan, eds. 2013. Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent. New York: Delmonico Books-Prestel Publishing.

Cano, Nan Deane, IHM. 2016. Take Heart: Growing as a Faith Community. New York: Paulist Press.

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Dart, John. 1968. “25,000 Sign Petition Backing Nuns ‘Updating.’” Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2:1–2.

Kelley, Helen, IHM. 1963. Correspondence. A/IHMCOM.

Fox, Matthew. 1988. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance. San Francisco: Harper.

Navarro, Alexis, IHM. 1998. “The Heart of the Matter: The Immaculate Heart Community and Its Origins.” Paper presented at the Graduate Program in Religious Studies, Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, 23 July. A/IHMCOM.

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“Our Mission and Vision.” 2019. The Immaculate Heart Community. Accessed from on 16 December 2019.

Pacatte, Rose. 2017. Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Raimondi, Archbishop Luigi. 1968. Letter to Sister Anita Caspary,  March 29. A/IHMCOM.

Reif, Pat, IHM. 1970–2002. Letters and Journals. A/IHMCOM .

Schulkin, Karol, IHM.  2018. Address to the Annual Assembly, September 20. Unpublished. A/IHMCOM.

The Spirit That Calls Us: The Vision and Mission of the Immaculate Heart Community of California. 2018. Los Angeles: Immaculate Heart Community.

“The Spirit in Which We Share Responsibility for Governance.” 2018. In The Spirit That Calls Us: The Vision and Mission of the Immaculate Heart Community of California. Los Angeles: Immaculate Heart Community.

“Visionary, Activist.” 2019. Anita Caspary I.H.M. (1915–2011). Accessed from on 17 December 2019. 

Weber, Monsignor Francis J. 1997. His Eminence of Los  Angeles: James Francis Cardinal McIntyre. Mission Hills, CA: Archdiocese of Los Angeles.


Caspary, Anita M., IHM. 2012. From the Heart: Poems by Anita M. Caspary, I.H.M. Los Angeles: The Anita M. Caspary Trust.

Chittister, Joan D. 1983. Women, Ministry and the Church. New York: Paulist Press.

Collins, Gail. 2010. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. New York: Back Bay Books.

Heilbrun, Carolyn G. 1979/1993. Reinventing Womanhood. New York: W. W. Norton.

Johnson, Elizabeth A., ed. 2002. The Church Women Want: Catholic Women in Dialogue. New York: Crossroad Publishing.

Maloney, Susan Marie. 2005. “The Choices before Us: Anita M. Caspary and the Immaculate Heart Community.” Pp. 177-95 in Impossible to Hold: Women and Culture in the 1960’s, edited by Avital Bloch and Lauri Umansky. New York: New York University Press.

Massa, Mark S., SJ. 2010. The American Catholic Revolution: How the ‘60’s Changed the Church Forever. New York: Oxford University Press.

Massa, Mark S. 1999. “To Be Beautiful, Human and Christian—IHMs and the Routinization of Charisma.” Pp. 172-221 in Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team. New York: Crossroad Publishing.

Murphy, Doris Agnes, IHM. 2014. Houses: A Memoir. N.p.: Createspace.

Quinoñes, Lora Ann, CDP, and Mary Daniel Turner, SNDdeN. 1992. The Transformation of American Sisters. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1985. Women-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Schneiders, Sandra M., IHM. 2000. Finding the Treasure: Locating Catholic Religious Life in a New Ecclesial and Cultural Context. New York: Paulist Press.

“The Catholic Exodus: Why Priests and Nuns Are Quitting.” 1970. Time,   February 23.

“The Immaculate Heart Rebels.” 1970. Time. February 23, 49–50.


A/IHMCOM (Archives of the Immaculate Heart Community). A complete inventory of the archives of the Immaculate Heart Community (located at 5515 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90028) is being developed to create markers and international database accessibility. In the near future, parts of the archive will be presented to a California university. The collection spans materials from 1848 in Spain to the current day.


Hayden, Jeffrey, Director. 1992. Primary Colors: The Story of Corita. Los Angeles: Heartland Film. DVD. 60 minutes.


Anita M. Caspary, I.H.M. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Corita Kent. 2019. Accessed 17 December 2019.

Immaculate Heart Community. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Immaculate Heart Community Projects

Alexandria House. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Alverno Heights Academy. 2019. Accessed from  on 17 December 2019.

Casa Esperanza. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Corita Art Center. 2019. Corita Kent. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Emanate Health. Formerly Citrus Valley Health Partners. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

fINdings Art Center. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Housing Works. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

IHM Residence. 2019. Accessed from on  17 December 2019.

Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School, Grades 6-12. 2019. Accessed from on17 December 2019.

La Casa de Maria and Its Center for Spiritual Renewal. 2019. Accessed from on 17 December 2019.

Publication Date:
10 February 2020


Updated: — 3:19 pm

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