Graceful Exits: Catholic Women and the Art of Departure

Graceful Exits examines personal narratives by nine twentieth-century Catholic female authors: Monica Baldwin, Antonia White, Mary McCarthy, Mary Gordon, Mary Daly, Barbara Ferraro, Patricia Hussey, Karen Armstrong, and Patricia Hampl, paying close attention to what they have to say about the process of departure from the church or specific Catholic institutions (Catholic families, convents, or convent schools). It explores the taboo associated with women leaving their proper place and assigned duties as it is illustrated and broken by each of the authors. It locates five themes at the heart of all of the narratives: reversals, boundary crossings, diaspora, renaming, and recycling. Finally, it grapples with the spirituality of departure as it is depicted by all nine authors, for whom the very process of leaving Catholic institutions is a Catholic enterprise. These narratives support the popular Catholic maxim that no one ever really leaves the Catholic Church. The final chapter examines narratives of return, confirming the book's overarching theme: neither departure nor return is ever finished.