Abbie Reese

From interviews starting in 2005, Author Abbie Reese’s Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2014) tells the stories of Poor Clare Colettine nuns at the Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, Illinois. Seldom leaving their 25,000-square-foot cloistered monastery or fourteen-acre gated enclosure, members of the religious community devote their lives to prayer. As intermediaries between humanity and the supernatural realm, they strive to become saints on earth, "mothers of souls."


In a time when abstaining from social media for a few days passes for asceticism, the lives of poverty, chastity, obedience, and enclosure to which the Poor Clares make vows seem especially worthy of our attention. ... That is another one of monasticism’s surprises: where the world expects sorrow, the cloistered feel joy. Reese’s attentiveness and patience allows that joy to reveal itself. She also shows clearly that these women are not disingenuous: they know all they have left outside the cloister walls, and they acknowledge how hard it is to live together, not only in quotidian ways by sharing space and limited resources but in spiritual ways, praying for a peace that none of them may live to see.
— Casey N. Cep, The New Yorker Magazine

A fascinating read, this book lifts the veil of mystery surrounding women who forsake contact with the outside world to become brides of Christ.
— Booklist



Through an exquisite blend of oral and visual narratives, Reese shares the stories of the Poor Clare Colettine Order, a multigenerational group of cloistered contemplative nuns living in Rockford, Illinois. Among other issues, Reese’s photographs and interviews raise valuable questions about collective memory formation and community building in a space marked by anonymity and silence.
— OUPBLOG, MARCH 28, 2014

OUPblog managing editor Troy Reeves speaks with scholar and artist Abbie Reese about her book, Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns.



"One of the great challenges we face as oral historians is how to write oral history effectively. Do we imprison the voices of our interviewees in finely edited prose between quotation marks, or leave more space in our writing for our interviewees to speak more expansively and freely? ... Increasingly, I have been drawn to oral historians who play with the form of the book. ... Abbie Reese's book on cloistered nuns at the Corpus Christi Monastery in Illinois is a fine example of this desire to reimagine the oral history book. From the opening pages, we get a strong sense of the author, her project, and the story-sharing context. It is imaginative and highly reflexive."
– Steven High, The Oral History Review, Volume 42 Issue 2 Summer/Fall 2015


"Abbie Reese takes on a different challenge in Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns. Reese gains the trust and respect of the Poor Clare Colettine Order of the Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, Ill. ... Over a six-year period, the author interviews sisters who volunteer to share their thoughts, aspirations, reflections and spirituality amid their daily lives of prayer, gardening, baking and manual labor. The author’s sensitivity and patience allowed her unprecedented access to a group of religious women who are often misunderstood by most 21st-century Americans, if not completely incomprehensible to them."
– Carol K. Coburn, America magazine


"The easy relationship that evolved between (the nuns) and the author allowed the nuns to be free and open in their interviews, which are ably edited here into a narrative form. ... This fascinating peek into a life that is often misunderstood and rarely subject to this type of scrutiny will appeal to anyone interested in American religion or women’s studies." 
–  Library Journal

Select articles + interviews

Oxford University Press blog
"Monastic Silence and a Visual Dialogue"
By Abbie Reese
October 9, 2014

The New Yorker magazine's Page-Turner section
“Inside the Cloister”
By Casey N. Cep
March 5, 2014

Oral History Review journal
Media Review of "Erased from the Landscape"
By Teresa Bergen
Volume 41, Issue 2, Summer/Fall 2014

Chicago Public Radio
WBEZ’s Morning Shift
By Producer Lynette Kalsnes and Host Tony Sarabia
March 5, 2014

Oral History Review blog
“Oral history, collective memory and
community among cloistered nuns”

By Managing Editor Troy Reeves
and Caitlin Tyler-Richards
March 28, 2014

University of Chicago Magazine
"Ordered Lives"
By Abbie Reese
May/June 2014

WTVO Fox 39
Interview by Evelyn Wilkerson