The Catholic University of America

Final Examination

Elizabeth McCloskey

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Friday, April 4, 2014

2:00p.m., Caldwell Hall, Room 125




lives as revelatory texts: constructin a spiritual biography of arleen mccarty hynes, O.S.B.


Director: Rev. Raymond Studzinski, O.S.B., Ph.D.


Throughout Christian history, hagiographical works have been written and read as an instrument for the adulation and emulation of spiritual exemplars, or saints.  At their most effective, these literary pieces have had transformative value for their readers.  Modern methods of scholarship have led understandably to a more critical stance toward these hagiographic materials, casting doubt on their historical accuracy and likewise on their spiritual value.  However, Edith Wyschogrod in her 1990 work, Saints and Postmodernism: Revisioning Moral Philosophy, cautions against letting the pendulum swing too far in the direction of historicizing a saint’s life while neglecting the divine-human transformation that may have occurred there.  Kees Waaijman in his 2002 work Spirituality:  Forms, Foundations, Methods provides the framework for a methodologically rich form of hagiography which takes seriously the dialogic nature of spiritual experience.  This study introduces and exemplifies the genre of spiritual biography as an update to the pre-scientific hagiographic treatments of spiritual figures which nonetheless treats an individual life as a revelatory text.  Spiritual biography utilizes what Waaijman calls form-descriptive research tools from the fields of history, the social sciences, literary criticism and theology and employs them in mystagogic research to study the transformative divine-human relational process in an individual life.

Arleen McCarty Hynes (1916-2006) is an apt subject for a spiritual biography.  Her life’s work as a wife, mother, lay Catholic leader, political activist, bibliotherapist and Benedictine sister was rooted in an underlying belief in the transformative power of the texts of Scripture, poetry and story.  Arleen and her husband, Emerson Hynes, were both Benedictine oblates of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, where Emerson taught ethics and where they raised their ten children according to The Rule of St. Benedict.  They moved to Washington to work for Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and worked on his 1968 presidential campaign.  After the early death of her husband, Arleen Hynes helped launch the field of bibliotherapy as a librarian at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC and then returned to Minnesota to become a Benedictine sister.  Through her letters, journals, interviews and published pieces, she left evidence of the revelatory role of text in her personal and professional life, especially during times of change.  Her life narrative is presented as a case study of the genre of spiritual biography as a revelatory text.