In Sisters: Lives of Devotion and Defiance Julia Lieblich, a Jewish journalist, profiles four of the 100,000 Catholic nuns in America today. According to research on these women in religious life, most of them are from working-class Irish and German-American families. About 80 percent of them view social justice as their primary mission.

That certainly is true in the case of Sister Mary Aileen Dame who left teaching and got a medical degree so she could serve the poor in the barrios of Latin America. In the work of Sister Donna Quinn, Lieblich sees signs of a growing resistance to the hierarchical structure and sexism of Catholicism. She is the head of Chicago Catholic Women, a 1500-member group dedicated to giving women an equal voice in the church.

The activism of Sister Catherine O'Reilly, a contemplative nun, is not in the social realm but in the dynamism of her prayers which serve as a lifeline supporting those in need. Her ministry is quite different from that of Sister Darlene Nicgorski, who was active in the sanctuary movement dedicated to assisting Central American refugees in the U.S.

Author Julia Lieblich helps us to see how the spirituality of these women — two of whom are no longer nuns — has led them to challenge traditional Catholic dogma and authoritarianism. Their progressivism may be the salt that gives savor to the new activism of laity and the new forms of feminine spirituality afoot in our times.