In the spring of 1986, Dr. David Snowdon met S. Carmen Burg, SSND, for the first time. At that time she was an elected leader of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. He had been encouraged to do this by a member of his staff who had formerly been a School Sister of Notre Dame. He was looking for a group of women religious to study for research on aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Sister Carmen questioned his motives for choosing sisters and ultimately agreed to bring his request to the rest of the congregation. However, S. Carmen insisted on two aspects of relating to the sisters that Dr. Snowdon was to recall in “Aging with Grace,” a book about the Nun Study.
- “A large part of our mission has always been teaching. Over ninety percent of our sisters have been teachers at one time… Our sisters have spent their entire adult lives trying to help other people in the community… I think they would see your study as a way to continue their lifelong mission of helping others, of educating others.”
- “No matter what you do, I want you to remember who these women are. They are real people. Very dear to us. They are holy people, too. I don’t want you to treat them as research subjects. Get to know them. Understand that many of the older sisters were the teachers or mentors of the younger sisters, and we treat them with the care and respect they deserve. We will expect nothing less from you.”
These directives have been faithfully followed by Dr. Snowdon and his staff in the intervening twenty years. View the chart that shows the extent of the research, including brain donation, offered by 678 School Sisters of Notre Dame from seven North American provinces.
It is noteworthy that some Munich professors doing research on aging recognized a
picture of Mother Theresa Gerhardinger in research about the Nun Study. They asked
the School Sisters of Notre Dame of Bavaria for their help. In 2001, 442 Bavarian
School Sisters of Notre Dame agreed to participate in this independent study that does not include brain donation.