Friends’ Corner: An Overview of Arleen McCarty Hynes, OSB

In addition to being a writer in my day job, I also write biographies of Roman Catholic sisters for Wikipedia, and I help sisters publish their own books and articles. I found Benedictine Sister Arleen McCarty Hynes on a list created by Women in Red (WIR), founded by prominent Wikipedia editors. WIR’s goal is to “turn red links blue.” “Red” means a woman should have a biography but doesn’t, and it turns “blue” when the biography goes up. I happily published 15 sisters’ biographies from that list without a problem. However, a minor fuss ensued with the page for Arleen McCarty Hynes, a Benedictine sister of Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn.

Arleen McCarty married her beloved husband, Emerson Hynes, in 1939 when he was a professor at Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minn. She worked in the library at the College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph, during the 1940s and 50s. They had 10 children and a lively home called Kilfenora where they hosted Catholic artists, writers and intellectuals. Guests included journalist and activist Dorothy Day, sculptor Don Humphrey, Catholic novelist J. F. Powers, and many from the religious community surrounding Saint John’s. In 1959, they moved to Washington, D.C., so Emerson could work for his old college roommate, Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy (not to be confused with Republican Joseph McCarthy of the 1950s Communism hearings).

In Washington, D.C., Arleen worked as a librarian at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She and Emerson were happy for 11 years, but in 1971, a son drowned, and six months later, Emerson died of a heart attack, leaving Arleen a 55-year-old widow with eight children. After her retirement, she returned to the Collegeville area and entered the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict. For the last 20 years of her life, she worked in the monastery’s Spirituality Center, at a battered women’s shelter, and with inmates and seniors. She is buried in the monastery cemetery.

Arleen was one of the earliest pioneers of bibliotherapy, a technique of reading with mental health patients and interpreting literature and poetry that she developed in her years at St. Elizabeth’s. She founded the Bibliotherapy Roundtable and became internationally known for writing and speaking. She contributed articles to the academic Journal of Poetry Therapy, and she and her daughter, Mary Hynes-Berry, cowrote Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process: A Handbook, published by the North Star Press of St. Cloud in St. Cloud, Minn., which became a classic.

So, what happened with Wikipedia? Well, although many think just anyone can write for it, and that’s technically true, posting work that stays up is challenging. Every fact must be footnoted from a third-party source such as a published book or article. Automated bots patrol for unsourced facts, speculation, misinformation and even vandalism, and they usually arrive first on the scene to approve the article. In addition, tens of thousands of volunteer editors also monitor pages within their interest areas. Within just one to two hours of posting any Catholic sister’s page, I am usually checked out by people from categories of Women in Religion, Catholicism, Biography, and Women in History, plus others who may have regional interests in the state or in the ethnicity of the subject.

After posting the biography of S. Arleen McCarty Hynes, imagine my shock when a male editor on Wikipedia nominated the article for deletion, claiming she wasn’t prominent enough. I didn’t immediately argue back because online squabbles are public record and can put you in the editorial doghouse. Instead, I made a powerful friend by reaching out to a top member of Women in Red. She came to my electronic rescue, explaining to him that S. Arleen was indeed prominent enough. Then, other WIR editors chimed in, defending S. Arleen. Within 24 hours of the deletion nomination, the process worked well, and her page was approved by robust consensus.

A WIR editor consoled me that pushback happens often when we write women’s biographies. Because editors can’t just “look her up” (although, ahem, she was easily searchable online), they can mistakenly conclude she wasn’t prominent without considering that women so often get unfairly written out of history. But as Dr. Nicholas Mazza, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Poetry Therapy and her dear colleague, assured me, she absolutely belongs on Wikipedia, and there she will remain. He gave me some great citations to add to her page, and I hope readers who knew her will fact-check it and send me thoughts.

Carole Sargent, Ph.D.

This article was featured on pages 20–21 in the spring 2024 issue of Benedictine Sisters and Friends.

Photo: S. Arleen McCarty Hynes in 1986.