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Bottum: Sister Clinton

2:16 PM, Feb 11, 2008 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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The New York Times thinks it may have figured out why the Catholic vote is going for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries: "Mrs. Clinton owes some of her success to the nuns who were once a potent presence in American Catholicism."

Well, now, that's an idea. I admit there's some resemblance between Mrs. Clinton and the popular image of the stern, knuckle-rapping nun, but those nuns all disappeared around 1965, and, anyway, who would want to vote for one?

'Maybe we [Catholics are] a little bit more open to female leadership,' said [Catherine T. Nolan] Nolan, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, one of the most powerful legislative posts in Albany. 'We had female role models from an early age. When I was growing up, all the Catholic school principals were women, and almost none of the public school principals were. That's changed now, but we've been used to female authority figures for much longer than other groups.' ...

Ms. Nolan recalled, as a girl, going on a field trip in Upper Manhattan to the shrine of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini - an immigrant nun from Italy who in the late 19th century built 67 orphanages, hospitals and schools, amassing and wielding power against a stubborn hierarchy. She was the first American to be canonized a saint.

The destination was the shrine where an effigy of the saint, along with some of her remains, are displayed under glass beneath the altar. 'When you're a fourth grader coming from Queens and you see that - well, you talk about female role models,' Ms. Nolan said. 'Not that I'm putting Hillary Clinton in that category.'

Oh, why not? I often speak of Mrs. Clinton and Mother Cabrini in the same breath. While I work my way through the peculiar data from the exit polls, I take comfort in the fact that the New York Times is even more lost than I am. And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night.