Ellen Moore

Profile Updated: February 22, 2017
Ellen Moore
Residing In Clinton Township, MI USA
Occupation Carmelite nun
Ellen Moore

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I received my M.A. in English (1969) and Ph.D. in Medieval English Literature (1974) from the University of Wisconsin, with a doctoral minor in medieval and Renaissance musicology. Immediately after graduation, I entered the Carmelite monastery in Detroit with the religious name of Sister Mary Elizabeth. I served as Prioress of my community from 2000 to 2017.
The Oberlin course I have perhaps used most was first year music theory in the Conservatory. Shortly after I entered Carmel, I was asked to "do something" about music for the Liturgy of the Hours in English. I ended up composing and adapting quite a bit of liturgical music over the past 40 years, as well as translations and texts for traditional melodies. None of it is likely to be published, but my own community has made good use of it.

School Story

The second semester of our sophomore year, I studied Medieval English Literature under Robert Longsworth. We were supposed to write a five-page term paper. Inspired by C.S. Lewis' use of Merlin in That Hideous Strength, I set myself to research the Celtic element in Malory's Morte d'Arthur --- from primary sources. It was absolutely crazy; that would be a challenging subject for a whole book. I got C's in Classics, French and something else while I doggedly plowed through Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace and Layamon, and then tried to apply all that to Malory's 1,000-page text.
My senior honors paper was on hermits in the Quest of the Holy Grail. I then chose the University of Wisconsin for graduate school so that I could study with Eugene Vinaver, editor of the 3-volume standard edition of the Morte d'Arthur. My dissertation was essentially an application of Vinaver's method of textual criticism to the 13th-century Life of St. Francis in the South English Legendary.
But when it came time to try to land a position on a university faculty, I realized that my heart wasn't in it. I really didn't care about Arthur and Lancelot and Guinevere, much less Chaucer and Piers Plowman --- it was the Grail itself and all that it represents that fascinated me. I didn't want to spend my life writing and teaching about St. Francis and similar figures; I needed to follow that path myself.
Hence Carmel. It's an unusual path for an Oberlin graduate, perhaps unique. But it is in its own way an expression of Oberlin radicality. We do not do things by halves!

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