Dominican Sisters Contribute Brains to Major National Alzheimer’s Study

33 Sisters, ages 60-89, begin study this month

Sponsored by Rush University Medical Center’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center

Called the “Religious Order’s Study”

More than 1350 sisters, brothers and priests participating nationwide since 1994

Internationally renowned neurologist David Bennett chairs the study

A Rush University Medical Center researcher puts Sister Ann Clennon through her paces. Mobility testing is part of the baseline for this long-term study of Alzheimer’s Disease.


Springfield, Ill.—Researchers from Rush University Medical Center have arrived at Sacred Heart Convent where, for the next two weeks they are testing 33 Dominican Sisters who want to assist in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Sister Kathleen Kenny, OP, wellness nurse for the Dominican Sisters, agreed to support the study by offering the opportunity for the sisters to participate in a longitudinal study that includes annual bloodwork, cognitive testing, a health questionnaire and a nurse evaluation. When the sister dies, she donates her brain to the study.

“This is another way we can serve God’s people by sharing our time and information,” Sister Kathleen said. “At death, our brains are donated to the study in the hopes that we can contribute to the research, if not the cure, of the crippling disease of Alzheimer’s.”

Many of the sisters in the study want to participate because they’ve had family members who are suffering from the disease or who have already died. That includes Sister Ann Clennon, whose mother died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. Her younger sister has also been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. “I want to do anything I can to help reign-in the devastating effects of this disease,” said the Philo, Ill., native. Sister Ann is the events coordinator at Sacred Heart Convent.

The memory loss study is immensely complex according to Dr. David Bennett, neurologist who is chair of the investigation. “Genomic , experiential, psychological, and medical factors can drive your cognition down or help maintain it. You have got that happening on top of a brain where there are multiple different pathologies that are ongoing. What happens to your memory in the end is this complex function of all these different variables.”

Rush’s Religious Order’s Study, begun in 1994, is built on the success of the Nun Study of Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease, a continuing longitudinal study begun in 1986 at the University of Minnesotawith the School Sisters of Notre Dame base in Mankato, Minn.

During a visit to Sacred Heart Convent last May Dr. Bennet told the sisters they make excellent subjects for the study. “There is a lot of cool stuff about working with Catholic religious,” he said, “you live communally, you don’t lose contact with each other you are family, you respect the wishes of your family members; you aren’t going anywhere for the most part.”

The Dominican Sisters of Springfield were founded in Jacksonville, Ill, in 1873 and have missions throughout Illinois, other U.S. communities and in Peru. For more information about becoming a Springfield Dominican sister or associate contact us here or call 217-787-0481.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois logo
Scroll to Top