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Elizabeth Fowkes and Helen Cohan Papers

Identifier: DG1368

Scope and Contents

The Fowkes and Cohan Papers contain materials related to the creation of their religious education series, “Bible, Life, and Worship,” a series of textbooks designed to teach Catholic schoolchildren Catholic doctrine that incorporated a more ecumenical understanding of the foundation of Christianity. The materials include manuscripts, correspondence, original illustrations, photographs, slides, printed materials, ephemera, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks.

The collection is broken down into five series. The first includes writings and related materials and is broken down further into three subseries: “Bible, Life, and Worship” Series, Miscellaneous Writings, and Associated Materials. The second series includes materials related to the founding and operation of the Pius XII Religious Education Center and its relationship to the University of Detroit, as well as the Diocese of Detroit. The third series includes biographical and personal materials not related to either the writings of Fowkes and Cohan or the Pius XII Religious Education Center. The fourth series includes all photographs and slides held within the collection. The fifth series includes all original illustrations for the “Bible, Life, and Worship” Series held within the collection.

Sources: Compiled from sources held within the collection.


  • 1900-2017
  • Majority of material found within [ circa 1950s-1970s]

Conditions Governing Access

Noncirculating, available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U. S. Code). Reproductions can be made only if they are to be used for "private study, scholarship, or research." It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.

Biographical / Historical

Isabel May Fowkes was born on March 16, 1915, in Detroit, Michigan, to Charles Ephrem Fowkes and Margaret Jane Stuart. She graduated from St. Cecilia High School, Detroit, and attended Marygrove College, where she earned a B. A. in English, Latin, and Philosophy in 1936. Fowkes received an M. A. in Philosophy from Fordham University in 1947. She entered the Immaculate Hearts of Mary congregation in 1936 and received the habit and her religious name, Sister Mary Elizabeth, on January 2, 1937. Sister M. Elizabeth took the first profession of vows on January 2, 1939, and the final vows on January 2, 1942. She was granted exclaustration in 1970 and requested secularization in 1971, which Pope Paul VI granted. At some point after they left the convent, Fowkes and Cohan moved to Florida, where the women lived until they moved to North Carolina in 1979. Fowkes died in 2007.

Helen Galvin Cohan was born on February 2, 1919, in Detroit, Michigan, to John Wilson Cohan and Loretta Delaney. She graduated from St. Agnes High School in Detroit and received a B. A. in English at Marygrove College in 1952. Cohan was granted a provisional elementary teaching certificate in 1953 and a permanent teaching certificate in 1956. She earned an M. A. in Theology from Marquette University in 1959. Cohan entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation in 1938 and received the habit and her religious name, Sister Mary Johnice, on January 2, 1939. Sister M. Johnice took the first profession of vows on January 2, 1941 and the final profession on January 2, 1944. She was granted exclaustration in 1970, and requested secularization in 1971, which Pope Paul VI granted in 1972. Cohan died in 2009.

Cohan and Fowkes’ authorship of the “Bible, Life, and Worship” series grew out of their involvement with the religious education filmstrips that they created for Roa’s Films during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1958, Roa’s Films asked Cohan and Fowkes to critically review filmstrips for possible use within parochial schools. The sisters eventually began writing the scripts for the filmstrips, which were sent to officials with the Archdiocese of Detroit for doctrinal review. Roa Kraft presented filmstrips to Pope John XXIII in 1959, and she and the sisters travelled to Rome in 1965 and presented filmstrips to Pope Paul VI.

In 1960, the publishing company, Ally & Bacon, Inc., approached Sister M. Johnice and Sister M. Elizabeth and asked them if they would be interested in translating and adapting a French religious textbook series for American use, on behalf of the Pius XII Religious Education Center (. They consented to head a team of translators and consult with Reverend Bernard Cooke, S. J., of Marquette University, to ensure that the textbooks were canonically sound. Eventually, the two educators took over the authorship of the textbook series, due to the unsuitability of the French materials.

The sisters’ efforts to change the Roman Catholic Church’s anti-Semitic teachings predated Pope Paul VI’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, released on October 28, 1965. By this point, Cohan and Fowkes had published The Lord Jesus, their first textbook, designed to remove anti-Semitic bias from religion classes. The sisters began an affiliation with Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, Director of the Interreligious Affairs Department of the American Jewish Committee, in 1962. Tanenbaum and his assistant, Judith Hershcopf, initially met with Fowkes and Cohan in relation to their positions as co-directors of the Pius XII Center. Tanenbaum became a consultant to the Pius XII Center in 1962, and the American Jewish Committee donated a significant number of books to the education center to serve the needs of researchers. Tanenbaum was the only rabbi to attend Vatican II, helping to draft the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. He was also involved in the Civil Rights Movement and was program chairman of the National Conference on Religion and Race.

Sister M. Johnice’s ministry and teaching record, according to Jennifer M. Meacham (2017), Archivist at the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, is as follows:

1940-41, St. Mary, Monroe, MI; no record of grades taught 1941-44, St. Michael, Flint, MI; grades 5 and 6 1944-47, St. Cecelia, Detroit, MI; grades 3, 4, 7, and 8 1947-49, St. Mary, Monroe, MI; grade 7 1949-54, Gesu School, Detroit, MI; grade 8, Religion and English 1954-57, St. Thomas School, Ann Arbor, MI; grades 9, 10, and 11, Religion and English 1957-66, Marygrove College, Monroe Campus; Theology and English 1966-70, Pius XII Religious Education Center, Detroit, MI; Co-Director

Sister M. Elizabeth’s ministry and teaching record, according to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, is as follows:

1937-38, St. Mary Academy, Monroe, and then St. Catherine, Detroit, MI; grade 9, Latin, History, English 1938-39, Girls’ Catholic Central, Detroit, MI; grade 9, Latin, French, English 1939-42, Annunciation, Detroit, MI; grades 9 and 10, Latin, English, History and Art 1942-46, Immaculata, Detroit, MI; grade 10, English, History, Art, Latin 1947-56, Marygrove College, Detroit, MI; Psychology, Philosophy, French 1956-66, Marygrove College, Monroe Campus, French, Latin, Philosophy 1966-70, Pius XII Religious Education Center, Detroit, MI; Co-Director


12.50 Cubic Feet (17 boxes)


Isabel (Elizabeth) Fowkes and Helen Cohan were members of the Servants, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation, located in Monroe, Michigan. Between 1965 and 1971, the former nuns published a series of religious textbooks, the "Bible, Life, and Worship" series, the first three of which were illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. They also founded the Pius XII Religious Education Center, a catechical center affiliated with the International Center for Religious Education, Lumen Vitae, located in Brussells. The collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and slides, ephemera, and news clippings. It also includes 362 original illustrations.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials donated by Sunshine Arts, LLC, on behalf of Elizabeth Fowkes and Helen Cohan, in 2016.

Processing Information

The original organization of the donated materials has not been maintained, due to the inability to ascertain the creators’ original order of the materials. They are arranged according to the subject matter, as well as chronological order of production. This is to facilitate research.

Although descriptions on photographs identified a priest as Father Delcuve, S.J., a newspaper clipping discovered during processing, dated August 8, 1961, identified the same priest as Rev. Fr. Andre Godin, not Father Delcuve. Photo tags are taken from description on photographs, with discrepancy noted.
Fowkes, Elizabeth and Cohan, Helen Collection
In Progress
Lynn A. Cowles; Arrangement and preliminary description by Carlie Ann Burkett and Kyle Ethridge
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
The materials held within this collection were donated to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection by Sunshine Arts, Inc., a non-profit corporation created to further Elizabeth Fowkes and Helen Cohan’s mission of using fine art in the religious instruction of children. This finding aid is the product of a grant funded by Sunshine Arts, Inc.

Repository Details

Part of the de Grummond Childrens Literature Collection Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001