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‘Journeys of the Heart’

The Story of Three Sisters’ Global Journey to a New Kind of Sisterhood

LOS ANGELES, March 15, 2017 — A new book by MaryAnn Bonino, a Mount Saint Mary’s University professor-at-large emeritus, offers a pointed and haunting question:  What compels someone to give up a life of opulence in order to serve others?

Journeys of the Heart: Three Sisters, Three Nuns tells the fascinating story of three sisters who, thanks to their father's international businesses and lifestyle, were born into wealth and privilege, and grew up amid breathtaking landscapes on two continents. Bonino’s book paints a colorful picture of the family saga, which was peopled by an amazing array of artists and scientists, industrialists and intellectuals, pioneers and statesmen. Their mother was but one of many strong women in their lives who accepted the barriers imposed upon their sex while merrily crashing through them.

Between the two world wars, Ilda, Aline and Anna Maria Gerber crossed the Atlantic Ocean annually. Sailing deluxe first-class from their homes in Mexico City and New York, they lodged for months at landmark hotels in Italy, Switzerland and Germany — an elegant routine which ended in a dramatic flight from Europe in September 1939. That crossroad in their lives' journey had been preceded three years earlier by another transformative moment when, after years of being taught by tutors and in finishing schools, the Gerber girls were enrolled at a high school in Tucson operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who also founded Mount Saint Mary’s University.

These spirited religious women brought fresh air into the girls' lives. In the mid-1940s, inspired by their example and high standards, Ilda, Aline and Anna Maria chose one-by-one to leave their past selves behind. As Sister Aline Marie, Sister Mechtilde and Sister Hildegarde, they embraced lives of devotion and of service in the fields of medicine and education. Journeys of the Heart also reveals what led to the sisters’ decisions to chart new paths as adults, and chronicles how doggedly their parents initially fought to “save” their daughters from a different kind of sisterhood.

Much of their spirit was owed to their Italian mother who, while devoted to Dante and Italian literature, also championed Mexico and its indigenous heritage. An intellectual dynamo, she devoted half of her 101 years to serving the poor and was befriended by Alfredo Ramos Martinez, whose meditation on spiritual wealth and physical poverty ("Head of a Nun," California, 1934) graces the cover of Journeys of the Heart.

As an undergraduate, Bonino studied with Sister Aline Marie at Mount Saint Mary's Brentwood campus.But only in the mid-1980s, when they were colleagues at the Doheny Mansion on the Mount Saint Mary’s downtown campus, did Sister Aline Marie begin to talk about her family history. After she passed away, Bonino drew close to Sister Mechtilde, who added her own memories while Bonino combed through the seven surviving trunks of family photos and letters in five languages — materials stretching back a century and a half and stored in the Doheny Mansion’s basement.

About the author
A Woodrow Wilson and Fulbright Fellow, Dr. Bonino is an historical musicologist and the founding artistic director of the Da Camera Society of Mount Saint Mary’s University. She developed the creative format for the Society’s critically acclaimed Chamber Music in Historic Sites® series, which matches world-class ensembles with historically and architecturally significant buildings. During her tenure, she presented over 800 themed concerts all over Southern California in buildings designed by architects from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry. A popular speaker, Bonino gave the first Upbeat Live! talk for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has given numerous pre-concert lectures for musical organizations throughout the region. For many years, she produced and hosted programs for Classical KUSC.

Bonino also served a decade as curator of the Doheny Mansion, which offers public and private tours ( She previously penned The Doheny Mansion: A Biography of a Home, in 2008, which chronicles the history of the 1899 Los Angeles mansion that was the longtime home of oil baron Edward Doheny and his philanthropist wife, Estelle. In 1962, the Doheny Mansion and the surrounding Chester Place historic neighborhood were preserved and transformed into the Doheny Campus of Mount Saint Mary’s University. Both books are on sale after all Doheny Mansion tours and Da Camera concerts, and also at

About Mount Saint Mary’s University 
Mount Saint Mary’s is the only women’s university in Los Angeles and one of the most diverse in the nation. The University is known nationally for its research on gender equity, its innovative health and science programs, and its commitment to community service. As a leading liberal arts institution, Mount Saint Mary’s provides year-round, flexible and online programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Weekend, evening and graduate programs are offered to women and men. Mount alums are engaged, active, global citizens who use their knowledge and skills to better themselves, their communities and the world. 

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