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New book celebrates three sisters

January 26, 2017

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 26, 2017 — A new book by author 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 favor of a life of service?

Journeys of the Heart: Three Sisters, Three Nuns tells the fascinating story of three sisters who abandoned international lives of privilege and enriching experiences for humble lives of service in education and in medicine. Thanks to their father's international businesses, during the 1920s and 1930s Ilda, Aline and Anna Maria Gerber crossed the Atlantic Ocean annually, traveling in luxury from their homes in Mexico City to their extended family in Switzerland and Italy — an elegant routine that ended with a dramatic flight from Europe in September 1939.

Bonino’s book paints a colorful picture of the family saga, which was peopled by an array of artists and scientists, industrialists and intellectuals, pioneers and statesmen. The sisters’ mother was but one of many strong women in their lives who accepted the barriers imposed upon their sex while merrily crashing through them.

The Gerber girls owed much to their mother, Jenny, who devoted the second half of her life to serving the poor. She was a friend of Alfredo Ramos Martinez, the father of Mexican Modernism, whose "Head of a Nun" (California, 1934) graces the cover of Journeys of the Heart. A meditation on spiritual wealth and physical poverty, the painting reflects the artist's spirituality, and his celebration of Mexico and its indigenous heritage.

Journeys of the Heart also reveals what led to the sisters’ decisions to chart a new path as adults, and chronicles how doggedly their parents initially fought to “save” their daughters from a different kind of sisterhood. After years of tutors and finishing schools, the girls were sent to a high school in Tucson operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who also founded Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. Thanks to the example and high standards of these spirited religious women, over time Ilda, Aline and Anna Maria chose to leave their past selves behind, and take on lives of devotion and service as Sister Aline Marie, Sister Mechtilde and Sister Hildegarde.

Some years later, Bonino was a student of Sister Aline Marie at Mount Saint Mary's Chalon Campus in Brentwood. But only in the mid-1980s, when both were based at the Doheny Mansion on Mount Saint Mary’s downtown L.A. campus, did Sister Aline Marie begin to talk about her family history. When she passed away, Bonino drew close to Sister Mechtilde, who shared 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 on music, Bonino gave the first Upbeat Live! talk for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has given 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. Bonino’s books are on sale after all Doheny Mansion tours and Da Camera concerts, and also online at and 

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.