which she understood as an impediment to entry into religious life. She read
in the newspaper a small article written by Georgiana Fullerton about the
newly founded Poor Servants of the Mother of God, which accepted pious
women with a religious vocation but limited means. In 1871, she travelled to
London to meet Frances Taylor, founder of the congregation.37 Two years
later, she was a professed sister and by 1875, as Sister Mary Gertrude, she
was the assistant and novicemistress of this growing congregation. The Poor
Servants of the Mother of God, founded in
religious life were leading to the ‘emancipation’ of women religious. But did she consider that a good thing? Speaking to novicemistresses on a training day in the early 1960s, she underscored the difficulties that women religious faced, inside and outside the convent and in the ‘critical eyes of the world’. Disparaging female religious who were ignorant of world problems, she instead expected them to be aware of the major ‘crisis of their times’: atomic weapons, strike mentality, ‘atheistic communism’ and the break-up of family life. At the same time she regretted the
, after her trial period, the postulant was physically handed
back to secular life by the novicemistress, the prioress and her two
assistants, who returned her to her parents at the cloister gate. The
prioress said to them: ‘I give you back your daughter, she is free to
remain in the world or to embrace Holy Religion.’ The postulant
then walked through the city streets to the main entrance of the
church; this was the last time she would be seen outside with her
relatives, and the last time she entered her church through its main
doors. Once given away to the officiant
Between 1598 and 1800, an estimated 3, 271 Catholic women left England to enter convents on the Continent. This study focuses more particularly upon those who became Benedictines in the seventeenth century, choosing exile in order to pursue their vocation for an enclosed life. Through the study of a wide variety of original manuscripts, including chronicles, death notices, clerical instructions, texts of spiritual guidance, but also the nuns’ own collections of notes, this book highlights the tensions between the contemplative ideal and the nuns’ personal experiences. Its first four chapters adopt a traditional historical approach to illustrate the tensions between theory and practice in the ideal of being dead to the world. They offer a prosopographical study of Benedictine convents in exile, and show how those houses were both cut-off and enclosed yet very much in touch with the religious and political developments at home. The next fur chapters propose a different point of entry into the history of nuns, with a study of emotions and the senses in the cloister, delving into the textual analysis of the nuns’ personal and communal documents to explore aspect of a lived spirituality, when the body, which so often hindered the spirit, at times enabled spiritual experience.
Scotland. Statistics that outline the nationality and family connections of
Creating a Scottish Church
the convent leadership and membership are used as evidence of this. This
section also includes a discussion about the clerical control that was exerted
over the two key posts in a convent, that of mother superior and novicemistress, and it is argued that the close scrutiny of these positions demonstrates
a precise clerical understanding of the ability of women religious to influence
those under their care.
The fourth chapter examines the development of Catholic
Being Irish in nineteenth-century Scotland and Canada
S. Karly Kehoe
by grooming Scottish
women for positions of authority within the convents and these included
superior, assistant superior and/or novicemistress. If possible Irish women were
blocked from these positions, whereas some were discouraged from even
applying for entry to a community or, if they did get in, were blackballed from
progressing beyond the stage of postulant or novice. While there is no doubt that
some had no vocation and instead looked to convent life as a means of achieving
security, particularly in old age, others were rejected because they were Irish.
Deceased Sisters (1935), pp. 107–8.
62 SND: ‘Clapham Annals II: Notre Dame in England’, 1851–1860.
63 SMG: I/D ‘Beaumont’, 1875, p. 24.
64 Cecil Kerr, Memoir of a Sister of Charity: Lady Etheldreda Fitzalan Howard
(London, Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1928), p. 20.
in Brighton. Potter found that she did not quite ‘fit’ with the Mercy style
of spirituality. Her novicemistress believed she was better suited to a
contemplative life. Mary Potter left the Sisters of Mercy in Brighton
and eventually became founder of the Little Company of Mary.65
reunite with others from their congregation: novicemistresses, fellow
classmates from the novitiate and former work colleagues. This was the time
and place to revitalise their physical and spiritual energy and renew old
The convent was another important geographic space; it was the smaller
unit of congregation life and, for the majority of women religious, the
location of their daily lives. The convent was where they lived, worked,
prayed and recuperated from their labours alongside other women with
similar beliefs and aspirations. These daily
feature of religious life. Born after the war, she benefited from a post-Butler education: she was educated at a Catholic secondary modern, then attended a further education college and enrolled in a nursing course. Yet, she was being taught in the mid-1960s novitiate about a blind obedience that meant being treated as a child even to the point of having to ask to take a bath.
Nuns and sisters were being introduced to new thinking on obedience. Even before the Second Vatican Council, Dominican Henry St John, speaking at a training workshop for novicemistresses at
constitutions of Paris highlighted the crucial importance
of ‘the right education of Novices’, upon which ‘all good order
& discipline & true Religion doe depend’.25 The novicemistress
supervised them and acted as an elder sister who taught her younger
siblings how to behave in the family and how to serve it well. The
abbess and her council therefore chose her amongst the more experienced and achieved professed Sisters: she was to be able ‘to gain
Soules by words, but more by example’. Under her care, novices
learnt to sing and to say the divine office, to perform all