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Catholic women religious in nineteenth-century England and Wales

Roman Catholic women's congregations are an enigma of nineteenth century social history. Over 10,000 women, establishing and managing significant Catholic educational, health care and social welfare institutions in England and Wales, have virtually disappeared from history. In nineteenth-century England, representations of women religious were ambiguous and contested from both within and without the convent. This book places women religious in the centre of nineteenth-century social history and reveals how religious activism shaped the identity of Catholic women religious. It is devoted to evolution of religious life and the early monastic life of the women. Catholic women were not pushed into becoming women religious. On the basis of their available options, they chose a path that best suited their personal, spiritual, economic and vocational needs. The postulancy and novitiate period formed a rite of passage that tested the vocation of each aspirant. The book explores the religious activism of women religious through their missionary identity and professional identity. The labour of these women was linked to their role as evangelisers. The book deals with the development of a congregation's corporate identity which brought together a disparate group of women under the banner of religious life. It looks specifically at class and ethnicity and the women who entered religious life, and identifies the source of authority for the congregation and the individual sister.

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in spiritual life which at one and the same time empowered and confined them’.1 This book argues that religious belief provided nineteenth-century Catholic women religious with the tools to transcend the normative boundaries of femininity and to redefine the parameters of womanhood. This is not to say that these redefined parameters were all empowering; women religious willingly accepted many of the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church that subjected them to its patriarchal structure and sometimes limited their actions. Yet women religious had more authority and

in Contested identities
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objectives were clearly articulated in congregation constitutions which decreed that women religious laboured ‘for the salvation of souls’. As women religious, they were called to evangelise. Connecting these activities to their missionary identity is straightforward, but adding to their cache of identities a ‘professional identity’ can be, problematic and discomfiting. This difficulty is not associated solely with Catholic women religious. As Kathryn Gleadle observed in her work on nineteenth-century British women radicals and Unitarians, ‘Evangelical notions of women

in Contested identities
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identity of Catholic women religious. In nineteenth-century England, representations of women religious were ambiguous and contested from both within and without the convent. The nun was often the centre of controversy in the Protestant press: sometimes as a scheming mother superior, other times as a young nun incarcerated against 1 Francesca M. Steele, The Convents of Great Britain (London: Sands, and Dublin: M.H. Gill, 1902), p. xi. This figure is based on Steele’s calculation of 600 convents with an average of seventeen professed sisters in each convent. There has

in Contested identities

’s thesis, Birkbeck College, University of London, 2000). While this thesis was written about public attitudes towards Anglican women religious, many of the points discussed, and particularly this one with respect to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, would have been applicable to Catholic women religious. 15 Anne Frances Norton, ‘The Consolidation and Expansion of the Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage, 1857–1907’ (doctoral thesis, King’s College, London, 1978), p. 197; James Spurrell, Miss Sellon and the ‘Sisters of Mercy’: An Exposure of the

in Contested identities

Work of Andrew F. Walls (Orbis Books, 2012 ); B. Hellinckx, F. Simon and M. Depaepe, ‘The Forgotten Contribution of Teaching Sisters: A Historiographical Essay on the Educational Work of Catholic Women Religious in the 19th and 20th Centuries’, Studia Paedagogica , 44 (Lueven: Lueven University Press, 2009 ). 9 ‘Loreto

in Learning femininity in colonial India, 1820–1932
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Being Irish in nineteenth-century Scotland and Canada

. My opinion is somewhat different to those expressed by Carmen Mangion and Susan O’Brien. See Mangion, Contested Identities: Catholic Women Religious in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008) and S. O’Brien, ‘French nuns in nineteenth-century England’, Past & Present, 54 (1997), 142–80. 6 S. K. Kehoe, Creating a Scottish Church: Catholicism, Gender and Ethnicity in NineteenthCentury Scotland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010); S. K. Kehoe, ‘Irish migrants and the recruitment of Catholic Sisters to Glasgow

in Women and Irish diaspora identities
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chapter will argue, on evanglisation. This does not imply that the work of women religious was without contemplative content. Many nineteenth-century women religious found the ‘sustenance’ to perform their ‘works of mercy’ firmly rooted in their spirituality. 112 Working identities following the directives of the Catholic hierarchy.3 At times, credit for their achievements has been assumed to belong to male colleagues or ecclesiastical officials. However, as will be seen in the next two chapters, the contribution of Catholic women religious to nineteenth

in Contested identities
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gendered space of early Chicago’, The Catholic Historical Review, 90 (2004), p. 475. 56 Susan O’Brien, ‘French nuns in nineteenth-century England’, Past & Present, 54:1 (1997), p. 142. 57 Carmen Mangion, Contested Identities: Catholic Women Religious in NineteenthCentury England and Wales (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2008.), p. 8. 58 Susan O’Brien, ‘Coda – missing missionaries: where are the Catholic sisters in British missiology?’ Unpublished paper delivered at the 4th annual Consecrated Women Conference, Divinity Faculty, Cambridge University, 16

in Creating a Scottish Church
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attractiveness to Catholic women. It was within these congregations that Catholic women religious expanded the parameters of women’s identity by edging private religious activity into the public space. Nineteenth-century England provided unprecedented opportunity for these women, and the nineteenth-century English Catholic Church was uncommonly liberal in the freedom it allowed new and existing congregations. It comes as no surprise that women were limited in the roles they could play and in the public action they could take, yet women were empowered to begin the institution

in Contested identities