The Sisters shall on the first day of every year make a renewal of their vows to
excite in their hearts an increase of fervour in the service of their Heavenly
Spouse by so solemn a recollection of the obligations they have contracted.1
This passage from the constitutions of the Religious Sisters of Mercy
reminded the Mercy sisters of the significance of the work they performed in
the ‘service of their Heavenly Spouse’. This was their solemn obligation, and
the renewal of their vows each year was meant to revitalise their efforts
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.
Religion, trade, and the challenges of English colonialism
, ideas of religious evangelisation and commercialisation in the New World coexisted, but with shifting emphases. At times godly conquest was the most clearly articulated objective, while at others commercial gain was given priority by English explorers. By the end of the sixteenth century, however, the two had coalesced, ostensibly resolving the tension that had existed for the first century of English engagement with America. As Hakluyt suggested in 1582, the English need not compromise one for the other; with the glorification of God and the conversion of ‘heathens
Meghalaya might be an object lesson
in Bengali as much as British imperialism. The last Welsh missionaries
in the north-east packed their bags in the 1960s, but the legacy of a
century and a quarter of evangelisation in the hills has left an
indelible mark. Historian Manorama Sharma has also gone so far as to
argue that present-day crises of governance in the north-east should be
put in the context of the
towards the same conclusion. This acceptance of the Catholic
religion had much to do with the fact that the Protestant fear of Catholics
in the 1730s had dropped to an almost negligible level. This should not
obscure the fact that most Irish Protestants still viewed Catholics as a
potential threat and that there were still some in the Irish House of
Commons committed to ecclesiastical prohibition of Catholicism.8
The second approach to conversion adopted by Irish Protestants was
the use of the Irish language to evangelise the native population. The
As Lowry argues,
such outsiders in fact played less of a role in opposition to the monarchy
than has been suggested; in the case of Canada, anti-monarchy agitators were
as likely or more likely to be Anglo-Protestant than Irish Catholic.
Much recent and important work has identified the investment
and contribution to the British imperial project by the Scottish, Welsh and
Irish who administered, fought for, evangelised in and
educational, health care or social welfare
institutions. Religious institutions were stamped with the congregation’s
special spirit of evangelisation and were essential for the growth of Catholic
missions in England. These developments in Catholic women’s religious life
Joan Perkin, Women and Marriage in Nineteenth-Century England (London:
Routledge, 1988), p. 226.
Mrs William Grey, Old Maids; A Lecture (London: William Ridgway, 1875), p.
5. Mrs William (Maria Shirreff) Grey (1816–1906) was an early promoter of
Anglican women entered Anglican
American colonial and missionary nurses in Puerto Rico, 1900–30
Winifred C. Connerton
explain that evangelising Puerto Rico would not
be overly difficult because it was ‘now a part of the United States, and
will henceforth be ruled by American ideas, embodied in American
institutions and laws, and be molded by the influence of our civilization’.10 Trained nursing became one of several avenues to introducing
US culture and ideas in the newly acquired territory.
The colonial government also freely connected the colonial mission with the Christian mission promoted by the Protestants. In
1901 the first civil governor of Puerto Rico, Charles Allen, praised
In 1841, the Welsh sent their first missionary, Thomas Jones, to evangelise the tribal peoples of the Khasi Hills of north-east India. This book follows Jones from rural Wales to Cherrapunji, the wettest place on earth and now one of the most Christianised parts of India. It is about the piety and practices, the perceptions and prejudices of people in early nineteenth century Wales. The book is also about the ways in which the religious ambitions of those same people operated upon the lives and ideas of indigenous societies of the distant Khasi Hills of north-eastern India. It foregrounds broader political, scientific, racial and military ideologies that mobilised the Khasi Hills into an interconnected network of imperial control. Its themes are universal: crises of authority, the loneliness of geographical isolation, sexual scandal, greed and exploitation, personal and institutional dogma, individual and group morality. In analysing the individual lives that flash in and out of this history, the book is a performance within the effort to break down the many dimensions of distance that the imperial scene prescribes. It pays attention to a 'networked conception of imperial interconnection'. The book discusses Jones's evangelising among the Khasis as well as his conflicts with church and state authority. It also discusses some aspects of the micro-politics of mission and state in the two decades immediately following Thomas Jones's death. While the Welsh missionary impact was significant, its 'success' or indeed its novelty, needs to be measured against the pre-existing activities of British imperialists.
were more empowered than has been
acknowledged by historians. They were active agents in manipulating their
world and shaping their individual future as well as the future of their
congregations. The evangelical nature of their ‘call’ led them beyond the
boundaries of their convent grounds; they were fervent evangelisers,
spreading the Catholic faith to those they educated, nursed and cared for.
The growth of the numbers of congregations and convents in the nineteenth
century attests to their utility, their drive and their success as evangelists.
Part I of this book