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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impediments. Typically, the impediments were scrupulously used to screen postulants, but exceptions were made in certain circumstances. Forming a novice 91 especially if the candidate was not known to the congregation.10 The final step, an interview with the local superior or novice mistress, was critical; she determined whether the candidate might have the requisite attributes for religious life and allowed her to enter the congregation as a postulant or dismissed her as having ‘no vocation’. Once the candidate was past these hurdles, the real testing began. The

in Contested identities

powerful posts: the superior and the novice mistress. Superiors were ‘good shepherds’, the leaders of religious communities who ensured that vows were fulfilled and the rules were observed.75 They were confirmed by a male ecclesiastical superior after their election by secret ballot, but in diocesan institutes, they could also be appointed by the local bishop and, in very special circumstances, selected by postulation.76 They directed the community’s dayto-day affairs and oversaw the spiritual development of the community, and The recruitment of women religious 97

in Creating a Scottish Church

constructed hierarchy of women managing women. Most pontifical-rite congregations developed highly centralised hierarchical structures and systems of administration. The mother superior and her council, which usually consisted of at least one mother assistant, a bursar and a novice mistress, were responsible for managing the internal affairs of the congregation and the novitiate. They directed the purchasing, building and maintenance of physical structures including their convent and the institutions under their care. They supervised the staff of various institutions and

in Contested identities
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Enlightenment, automata, and the theatre of terror

isolation and habitual obedience of the convent quite early on in her account of life at Longchamp. On the morning of taking her vows, she is undressed by the novice-mistress and her fellows: She had hardly gone out before the novice-mistress and my fellows entered; my religious habit was taken off and I was dressed in

in European Gothic

beliefs and positions. One last example will suffice to illustrate this point: the narration of the strange events which occurred in 1634 and 1635 around a new recruit, Dame Aloysia. Whilst a mere postulant at Ghent in October 1635, Aloysia German found her evening prayers disturbed repeatedly by three knocks against her oratory. In ‘great alarm’, she referred to her novice mistress, who tried to reassure her and advised her to calm her overactive imagination and nerves. On 3 March 1636, her perceptions were verified by another Sister, who also heard the three knocks

in English Benedictine nuns in exile in the seventeenth century
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How did laywomen become nuns in the early modern world?

such a ceremony from a fifteenth-century guide for English Benedictine nuns. 2 The event took place at the altar of the convent church with the other nuns looking on from their stalls in the choir. The novice read her profession in the presence of a priest, made the sign of a cross in the book of profession, approached the altar with her novice mistress, kissed the altar, bowed

in Conversions
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shortsighted, 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 novice mistress of this growing congregation. The Poor Servants of the Mother of God, founded in

in Contested identities

, after her trial period, the postulant was physically handed back to secular life by the novice mistress, 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

in English Benedictine nuns in exile in the seventeenth century
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Being Irish in nineteenth-century Scotland and Canada

by grooming Scottish women for positions of authority within the convents and these included superior, assistant superior and/or novice mistress. 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. Non

in Women and Irish diaspora identities