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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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looked at the developing identities of women entering religious life. Women’s religious congregations in England, as in other parts of the world, entered a period of dramatic growth in the nineteenth century. There were many women who had the ‘same idea at the same time’. In 1 Philippa Levine, Victorian Feminism 1850–1900 (London: Hutchinson, 1987), pp. 11–12. 236 Contested identities England, this expansion of religious life was set in a unique framework in a country that was just dismantling repressive penal laws against Catholics. Moreover, until the nineteenth

in Contested identities
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texts used to instruct women religious on the means of achieving perfection. Perfection was not only represented in a religious sense but also linked to ideas of gentility, decorum and, by default, class. Class is central to studying religion in nineteenth-century England,5 and it follows that class is relevant to our understanding of identity and women religious. Another important dimension to this analysis of identity is ethnicity, especially as forty-one per cent of the women who entered religious congregations in England and Wales were Irish-born.6 The

in Contested identities
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evangelical activities took place outside convent walls.5 In the early 2 Some solemn-vowed, enclosed orders did perform philanthropic work, often teaching, from inside the cloister. However, in this book ‘active’ institutes are defined as those that perform their activities outside the cloister. 3 The terms ‘communities’ and ‘institutes’ will be used interchangeably throughout this book to denote both solemn and simple-vowed groupings of women religious. ‘Congregation’ as used in this book refers to a community of women who take simple vows. The term ‘mother house’ or

in Contested identities
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Heimann’s comprehensive analysis of Catholic devotions in nineteenthcentury England suggested that increasingly ‘more Catholics heard mass, received communion and made confessions, and did so more often; confraternities and other religious societies multiplied in number and grew in membership’.39 Religious congregations often used ceremonies, processions and devotions as educational vehicles in their ‘works of mercy’, but these were also useful as a means of deepening the relationship between women religious and their congregation. In religious congregations, two

in Contested identities
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1 Becoming visible I see plainly that they are not what we want, and that they have half our idea, but only half. I do not regret stopping for I learnt a great deal in my visit. It is curious how many people have had the same idea at the same time.1 Frances Taylor’s comment, written to Lady Georgiana Fullerton after her 1869 visit to the religious congregation of the Maids of Christ, was an astute one: it suggests that the expansion of women’s congregations in the nineteenth century was dynamic, not only in England, but also in parts of Europe.2 There were many

in Contested identities

served to build awareness of, and in some cases, an attraction to, active religious life. This chapter will look in more detail into individual women’s lives and explore the factors that encouraged their entry into religious communities. The previous chapter explored the dramatic growth of religious life in the nineteenth century, which fuelled not only by the substantial numbers of women entering religious congregations, but also by the increasing number of requests from bishops, clergy and lay Catholics for experienced women religious to develop and manage

in Contested identities
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Reformatory and industrial schools and twentieth-century Ireland

seminal event in the vindication of the human rights of survivors of child abuse in Irish Reformatory and Industrial Schools’ (Powell et al., 2013:7). The culmination of nine years of work, under two different chairs, the inquiry heard from 1,500 witnesses who had resided in various institutions for children between 1914 and 2000. It held a series of public hearings where politicians, civil servants, leaders of the religious congregations that managed the institutions, and other voluntary bodies gave evidence on their respective roles in maintaining the i

in Defining events
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The Conference of Religious in Ireland (Justice Commission)

engagement, therefore, CORI Justice can be instructive on a number of levels. The CORI Justice Commission 159 Origins of the Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI) The Conference of Religious of Ireland – formerly known as the Conference of Major Religious Superiors (Ireland)2 – is the representative body for religious congregations in Ireland both in the Republic and Northern Ireland. The CMRS was established in 1958 at the request of the Vatican, which approves its statutes, in preparation for the Second Vatican Council. Originally it was organised in two sections

in Asymmetric engagement

provide crucial support for those who stepped beyond the acceptable boundaries defined by the local bishop. The issue of identity, both individual and corporate, is central to the question of authority and gender but it is problematic. Women who joined religious congregations had chosen to work within the structure of the Roman Catholic Church. They believed in its theological precepts, its road to salvation and the authority of a patriarchal hierarchy. The approbation of a congregation occurred through a complex process of approvals that was created and maintained by

in Contested identities