Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America

Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America

Margaret M. McGuinness

Language: English

Pages: 277

ISBN: 0814795560

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Winner, 2014 Catholic Book Award in History presented by the Catholic Press Association
For generations of American Catholics, the face of their church was, quite literally, a woman's face—the nursing sister in the hospital where they were born, the teaching sister in the school where they were educated, the caring sister who helped them through times of trouble. McGuinness recovers the compelling story of these sisters and puts them back at the center of American Catholic history."
—James M. O'Toole, Boston College
"Conveys the history of American women’s religious life in its astonishing breadth and diversity. McGuinness writes with the authority of a scholar and the ease of a storyteller. Her collective portrait of the women who have for so long represented the face of the American Catholic church will be useful to not only to historians of women and of religion in the United States, but also to general readers who wish to learn about the often hidden and far-ranging contributions vowed women have made to church and nation."
—Kathleen Sprows Cummings, University of Notre Dame
For many Americans, nuns and sisters are the face of the Catholic Church. Far more visible than priests, Catholic women religious teach at schools, found hospitals, offer food to the poor, and minister to those in need. Their work has shaped the American Catholic Church throughout its history. Yet despite their high profile, a concise history of American Catholic sisters and nuns has yet to be published. In Called to Serve, Margaret M. McGuinness provides the reader with an overview of the history of Catholic women religious in American life, from the colonial period to the present.
The early years of religious life in the United States found women religious in immigrant communities and on the frontier, teaching, nursing, and caring for marginalized groups. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, the role of women religious began to change. They have fewer members than ever, and their population is aging rapidly. And the method of their ministry is changing as well: rather than merely feeding and clothing the poor, religious sisters are now working to address the social structures that contribute to poverty, fighting what one nun calls “social sin.” In the face of a changing world and shifting priorities, women religious must also struggle to strike a balance between the responsibilities of their faith and the limitations imposed upon them by their church.
Rigorously researched and engagingly written, Called to Serve offers a compelling portrait of Catholic women religious throughout American history.
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community rent a building for their school and hire a servant. Her service to the poor as a woman religious, however, was performed in a very different context from Protestant women’s benevolent societies. Most of the charitable work conducted under the auspices of the Catholic Church at the turn of the nineteenth century was carried out by women religious, not laywomen. Catholic laywomen were not expected to establish and raise money for orphanages and hospitals; that work was assigned to women

1840 more than 260,000 Irish left their homeland for a new life in America. These numbers increased even further when the potato crops in Ireland failed; over one million people left that country between 1846 and 1851. German Catholics also constituted a sizeable immigrant group; about 1,500,000 settled in the United States prior to 1860.10 Although many Irish and German immigrants were Catholic, they had little in common with each other except for a shared religious tradition. Many, if not most,

Negroes,” the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth announced that Nazareth College, along with two other Catholic institutions, planned to desegregate its student body.84 Within one week of the college’s announcement, twenty-five African American students had been admitted for the fall; they constituted one-third of the freshmen class in 1950–1951. Integration of the student body proceeded without incident, but after 1955 the number of black students attending the college declined, as state colleges

throne, and where we ourselves could have been safe and secure! . . . Then the thought came, ‘why did we ever leave Cleveland?’” Answering her own question, Mother Patricia continued, “Well, just because we wanted to do our little part toward providing one more wonderful, beautiful peaceful convent of Poor Clares like the one we had in Cleveland, where our dear Eucharistic Lord would be enthroned day and night and where other souls would lovingly keep vigil.”37 The next leg of their journey

Catholics began to voice their support for ordaining women to the diaconate. Limited to males, these “permanent deacons” serve the church by preaching, baptizing, visiting the sick, and preparing men and women for marriage. In 1974, the Sisters of Mercy formally proposed that women be allowed to enter the diaconate, asking, “When the expanse of the Church’s mission is examined, is it feasible to limit the official, public ministry to the male sex alone when fifty-one percent of the persons being

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