Neighbors and Missionaries: A History of the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine

Neighbors and Missionaries: A History of the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine

Margaret M. McGuinness
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 242
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    Neighbors and Missionaries: A History of the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine
    Book Description:

    The Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine community was founded in 1910 by marion gurney, who adopted the religious name Mother Marianne of Jesus. A graduate of Wellesley College and a convert to Catholicism, Gurney had served as head resident at St. Rose's Settlement, the first Catholic settlement house in New York City. She founded the Sisters of Christian Doctrine when other communities of women religious appeared uninterested in a ministry of settlement work combined with religious education programs for children attending public schools. The community established two settlement houses in New York City-Madonna House on the Lower East Side in 1910, followed by Ave Maria House in the Bronx in 1930. Alongside their classes in religious education and preparing children and adults to receive the sacraments, the Sisters distributed food and clothing, operated a bread line, and helped their neighbors in emergencies. In 1940 Mother Marianne and the Sisters began their first major mission outside New York when they adapted the model of the urban Catholic social settlement to rural South Carolina. They also served at a number of parishes, including several in South Carolina and Florida, where they ministered to both black and white Catholics. In Neighbors and Missionaries, Margaret M. McGuinness, who was given full access to the archives of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine, traces in fascinating detail the history of the congregation, from the inspiring story of its founder and the community's mission to provide material and spiritual support to their Catholic neighbors, to the changes and challenges of the latter half of the twentieth century. By 1960, settlement houses had been replaced by other forms of social welfare, and the lives and work of American women religious were undergoing a dramatic change. McGuinness explores how the Sisters of Christian Doctrine were affected and how they adapted their own lives and work to reflect the transformations taking place in the Church and society. Neighbors and Missionaries examines a distinctive community of women religious whose primary focus was neither teaching nor nursing/hospital administration. The choice of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine to live among the poor and to serve where other communities were either unwilling or unable demonstrates that women religious in the United States served in many different capacities as they contributed to the life and work of the American Catholic Church.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4943-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    In 1936, shortly before her nineteenth birthday, New York City resident Veronica McCarthy decided to enter the convent. The only problem, she confided to a friend, was she did not know any “sisters.” When Veronica told a priest she wanted to “work with the poor,” he described a “fairly new” religious community located on the Lower East Side of New York. One Sunday, Veronica and a friend visited these sisters, who were living in a settlement house on Cherry Street, and found it “unlike what you would expect a convent to be.” They rang the doorbell and, after explaining the...

  5. 1 From Wellesley College to the Lower East Side
    (pp. 18-45)

    “Miss Marion Lane Gurney,” theNew York Timesreported on December 1, 1897, “a member of the old Boston family of Gurneys, who founded the Church Settlement House connected with the Church of the Redeemer, has renounced the Protestant Episcopal [Church] and adopted the Roman Catholic faith.” Gurney was baptized at Manhattan’s St. Francis Xavier Church on November 1, and one week later Archbishop Michael Corrigan administered the sacrament of confirmation. “It is said,” the reporter concluded, “she will either join the Franciscan Sisterhood or Sisters of the Holy Souls in Purgatory.”¹

    The newspaper’s account of Marion Gurney’s conversion was...

  6. 2 Fighting to Save the City of New York
    (pp. 46-67)

    In a 1910 letter to Rt. Rev. Michael J Lavelle, vicar general of the New York archdiocese, Mother Marianne respectfully expressed her conviction that the day nursery that Farley had permitted the sisters to open and administer was not adequate to meet the many needs of Cherry Hill’s impoverished residents, and she reminded him that she had recommended a “wider development of Catholic activity” in the area. Expanding the day nursery into a social settlement meant the sisters would be able to extend their outreach in the community and interact on a regular basis with the poor and needy of...

  7. 3 Neighbors and Teachers
    (pp. 68-97)

    Ten years after the fledgling community began its apostolate on Cherry Street, Mother Marianne wrote a lengthy letter to Vicar General Michael Lavelle assessing the sisters’ work over the past decade. Madonna House, she claimed, was the “most completely organized Catholic Community center in the Archdiocese,” and about seven hundred people a day passed through the settlement for either “instruction, relief, recreation or advice.” By offering their neighbors the opportunity to participate in a variety of classes and religious societies, the sisters were able to follow the men and women of Cherry Hill from “the cradle to the grave.” In...

  8. 4 Settlements Go South
    (pp. 98-121)

    Mother Marianne’s original vision of a religious community involved women willing to work in struggling parishes. Their presence, she hoped, would help preserve the faith of those living in areas without significant numbers of Catholics, who did not have access to parochial schools, resident clerics, or religious communities. Since establishing Madonna House in 1910, however, most of her time and energy had been devoted to serving the Church in urban areas.

    The focus of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine was expanded to include poverty-stricken rural Catholics in 1940, when Rev. George Lewis Smith formally invited the congregation to initiate a...

  9. 5 More than Settlement Houses
    (pp. 122-146)

    The primary ministries of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine involved social settlements that stressed the importance of religious education and sacramental preparation as well as social and educational activities, but Mother Marianne was more than willing for her sisters to work in a traditional parish setting if it would help to serve those in need. She continued to stress the importance of understanding the people with whom the sisters worked, however, and expected members of the congregation to minister on a variety of levels. In addition to their work in a number of parishes in Florida, South Carolina, and New...

  10. 6 Changes and Continuities
    (pp. 147-168)

    The mood at Marydell was somber in February 1957, Sister Virginia Johnson reported. “Thursday morning at conference,” she wrote, “Mother Elizabeth told us that Reverend Mother was not expected to live. She told us, if we heard a bell ring at any hour of the day or night to assemble in the hall.” ¹ On February 9, 1957, Mother Marianne of Jesus, foundress and mother general of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine, died. Although New York City newspapers, including theNew York Times, published formal obituaries, the report of her death in theWellesley Alumnae Magazinemay have captured Mother...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 169-176)

    On January 17, 2011, Sister Dorothea McCarthy, who had entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine in 1936, died peacefully at the age of 93. Friends and members of the community remembered Sister Dorothea as someone who had been a community leader—she had served as president of the congregation for six years—as well as a tireless worker in the ministries established by Mother Marianne. She had worked, for example, at Madonna House, Our Lady of the Valley in South Carolina, and at Ave Maria House in the Bronx as well as at a number of parishes....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 177-212)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 213-220)
  14. Index
    (pp. 221-230)