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Across God's Frontiers

Across God's Frontiers: Catholic Sisters in the American West, 1850-1920

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    Across God's Frontiers
    Book Description:

    Roman Catholic sisters first traveled to the American West as providers of social services, education, and medical assistance. InAcross God's Frontiers, Anne M. Butler traces the ways in which sisters challenged and reconfigured contemporary ideas about women, work, religion, and the West; moreover, she demonstrates how religious life became a vehicle for increasing women's agency and power.Moving to the West introduced significant changes for these women, including public employment and thoroughly unconventional monastic lives. As nuns and sisters adjusted to new circumstances and immersed themselves in rugged environments, Butler argues, the West shaped them; and through their labors and charities, the sisters in turn shaped the West. These female religious pioneers built institutions, brokered relationships between Indigenous peoples and encroaching settlers, and undertook varied occupations, often without organized funding or direct support from the church hierarchy. A comprehensive history of Roman Catholic nuns and sisters in the American West,Across God's Frontiersreveals Catholic sisters as dynamic and creative architects of civic and religious institutions in western communities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0161-8
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Abbreviations for Religious Congregations of Women
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1836 a small band of Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, under the leadership of Mother Febronie Fontbonne, left Lyons, France, to begin a mission in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1852 Sister Francis and six Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul departed from Emmitsburg, Maryland, for San Francisco, California, where within weeks the five surviving nuns opened a school. In 1856 Mother Joseph of the Providence sisters of Montreal, Canada, and two other French-speaking sisters launched the first hospital in the Washington Territory. In 1857 Sister Willibalda brought a handful of Bavarian Benedictines safely to St. Cloud,...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Nuns for the West
    (pp. 13-42)

    Sister Colubkille McEnery once thought only to remain in the comfortable surroundings of her native Ireland, close to kith and kin. Ultimately, this spirited woman chose differently, left her familiar world, and traveled more than 4,000 miles from the Emerald Isle. She ventured into the alien landscapes of the American West and the unknowns of a convent world. She bid farewell to her Irish home and journeyed to the remote town of Castroville, Texas, approximately twenty-five miles south of San Antonio, where she redefined herself as a religious sister in the Congregation of Divine Providence. Rejecting her life as a...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Travels
    (pp. 43-78)

    On a sweltering morning in May 1870, seven parched and trail-weary Catholic nuns watched as their guides loaded a primitive towboat that would carry the group over the turbulent Colorado River just west of Fort Yuma, Arizona. With but two men on the opposite side to haul the raft ropes through the dangerous waters, the lead driver explained that only one crossing could be made. He ordered the nuns to climb into the wagon, crammed with baggage and provisions. Thus it came that the seven women were in the overloaded carriage when the driver urged the skittish horses forward at...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Labor
    (pp. 79-116)

    The expectation of Mother Baptista Bowen that her North Dakota Sisters of the Presentation exercise fortitude in their labors as individuals and as a community resonated throughout western convents. Nuns, like other newcomers, moved into the West in search of a livelihood, on which survival itself depended. Perhaps that quest seemed misguided, as solid opportunities for paid employment in the West appeared to bypass women and particularly nuns.

    Industries driven by the extraction of natural resources and dependent on the labor of men undergirded the economic West. Work tilted toward life in the out-of-doors, making it the place for brawling,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Finances
    (pp. 117-152)

    In 1913 Mother Maria-Teresa of St. Joseph, seeking employment for her handful of Carmelites, contacted the bishop of San Antonio about a placement in his diocese. Encouraged by the endorsement of the Carmelites’ European director, who remarked that “by penetrating into the family circle . . . they have rendered the most salutary services . . . to . . . the entire civil community,” Bishop John William Shaw entered into protracted negotiations to bring these semicloistered Carmelites to Texas.¹ Anxious to improve services in poverty-ridden Mexican neighborhoods, where he envisioned Mother Maria-Teresa’s nuns might have “some clubs in the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Contests for Control
    (pp. 153-190)

    If size, change, and competition marked the history of the American West, so did these factors influence the administration of the Catholic Church, with its desire to lay its spiritual mark over a large and diverse landscape. That holy dominance included a large dose of earthly rule and regulation for the very missionaries hoisting the pope’s banner. Church bureaucrats, especially through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, plotting a Catholic course in America did so from the distance of crowded European centers or within the corridors of the Vatican and with an authoritarian, sadly uninformed air. Infrequently did...

  11. CHAPTER 6 A Woman for the West: Mother Katharine Drexel
    (pp. 191-230)

    On 3 March 1955 a ninety-six-year-old nun, Mother Katharine Drexel, died in her convent infirmary at Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Laid to rest far from mountain, prairie, or desert, this private woman from the cloister seemed an unlikely figure to have shaped entire segments of Catholic education in the American South and the American West. Katharine Drexel, through her religious zeal, immense wealth, business acumen, and organizational skill did exactly that and in the process transformed herself into one of the most unusual adopted daughters of the West.

    The Drexel biography diverged from the narrative of western nuns, but it illuminated the...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Ethnic Intersections
    (pp. 231-266)

    In March 1902 Agnes Jeager, a Yuma (Quechan) teenager at the Phoenix Indian Industrial School—a large government institution boarding students from nearly two dozen Southwest tribes—wrote to her former teacher, Sister Mary Joseph Franco: “All of us Yuma children of this school are doing nicely with our studies and work. . . . I am very glad to tell you that we Yuma girls never get into trouble.”¹ Reports of her parents and siblings at Fort Yuma were less happy, for Agnes told Sister Joseph that “Blanche has been sick ever since I left her. . . ....

  13. CHAPTER 8 Nuns of the West
    (pp. 267-302)

    Warm words for Mother Xavier Ross during the funeral of Mother Josephine Cantwell—herself a pioneer who oversaw convents in Montana, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado—captured the way many described the nuns who called the nineteenth-century West “home.” If asked, sisters would have dismissed funeral orations that trumpeted nunly tenacity across a range of western experiences and pious descriptions of inborn virtue. Nuns tended to wave off applause and accentuate matter-of-factness, saying, as did Blandina Segale, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati who spent over twenty years in the Southwest as a fierce advocate for the poor: “It is difficult...

  14. CONCLUSION. Nuns and Wests: Melding
    (pp. 303-314)

    In the American West, nuns confronted circumstances that led them to reshape two components of sisterhood. That these components frequently collided added complexity but also vitality to the experiences, as nuns and sisters mapped out life within a West of many parts. The first factor centered on defining a religious identity that accommodated the ideals nuns cherished from a European monastic tradition and the fresh opportunities for professed women that arose in America. The second element called for crafting a regional identity that reconfigured religious behaviors to fit changing expectations for nuns and those they held for themselves. In both...

  15. Glossary
    (pp. 315-318)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 319-372)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 373-394)
  18. Index
    (pp. 395-424)