Women in Missouri History: In Search of Power and Influence

By Leeann Whites; Mary C. Neth et al. | Go to book overview

City Sisters

The Sisters of St. Joseph in Missouri, 1836—1920

Carol K. Coburn

Martha Smith

The steamer George Collier docked safely in St. Louis on March 25, 1836, but not before a boiler had exploded, killing a crewman during the ten-day trip up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Shaken by the experience but thankful to be alive and at their final destination, six young nuns, ages twenty-one to thirty-one, disembarked at the end of their long journey, having survived forty-nine days of rough seas and a nearly disastrous storm in the Gulf of Mexico before their sailing vessel, the Natchez, made port in New Orleans. Greeted in St. Louis by Bishop Joseph Rosati, who had invited them to establish a school for deaf children in Missouri, the young women, Sisters of St. Joseph from Lyons, France, stepped into a world whose people, language, and customs were foreign to them in every way. 1.

This inauspicious beginning is representative of the initial foundations of many Catholic religious communities of women in the United States. Most began with a small band of women—European, Canadian, or Americanborn—who began living and working together in spiritual, emotional, physical, and economic support networks that eventually spanned every region of the country. After the founding of the initial Ursuline order in New Orleans in 1727, Catholic nuns increased their number to 46,000 by 1900. By 1920, American Catholic sisters had created or were maintaining ap-

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1.
A full account of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and their growth and influence nationally can be found in Carol K. Coburn and Martha Smith, Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836—1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

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