Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Good Hearts: Catholic Sisters in Chicago's Past

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Good Hearts: Catholic Sisters in Chicago's Past

Article excerpt

Good Hearts: Catholic Sisters in Chicago's Past. By Suellen Hoy. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Ulinois Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 243. $50.00 clothbound; $22.00 paperback.)

Some ten years ago, I stood for hours in a line that weaved around four city blocks, waiting to pass by the coffin of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the beloved leader of Chicago's Catholic community. Thousands gathered to honor Bernardin, but as I read Suellen Hoy's Good Hearts, I realized that my most vivid memory of the evening was how, while waiting in line, we visitors shared joyous stories of attending Chicago's parochial schools. The nuns who ran those schools had shaped us and shaped our faith more profoundly than any cardinal could. Yet their lives were rarely remembered with the same pomp and celebration.

Hoy reminds us that for too long the history of religious women has been ignored or dismissed despite their central role in building the American Catholic Church and many of this nation's charitable institutions. In Good Hearts, a collection of mostly previously published essays, Hoy reveals the dynamic lives that nuns led. Tracing their story from the 1846 arrival of the Irish Sisters of Mercy through demonstrations in the 1960's, Hoy offers glimpses of thousands of activist nuns who changed the face of Chicago. They exercised far greater autonomy and authority than their Protestant counterparts, although the Church's ecclesiastical structure and their own spiritual training downplayed public recognition of their achievements and left them relegated as minor players in the city's history as well. Initially they attended to the needs of the poor immigrants through parochial schools, hospitals, orphanages, and homes for "fallen women." As neighborhoods changed, religious women embraced the new arrivals, whether black or white, Catholic or Protestant.

Hoy also emphasizes the importance of class in defining the nuns' lives and the goals they set for their students. Many orders maintained a hierarchy of choir and lay sisters in the twentieth century, although an increasingly larger percentage of the sisters were drawn from the ranks of working-class immigrants or their children. …

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