Academic journal article Magistra

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

Academic journal article Magistra

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

Article excerpt

Across God's Frontiers. Catholic Sisters in the American West, 1850-1920 by Anne M. Butler. University of North Carolina Press, 2012. 448 pp. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-80783565-4.

Most of us in religious life have heard the stories of our feisty foremothers - no whimpering souls found among them - with passions for meaningful ministry and adventure. Some of our foremothers, of course, simply never fit in back home and thus "out West" made everyone in the motherhouse happy. Our founding mothers endured contempt, neglect, poverty and disease, more contempt and frequent misunderstanding. They took on bishops and mayors, swindlers and sheriffs. Anne Butler has done us a fine service in providing the details of these women's founding experiences. The breadth of her research is impressive.

Catholic sisters built the Church of the American West. If you want to know the details, start reading. If you think it was the priests and bishops (and yes, there were and are some great souls among them), start reading. You will meet colorful characters. I have read many histories of American Catholic sisters and yet I continued to learn of communities, founders and movements of which I had not been aware. Most histories that I've encountered focus on the early communities of the eastern seaboard, with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet being the exception. Butler truly goes West.

Butler makes extensive use of diaries and letters to describe the first-hand experiences of Catholic sisters in their travels west: the diversity of their work (teaching and nursing during the day, with farm and house chores, for example) in a maledominated realm; struggles with finances; battles over control of their lives, ministry and finances; contact with other cultures; and bigotry. …

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