Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

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

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

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. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2012. Pp. xxi, 424. $45.

While some might think that women religious (the author uses the terms "sisters" and "nuns" interchangeably) remained in their convents, followed their rule of life, and were removed from the "world," in fact sisters stretched the boundaries of religious customs for the sake of the mission in which they were engaged as more of the vast lands west of the Mississippi River were settled after 1850. The American West reshaped two elements of sisterhood: their religious identity, often based on a European monastic ideal, and a "regional identity that reconfigured religious behaviors to fit changing expectations for nuns and those they held for themselves" (303). Butler, trustee professor emerita at Utah State University and past editor of the Western Historical Quarterly, has analyzed in an absorbing manner the complexity of sisters' lives in geographic and sociopolitical situations previously unknown to them.

Several strengths of the book are conspicuous, especially Butler's vivid writing style, which readily involves the reader in the lives, struggles, and mission of the women; and the depth and breadth of her research and analysis. Stories are garnered from forty-four sisters' archives in thirty-four cities. Individual chapters explore the travel process, the "labor" of the women, finances, control of sisters' lives in relation to bishops and clergy, conflict between motherhouse customs and mission experiences on the frontier, ethnic intersections, and the reshaping of sisterhood because of the western experience. …

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