Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History

By Margaret M. McGuinness; James T. Fisher | Go to book overview

EIGHT
Northern Settlement Houses and Southern Welfare Centers:
The Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine, 1910–1971

Margaret M. McGuinness

By the age of nineteen, Veronica McCarthy knew exactly how she wanted to spend the rest of her life: she wanted to be a “sister,” and she wanted to work with the poor. Having very little knowledge about the differences among women’s religious communities, she turned to her parish priest for guidance. He told her about a “fairly new” community, she remembered, whose members lived with and ministered to the poor of New York City’s Lower East Side. Shortly after this conversation, Veronica found herself ringing the doorbell of Madonna House, a social settlement founded and staffed by the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine.1 The sisters were very welcoming, and Veronica, who was given the religious name of Sister Dorothea, had found what she was seeking.2

Sister Dorothea’s story is not unique. Since the arrival of six French Ursulines in New Orleans in 1727 and continuing into the present day, thousands of women have answered God’s call and devoted all or part of their lives to prayer and apostolic work within the framework of a religious community. Some, seeking a more contemplative life in cloistered communities, pray for the work of the church and the well-being of the world—a world they have chosen to leave. Others, without denying the importance of prayer in their lives and apostolate, have built, administered, and staffed schools, hospitals, orphanages, settlement houses, and other charitable institutions.

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