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Across God's Frontiers

Many Nuns for Many Wests, 1850-1920

Anne Butler

Publication Year: 2012

Roman Catholic sisters first traveled to the American West as providers of social services, education, and medical assistance. In Across God’s Frontiers, Anne M. Butler traces the ways in which sisters challenged and reconfigured contemporary ideas about women, work, religion, and the West; moreover, she demonstrates how religious life became a vehicle for increasing women’s agency and power.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Cover and Front Matter

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pp. 1-7

Contents and Illustrations

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pp. 8-11

Abbreviations for Religious Congregations of Women

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xxi

In this work, I again turn to the American West, the magnificent region that most draws my historical interest. On this occasion, across exquisite and fractious western landscapes, Roman Catholic nuns and sisters, studies in black and white—gossamer veil sliding across a shoulder, starched coif framing the face...

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pp. 1-11

In 1836 a small band of Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, under the leadership of Mother Febronie Fontbonne, left Lyons, France, to begin a mission in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1852 Sister Francis and six Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul departed from Emmitsburg, Maryland, for San Francisco...

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CHAPTER 1. Nuns for the West

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pp. 13-42

Sister Colubkille McEnery once thought only to remain in the comfortable surroundings of her native Ireland, close to kith and kin. Ultimately, this spirited woman chose differently, left her familiar world, and traveled more than 4,000 miles from the Emerald Isle. She ventured into the alien...

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CHAPTER 2. Travels

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pp. 43-78

On a sweltering morning in May 1870, seven parched and trail-weary Catholic nuns watched as their guides loaded a primitive towboat that would carry the group over the turbulent Colorado River just west of Fort Yuma, Arizona. With but two men on the opposite side to haul the raft ropes through the dangerous waters...

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CHAPTER 3. The Labor

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pp. 79-116

The expectation of Mother Baptista Bowen that her North Dakota Sisters of the Presentation exercise fortitude in their labors as individuals and as a community resonated throughout western convents. Nuns, like other newcomers, moved into the West in search of a livelihood, on which survival itself...

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CHAPTER 4. The Finances

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pp. 117-152

In 1913 Mother Maria-Teresa of St. Joseph, seeking employment for her handful of Carmelites, contacted the bishop of San Antonio about a placement in his diocese. Encouraged by the endorsement of the Carmelites’ European director, who remarked that “by penetrating into the family...

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CHAPTER 5. Contests for Control

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pp. 153-189

If size, change, and competition marked the history of the American West, so did these factors influence the administration of the Catholic Church, with its desire to lay its spiritual mark over a large and diverse landscape. That holy dominance included a large dose of earthly rule and regulation for the...

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CHAPTER 6. A Woman for the West: Mother Katharine Drexel

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pp. 191-229

On 3 March 1955 a ninety-six-year-old nun, Mother Katharine Drexel, died in her convent infirmary at Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Laid to rest far from mountain, prairie, or desert, this private woman from the cloister seemed an unlikely figure to have shaped entire segments of Catholic education in the...

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CHAPTER 7. Ethnic Intersections

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pp. 231-266

In March 1902 Agnes Jeager, a Yuma (Quechan) teenager at the Phoenix Indian Industrial School—a large government institution boarding students from nearly two dozen Southwest tribes—wrote to her former teacher, Sister Mary Joseph Franco: “All of us Yuma children of this...

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CHAPTER 8. Nuns of the West

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pp. 267-301

Warm words for Mother Xavier Ross during the funeral of Mother Josephine Cantwell—herself a pioneer who oversaw convents in Montana, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado—captured the way many described the nuns who called the nineteenth-century West “home.” If asked, sisters would have dismissed...

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CONCLUSION. Nuns and Wests: Melding

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pp. 303-313

In the American West, nuns confronted circumstances that led them to reshape two components of sisterhood. That these components frequently collided added complexity but also vitality to the experiences, as nuns and sisters mapped out life within a West of many parts. The first factor centered on...


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pp. 315-318


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pp. 319-372


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pp. 373-393


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pp. 395-424

E-ISBN-13: 9781469601618
E-ISBN-10: 1469601613
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835654
Print-ISBN-10: 080783565X

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 868215630
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Across God's Frontiers

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Nuns -- United States -- West -- History.
  • Monasticism and religious orders for women -- United States -- West -- History.
  • Monastic and religious life of women -- United States -- West -- History.
  • Catholic Church -- United States -- West -- History.
  • West (U.S.) -- History.
  • West (U.S.) -- Church history.
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