We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Called to Serve

A History of Nuns in America

Margaret M. McGuinness

Publication Year: 2013

"For generations of American Catholics, the face of their church was, quite literally, a woman's face. McGuinness recovers the compelling story of these sisters and puts them back at the center of American Catholic history."
—James M. O'Toole, Boston College
"McGuinness writes with the authority of a scholar and the ease of a storyteller. Her portrait of the women who have for so long represented the face of the American Catholic church will be useful to readers who wish to learn about the often hidden and far-ranging contributions vowed women have made to church and nation."
—Kathleen Sprows Cummings, University of Notre Dame
For many Americans, nuns and sisters are the face of the Catholic Church. Far more visible than priests, Catholic women religious teach at schools, found hospitals, offer food to the poor, and minister to those in need. Their work has shaped the American Catholic Church throughout its history. Yet despite their high profile, a concise history of American Catholic sisters and nuns has yet to be published. In Called to Serve, Margaret M. McGuinness provides the reader with an overview of the history of Catholic women religious in American life, from the colonial period to the present.
The early years of religious life in the United States found women religious in immigrant communities and on the frontier, teaching, nursing, and caring for marginalized groups. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, the role of women religious began to change. They have fewer members than ever, and their population is aging rapidly. And the method of their ministry is changing as well: rather than merely feeding and clothing the poor, religious sisters are now working to address the social structures that contribute to poverty, fighting what one nun calls “social sin.” In the face of a changing world and shifting priorities, women religious must also struggle to strike a balance between the responsibilities of their faith and the limitations imposed upon them by their church.
Rigorously researched and engagingly written, Called to Serve offers a compelling portrait of Catholic women religious throughout American history.
Margaret M. McGuinness is Professor of Religion and Executive Director of the Office of Mission Integration at La Salle University, Philadelphia. She served as co-editor of American Catholic Studies from 2001 until 2013. Previous publications include: A Catholic Studies Reader and Neighbors and Missionaries: A History of the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (77.3 KB)
pp. 2-7


pdf iconDownload PDF (90.1 KB)
pp. vii-9


pdf iconDownload PDF (74.5 KB)
pp. ix-xi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (128.0 KB)
pp. 1-14

Sister Mary Scullion, RSM, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, began working with Philadelphia’s homeless and mentally ill men and women in 1978 at the age of twenty-five, leading her, she once reflected, to “the most profound experience [she] ever had of God.”1 As her ministry to this population grew into a lifetime commitment, Sister Mary was arrested at least twice for distributing food to those homeless seeking shelter in Philadelphia’s 30th Street train station, and although never convicted, she spent several nights in jail. On another occasion, Sister Mary, along with some men and women who had been denied admittance to the city’s overcrowded...

read more

1. Organizing to Serve

pdf iconDownload PDF (229.3 KB)
pp. 15-40

The lives of Jerusha Booth Barber and her husband, Episcopal priest Virgil Barber, changed dramatically when they decided that the Catholic Church was indeed the true path to salvation. In February 1817, Jerusha and Virgil, parents of five children, received their First Communion from Father Benedict Fenwick, who would be named Bishop of Boston in 1825.1...

read more

2. Service to a Growing Catholic Community

pdf iconDownload PDF (232.6 KB)
pp. 41-65

When Anne-Thérèse Guerin's parents celebrated her birth in the French village of Etables-sur-Mer in 1798, they never expected that their beloved daughter would find fulfillment as a woman religious in rural Indiana. Anne-Thérèse was convinced that she was called to religious life from an early age, but family responsibilities, including caring for her mother ...

read more

3. Serving through Education

pdf iconDownload PDF (208.7 KB)
pp. 66-86

On Monday, December 1, 1958, most of the 1,668 students attending Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels School were readjusting to classroom activities after the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. Their teachers, knowing how difficult it could be to return their students’ attention to school after a long weekend, had prepared a day centered on academic pursuits. Eighth-...

read more

4. Serving the Sick

pdf iconDownload PDF (235.6 KB)
pp. 87-110

The very mention of cholera was guaranteed to strike fear in the hearts of nineteenth-century Americans. The disease’s symptoms are unmistakable: severe vomiting and diarrhea along with intense abdominal pain, dehydration, and shock, leading eventually to death. Many Ameri-cans believed that cholera was transmitted primarily by “bad air,” a theory ...

read more

5. Serving Those in Need

pdf iconDownload PDF (264.0 KB)
pp. 111-136

Msrion Gurney, a recent convert to Catholicism, was convinced there was only one way to bring salvation to New York City residents in the early twentieth century. “[T]he city of New York will be saved if it is,” Gurney claimed, “not by the distribution of clothing and groceries, nor yet by the study of Browning and the cultivation of fine arts, but by regeneration of individual human lives as one by one they are brought back to the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.”1 Gurney, a graduate of Wellesley College, was an enthusiastic advocate of social settlements, which gave middle- and upper-class Americans the opportunity to live...

read more

6. Praying for the World

pdf iconDownload PDF (223.9 KB)
pp. 137-153

"Most people are thrilled to have someone write about them,” claims freelance journalist and writer Kristen Ohlson in her 2003 book Stalking the Divine. “A few refuse,” she acknowledges, “knowing how often jour-nalists botch their characterizations of people either through spite or just because it’s so hard to get the details right. In either case, people tend to ...

read more

7. Redefining Sisterhood

pdf iconDownload PDF (245.1 KB)
pp. 154-179

Ethel Marian Danforth earned a graduate degree in journalism and worked as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Press before entering the Maryknoll Sisters in 1933, receiving the name Sister Maria del Rey. Mother Mary Columba Tarpey, Maryknoll’s Mother General from 1947 until 1958, appreciated Sister Maria del Rey’s talents, and assigned her to tasks that resulted in the engineering of “a series of stunning publicity coups, including a flattering story [about Maryknoll] in Time magazine.”1 Thanks to Sister Maria del Rey’s efforts, Mother Columba was chosen to represent women...

read more

8. Serving Today

pdf iconDownload PDF (225.0 KB)
pp. 180-200

Sister Helen Prejean did not hesitate when asked if she would write to an inmate housed on Louisiana State Penitentiary’s death row. She later explained that agreeing to the request seemed to fit with her ministry in St. Thomas, a New Orleans housing project of mostly poor African American residents. Sister Helen remembered that she came “to St. Thomas to serve ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (227.5 KB)
pp. 201-234

Select Bibliography

pdf iconDownload PDF (158.5 KB)
pp. 235-252


pdf iconDownload PDF (629.4 KB)
pp. 253-265

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.2 KB)
p. 279-279

E-ISBN-13: 9780814724729
E-ISBN-10: 0814795560
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814795569
Print-ISBN-10: 0814795560

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013