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Women of Faith

The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community

Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

Publication Year: 2014

When the Sisters of Mercy lost their foundress Sister Catherine McAuley in 1841, stories of Mother Catherine passed from one generation of sisters to the next. McAuley's Rule and Constitutions along with her spiritual writings and correspondence communicated the Mercys' founding charism. Each generation of Sisters of Mercy who succeeded her took these words and her spirit with them as they established new communities or foundations across the United States and around the world. In Women of Faith, Mary Beth Fraser Connolly traces the paths of the women who dedicated their lives to the Sisters of Mercy Chicago Regional Community, the first Congregation of Catholic Sisters in Chicago. More than the story of the institutions that defined the territory and ministries of the women of this Midwestern region, Women of Faith presents a history of the women who made this regional community, whether as foundresses of individual communities in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries or as the teachers, nurses, and pastoral ministers who cared for and educated generations of Midwestern American Catholics. Though they had no immediate connection with McAuley, these women inherited her spirit and vision for religious life. Focusing on how the Chicago Mercys formed a community, lived their spiritual lives, and served within the institutional Catholic Church, this three-part perspective addresses community, spirituality, and ministry, providing a means by which we can trace the evolution of these women of faith as the world around them changed. The first part of this study focuses on the origins of the Sisters of Mercy in the Midwest from the founding of the Chicago South Side community in 1846 through the amalgamation and creation of the Chicago Province in 1929. The second part examines how the Mercys came together as one province through the changes of Vatican II from 1929 to the 1980s. Part III examines life after the dramatic changes of Vatican II in the 1990s and 2000s. Presenting rich examples of how faith cannot be separated from identity, Women of Faith provides an important new contribution to the scholarship that is shaping our collective understanding of women religious.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xvi

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Introduction: “One Solid Comfort”

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pp. 1-10

On December 20, 1840, Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland, wrote Sister Mary de Sales White at the Bermondsey convent in London, England, saying, “I think sometimes our passage through this dear sweet world is something like the Dance called ‘right and left.’ ” She continued with a description of the dance, incorporating the locations...

I. “Charity Embraces Those Who Abound”

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pp. 11-14

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1. “The spirit of our Institute is mercy, as its name denotes”

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pp. 15-45

According to a nineteenth-century Directory for Novices,2 any “hope of happiness” for Sisters of Mercy came from the love of Jesus Christ and “His mercy” bestowed upon them. Images of Sisters of Mercy from the nineteenth century often do not show this joy, but they do convey directly that they were religious women. They committed their lives fully to God...

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2. “Not Bound by Enclosure”

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pp. 46-74

The Sisters of Mercy in the nineteenth century acquired the name the “Walking Sisters” because they often traveled from their convents on foot in pairs. Sisters throughout Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin moved in and out of streets, classrooms, and sick rooms. They journeyed from convents into schools, hospitals, orphan asylums, and homes for women. They entered...

II. “This Mutual Love and Union”

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pp. 75-78

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3. New Community, Same Spirit

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pp. 79-104

The preceding passage, an excerpt from the Constitutions of the Sisters of Mercy, describes the good and sober sisters, the “handmaidens” of the Church, who avoided idleness in favor of diligent and unquestioning service to God. It conveys a seriousness of purpose, with little room for humor. It reminded sisters of the gravity of a religious vocation, as it urged...

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4. Demanding Decades

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pp. 105-128

From the late 1920s up to the changes instituted by the Second Vatican Council of the mid-1960s, the Sisters of Mercy of the Chicago Province, like many other communities of women religious in the United States, faced growing demands to staff parochial schools, to expand health care, and to continue to provide for the spiritual and material welfare of American...

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5. “Change Is Blowing Hard”

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pp. 129-161

In the fall of 1970, the front page of the Chicago Province’s newsletter, Exchange, contained a copy of the Opening Prayer of Apostolate Day. The prayer asked God for help in accepting the changes in religious life that had developed in the preceding years. It also asked God for inspiration to continue ministries and for each sister to “contribute the best of herself to...

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6. Reinventing Community and Service to the World

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pp. 162-202

In the summer of 1959, Sister Patricia M. Murphy read an announcement posted on the wall of the sisters’ residence at Saint Xavier College for a new mission to Sicuani, Peru. The announcement contained few details about the mission other than the altitude and the purpose of the endeavor: to establish a school and possibly have some sisters work in health...

III. New Life, New Paths, Same Spirit

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7. “This Far by Faith”

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pp. 205-252

In the Spring/Summer 1983 issue, editors of the Chicago Province news magazine Dimensions published a letter from the Chicago Sisters of Mercy to Catherine McAuley. They had not unearthed a previously unseen letter to their foundress. Rather, they published a contemporary letter composed in the spirit and tradition of McAuley’s own letter-writing: a means of...

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pp. 253-262

Catherine McAuley wrote the preceding passage in a letter to Sister Mary de Sales White in Bermondsey in February 1841, a few months after her previous correspondence in which she ruminated on the impermanence of individual Sisters of Mercy. In that earlier letter, McAuley’s “little tripping about” placed emphasis on the centrality of God in her community’s...


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pp. 263-270


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pp. 271-332


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pp. 333-336


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pp. 337-350


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pp. 351-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780823254767
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823254736
Print-ISBN-10: 0823254739

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: Cloth