The Journey Out: The Recruitment and Emigration of Irish Religious Women to the United States, 1812-1914
- Journal of Women's History
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 6, Number 4 / Volume 7, Number 1, Winter/Spring 1995
- pp. 64-98
- Additional Information
The Journey Out: The Recruitment and Emigration of Irish Religious Women to the United States, 1812-1914 Suellen Hoy //TTXo you think I shall ever be good enough for you to send me \J away?" an Irish girl asked Sister Mary Eustace Eaton, a Sister of Charity and moderator of the Children of Mary Sodality at Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross, in Dublin. For thirty-eight years, from 1868 to 1906, Sister Mary Eustace had heard the same question from hundreds of "pure hearted young girls" who, upon receiving the sodality's medal and blue ribbon, pledged to turn "from worldly pleasures to give themselves to God."1 Most of these Children of Mary were in their early teens and came from the homes of Dublin's working class. As they grew older and expressed a desire to become nuns, Sister Mary Eustace successfully placed them in convents outside IrelandÂ—ones willing to accept a young woman with little or no dowry.2 These were located largely in foreign, English-speaking countries to which millions of Irish had fled after the Great Famine (1845-1851). By 1905 Sister Mary Eustace had found places for approximately 700 women from Harold's Cross, several of whom later bore the name Sister Mary Eustace. About 400 of these Children of Mary became nuns in the United States.3 Sister Mary Eustace's work at Harold's Cross is only one example of what had become by 1900 an almost routine pattern of migrationÂ—young Irish women going out to the New World as nuns (professed Sisters, novices, postulants, or aspirants). The pattern began in the spring of 1812 when three Ursuline nuns traveled from Cork to New York, where they estabhshed the first foundation of Irish women in the United States. Although they remained only three years, they initiated a practice that would become commonplace by the end of the nineteenth century. They also represented the first wave of Irish emigrant women who would come to the United States at the invitation of bishops and priests, often Irish, to establish new convents.4 The first wave lasted from 1812 to 1881. It consisted of the estabhshment of sixteen foundations that did endure, ending with the arrival in 1881 of a small group of Presentation Sisters from Fermoy, County Cork, in Watervhet, New York. But a second wave, which began in earnest during the late 1860s (and overlapped the first wave during the 1870s), Â© 1995 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 6 No. 4/Vql 7 No. Î¹ Q/Vinter/Spring) 1995 SUELLEN Hoy 65 continued into the twentieth century. Young women, usually not professed Sisters or even novices, were recruited by nuns from the United States who regularly launched "major drives" to acquire new members during visits to Ireland in the spring and summer months. In this way, several thousand women journeyed out to the United States where they entered rehgious orders as postulants and received training for their lifelong work.5 Those recruited in the second wave, for the most part, became teachers in the United States's rapidly developing parochial school system. By the 1880s the needs of the Cathohc Church, as defined by its bishops, centered on classroom instruction; and nuns were sought for that purpose. The diverse ministries begun by the pioneers of the first waveÂ—nursing the sick, caring for orphans, housing working women and unwed mothers , and educating adult immigrantsÂ—simply lost out to the task of staffing new schools. But over the years the women of both waves, united more by their fortitude and resourcefulness than by their professional work, grew into a capable community of American Catholic women that extended over several generations. Once the schools were built, bishops and pastors tended to leave day-to-day affairs to the nuns who from the beginning served as principals as well as teachers.6 In both roles, these emigrants became "heroes of their own lives." This was no small achievement for women, especially of the second wave, who once seemed trapped in the deprived and constrained circumstances that were repercussions of the Great Famine. By recruiting, educating, and sustaining one another in rehgious communities, most...