- Living in God's Providence: A History of the Congregation of Divine Providence of San Antonio, Texas, 1943-2000
Women's religious history remains one of the great mysteries in the scholarship of the Lone Star State. Sister Mary Christine Morkovsky, a San Antonio native of Czech ancestry, helps fill this void with the second volume in the history of the Congregation of Divine Providence (CDP), an order of semi-cloistered nuns begun in France during the mid-eighteenth century primarily to educate young country girls to become teachers at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Morkovsky provides both specialists and general readers an insider's look into how a religious group of women has responded in more recent times to a similar shift in Texas from a predominantly agricultural society to an urban one, tending to the needs of the poor and marginalized amidst a changing American Catholic church.
The central theme that emerges is that the Sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence were well suited to handle ongoing transformations in Texas following World War II because their heritage had been deeply rooted in meeting the challenges of a changing society in rural areas of Europe and the American frontier. Although they were "neither revolutionaries nor traditionalists," Morkovsky states that the Congregation was a united group of women under the leadership of "risk-taking individual Sisters" (12). Their recognized professional qualifications and excellent institutions became sources of strength as they ventured into various ministries beyond the core educational goals of the order's founder, Father John Martin Moye. The Sisters responded bravely to religious, political, economic, and social changes while remaining largely invisible in the public eye.
Morkovsky relies primarily upon oral interviews of the Sisters over the years as well as newspaper accounts and other archival records of the Congregation that make her work a gold mine for scholars interested not only in Catholic Church history but also the struggle of public and private education in the state of Texas and neighboring Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. The early chapters are organized thematically with each focusing upon different institutions the Sisters established over the years, for example, elementary and secondary schools located in both urban and rural areas of the state and the flagship university at Our Lady of [End Page 223] the Lake in San Antonio. Subsequent chapters revolve around topics in response to changing demographics and civil rights such as the creation of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence (MCDP) under the leadership of Sister Benitia Vermeersch, who recruited Hispanic women to reach children of the Mexican barrio in Houston, and the promotion of equality for African Americans following Archbishop Robert E. Lucey's arrival in San Antonio and his gathering together of religious personnel to consider ways of desegregating schools. Chapters nine and ten take a rather self-critical look at the promotion of peace and justice in the aftermath of Vatican II of the mid-1960s, while the last chapters focus upon administrative and other structural changes within the Congregation.
The story that emerges is the blending of the many voices of ordinary women with extraordinary courage who responded to the problems that arose on the march toward modernity in Texas, challenging church and secular authorities in the progressive spirit of those pioneering Sisters who arrived on the nineteenth-century frontier to assist a multitude of immigrant communities from Europe, other regions of the United States, and Mexico. [End Page 224]