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Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920 Paperback – April 26, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Writing the early story of the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, a community of French origin, history professors Coburn and Smith (Avila Coll.) offer a broad context for the influence of nuns on American life. In 1836, six French sisters founded a school for deaf children in St. Louis. The community gradually developed schools, hospitals, and other social institutions throughout the United States. As local congregations dealt with patriarchy, frontier rigors, bigotry, governance issues, and clerical clashes, the Sisters of St. Joseph established a remarkable record of achievement in education and healthcare, serving through epidemics and wars under extreme circumstances, largely financing themselves, and selflessly influencing millions. This readable scholarly work, heavily documented with a careful interweaving of primary and secondary sources, is written from a feminist perspective. The authors have made an important contribution to a neglected corner of American religious history. Highly recommended for history and religion collections.AAnna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

A great historical perspective on religious life and puts today s discussion of vocations and religious life in a new light."Catholic News Service"
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (April 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807847747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807847749
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,356,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Carol Coburn and Martha Smith have produced an excellent case study of the far ranging influence exerted by religious sisters in the United States over a period of more than a century.
Through their work in schools, hospitals, child care institutions and special education the Sisters of St Joseph interacted with many people outside the Catholic community. Their work in parish schools was particularly important in creating a cohesive and informed Catholic community. It is certain that the history of the Catholic Church in the United States would have been very different had there not been a source of cost effective labour to support a separate school system. As studies on the health care apostolate of the Church (Stepsis & Liptack and Kaufmann) have shown the sisters' apostolate was a means of breaking down prejudice. Their work in private academies did much the same. As the authors point out the work in parish schools also assisted the passage of social mobility for a largely migrant school population.
Not only do we learn how the sisters influenced the population of the United States during its great period of expansion. To the European reader it is also obvious how much the ethos of the pioneer country - not always appreciated by European religious superiors - affected the sisters themselves. The development of religious life in the United States, particularly for those communities founded there or detatched from European congregations, was quite different from that in Europe. In a large country with ever expanding horizons it is much easier to be innovative.
Personally I would have liked a little more comparison between the experience of the Sisters of St Joseph and others communities.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a very well done history of a large religious community. The authors were wise to select the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ) a case study of Catholic religious in the United States. CSJs are very typical of American Catholic Sisterhoods in that they had a European origin, adapted European customs to an American context, performed marvels through hard work and dedication in schools and hospitals, and were a vital force in the Americanization of immigrants.
Forget any streotypes about passivity. Leaders of many American religious communities had to be adept at church politics. Authority figures--The Bishop, The Priest, The Cardinal, had very fixed ideas about control of property, assigning of nuns to various projects, as well as gratingly petty demands. The CSJs were marvels at outfoxing some of these demanding reverend gentlemen. And, when one considers that The Bishop had the hierarchical authority of the Church as well as Victorian ideas about the submissiveness of women working on his side, the sagicity of these women is admirable.
Occasionaly, the authors compare the lives and work of the CSJs with Protestant women. I found this interesting and useful and wish the book covered the subject more thoroughly.
The authors perhaps overemphasize the freedom of the Sisters, as compared to married women. Get real. 19th century nuns lived in a ludicrously controlled world where drinking water between meals without permission was considered a fault. The fact that Sisters managed to accomplish all that they did despite rules and regulations dating from the Middle Ages is a testimony to their dedication.
I wish I had written this one!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In sophisticated and multilayered arguments, Spirited Lives describes how the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet emigrated to North America, expanded their work and influence in the West, created an American identity for themselves, and then helped to "Americanize" generations of mostly poor Catholic immigrants in the United States. They did so by developing and staffing a myriad of educational, health and social service institutions. This work called forth generations of sisters who were educated, hard working, and committed to a spiritual life, women who worked within gender boundaries to affect change in the larger society. This book is meticulously researched and written with precision and honesty, providing a wealth of new information on religion in America, the contributions of a particular group of women to American society, and how American culture was shaped by them. The fact that the book was conceptualized, researched and written by two historians makes this a project unusual for the vigor of the questions, experience and approach brought to bear on the topic. Still, the most exciting aspect of this work lies in two other important areas.
For decades, women's historians have based the emergence of American feminism on the influence of Evangelical Protestantism on white, middle-class women. For that matter, the historiography on American social movements generally has been shaped by this interest in the intersection between religion and reform, more recently adding gender to the mix. Such a focus has, I believe, caused scholars to ignore the committed and growing numbers of Catholic women religious who came to America on missions of mercy and stayed to help build America. Using the history of the Sisters of St.
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