January 16, 2009

Good Hearts: Catholic Sisters in Chicago’s Past

By Br. Benet S. Exton *

Book written by: Suellen Hoy


While most Catholic Church history in Chicago is focused on the cardinals, bishops and priests, this book zeros in on the religious sisters living in the city.  The author, Suellen Hoy, did major research on the sisters by finding primary source material on these sisters, many who originated in Ireland.  Hoy traveled to Ireland to get a first hand glimpse into their origins.  She also had access to various archives of the Archdiocese of Chicago and of the various orders in the United States and Ireland that were or are involved in Chicago. 


There was a great abundance of sisters in Ireland – so, like the priests, they opted to go to America and other places as missionaries.  In Chicago, as in many other American cities, the clergy were mostly from Ireland or of Irish heritage so of course they thought of Ireland as a source for vocations and missionaries. 


With the Irish women, the clergy may have thought they were going to very obedient and docile women, but they found out quickly that this would not be the case.   Well they found out quickly that this would not be the case especially in Chicago.  The superiors of these orders in Chicago controlled as much as possible their own business and made sure their order owned the land and property they were on instead of the bishop.  They also would not allow the bishop and others to interfere in their internal affairs.  The bishops also discovered that they were pretty good about running their own external affairs too.


The sisters many times were ahead of their Protestant counterparts in the area of social work.  The sisters started working with African Americans and others long before the Protestants did.  Often times the sisters’ work was forgotten which was partly due to anti-Catholicism and also the sisters’ humility and wanting to work for God’s glory and not their own glory. 


All, but chapter seven of this book have been previously published in journals.  They have been revised, expanded upon and updated for this book. Hoy provides several black and white photographs.  She provides extensive endnotes and an index.  The academic style of writing is what would be expected from a book published by a university press, but it is very readable for the general reader as well.


 Hoy has provided a great service to preserving and telling the history of some of the sisters who gave their lives for the Catholic Church in Chicago.  This book is highly recommended to those interested in American Catholic Church history, the Catholic Church especially in Chicago, and history of religious orders of women.   This book is also available in hardback.


Suellen Hoy is a guest professor of history at the University of Notre Dame.  She is the author of Chasing Dirt:  The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (2001) and co-authored From Dublin to New Orleans (1995), and is the author of other books.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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