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French nuns in nineteenth-century England.

The Catholic church in western Europe experienced a phenomenal increase in the number of religious sisters, convents and female religious institutes or congregations during the nineteenth century.(1) This geographically widespread movement appeared to occur in several countries spontaneously and in parallel, but, in common with other international religious movements such as revivalism in the middle of the eighteenth century or the charismatic movement in the second half of the twentieth century, closer examination shows the existence of a heartland out of which the movement spread. In this instance the heartland was post-Revolutionary France and French-speaking Belgium.

The resurgence of the female religious life in France has now been well documented. An extensive statistical study of the religious life for women undertaken by Claude Langlois listed no fewer than four hundred congregations and orders newly founded or re-founded (after Revolutionary abolition in 1792) between 1800 and 1880 within which some 200,000 women became sisters.(2) A significant number of women therefore became leaders of sizeable organizations. Many, in the early decades, were responding to the anti-Christian dimension of the Revolution and to the social dynamics of the new post-Revolutionary century.(3) Although contemplative orders and the completely cloistered life continued to attract women, the great majority of new congregations were established for active religious. Apostolic sisters conducting social ministries were not in themselves an innovation, but in the nineteenth century they came to dominate the church's thinking about women religious and the popular image of nuns as never before.(4) The range and scale of their work increased dramatically and by the end of the century sisters were working as teachers, teacher educators, nurses, welfare workers and parish visitors, and as administrators or domestic staff in countless Catholic institutions, such as orphanages, asylums, women's refuges, reformatories for young women, old people's homes and hospitals, as well as in schools and colleges. The demography and geography of convents and nuns assembled by Langlois thus speak, among other things, of a powerful movement by women to re-Christianize French culture and society. As he and several other historians have argued, this movement, in turn, played a significant part in the feminization of French Catholicism.(5)

Historians of France have integrated this group of women and their institutions into the mainstream of French social and religious history. Less well understood is their impact on western Catholic culture as a whole. French congregations spread with rapidity to other parts of the continent, to the United States, Great Britain and Ireland, and to the expanding European empires and economic spheres of influence in Australia, Canada, India, Latin America and Africa. Herein lay the real innovation of the post-Revolutionary congregations. For the first time, women religious were not prevented from devising forms of organization and authority which enabled them to operate nationally and internationally. Crucial to the innovation--as it previously had been for male institutes--was the vesting of authority in a single Superior General who, in turn, received authority directly from Rome rather than from her local bishop. Such organizations were thus known as `papal' rather than `diocesan' institutes. A chain of governance from Rome to the Superior General did not altogether bypass the diocesan level of authority--the bishop's permission was still required for the congregation to work in his diocese--but it freed the congregation to move outside the diocese of its foundation, to work simultaneously in any number of dioceses, and, rather than having the local bishop as its superior, to choose a leader from amongst its members. In brief, the change brought together the active uncloistered religious life (which was not new) with a centralized organization under the authority of a female Superior General (both of which were new). Up to this point, all efforts by pioneers such as Angela Merici (1474-1540), Jeanne de Lestonnac (1556-1640) and Mary Ward (1585-1645) to innovate this model of religious life for women had been thwarted.(6) In the early nineteenth century, however, the long-standing impulse for change on the part of women accorded sufficiently with the needs and priorities of the clerical church to be given rather more, if not wholehearted, encouragement.(7)

It was now possible for religious sisters to become missionaries in a quite overt way, even though they were rarely perceived as such by others.(8) The missionary outlook of many nineteenth-century French foundresses promoted expansion in conventual life and made internationalism one of its new characteristics. Sister Genevieve, for example, one of the first four members of the Society of the Sacred Heart, recalled that in 1800, when she took her first vows alongside the foundress Sophie Barat, `zealous Sister Sophie spoke of her desire for the missions of Canada'.(9) Barat herself later noted that `Even before I knew our little Society, the desire of carrying the name of the Lord to unbelieving nations was in the depths of my heart'.(10) Consciously using the language of mission, nuns planted daughter houses from France which, in their turn, became new centres for further expansion. Senior members of the congregations travelled extensively themselves and sent others out from France and Belgium across the world. In addition, French congregations attracted women from other cultures who came to them for spiritual formation and religious training before founding new congregations in their own countries.

Missionary zeal took French congregations to all parts of the world, but within Europe itself one notable missionary field lay across the Channel. This decision to move into England gives rise to a number of questions which this paper attempts to answer. Why did they go to England at all? What impact did that decision have on the development of the religious life for women in England in particular, and for the Catholic subculture more generally? The first section explores these questions at the most primary level. It analyses the `push' and `pull' factors of migration, provides a chronological and quantitative overview of the movement and argues that the history of convent development in England was profoundly influenced by the French connection. From there, the paper goes on to the more elusive theme of convent culture in England. The dynamics of mission (to England as much as to Canada or Africa) involved the transference of institutional practices and cultural forms, as well as the movement of people and resources. What were these practices and forms and to what extent did they persist beyond the initial stage of migration? What meaning did they have in the lives of British and Irish women who entered convents in England? This set of questions about cultural transfer and inter-cultural contact are approached by using archive material drawn from eight Francophone congregations, in particular the Faithful Companions of Jesus and the Society of the Sacred Heart, who were amongst the earliest to arrive in England. For the purposes of comparison this evidence has been set alongside material from a smaller number of congregations founded in England and Ireland.(11) My arguments here are more complex and tentative, but I have none the less felt able to conclude that `Frenchness' was both marked and persistent in the life of many congregations in England and, therefore, also in the personal history and experience of women who became sisters in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1900 the origins and culture of the congregation mattered to a greater or lesser degree from congregation to congregation, but it still mattered in all of them.

Taking this theme further and moving beyond the confines of the convent itself, I have explored the influence that the devotional life practiced and taught by nuns might have had on the re-making of English Catholicism in the nineteenth century. The question is not at all straightforward, not least because Catholic practice in any country always has been a blend of the local, the imported and the supranational. Devotional and spiritual practices have readily crossed over geopolitical boundaries, making the assignment of `ownership' or provenance a difficult matter. Despite such problems, some probing seems worthwhile, particularly in the light of recent interest and debate about the nature of nineteenth-century English Catholic piety.(12) What, if any, significance should be given to the influence of the devotions as practiced in convents, when set alongside the alternative influences of traditional English Catholic spirituality, the infusion of Irish piety (whether traditional or `reformed') brought with immigrant Irish priests and people, and the apparently overwhelming force of ultramontane Roman devotion as vigorously promoted by the Vatican and many leading clergy and religious? My response to this question is necessarily suggestive rather than conclusive, but it does provide evidence to support a revision of received wisdom about the dominance of ultramontane Catholicism within Victorian English Catholicism. Finally, the paper examines the responses of `non-Catholic' England to this alien presence. Anti-Catholicism in general, and the movement to legislate on convents in particular, have both received considerable attention from historians. As with the subject of devotion, the view from inside convent archives enables a fresh perspective to be taken. That such challenges to our understanding should come from a study of women religious is less surprising than it may seem at first sight. Since their history has not, so far, been integrated into mainstream writing about either English Catholic history or gender and religion in Victorian England, the accomplishment of this task might be expected to yield some refinements to our understanding of both.(13)


The transformation of the English Catholic community between 1770 and 1850 has been convincingly mapped out by John Bossy.(14) By 1830 leadership had passed from the gentry to the clergy. The `community' of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had become a `denomination' or `church' by the end of the second quarter of the nineteenth, a process confirmed rather than initiated by the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy of bishops in 1850. Clerical leaders energetically set about establishing an infrastructure of dioceses, seminaries, new parishes, schools and Catholic institutions. They accepted without question or debate that religious sisters would be essential to the process of creating a fully functioning national Catholic church. The question was not who should undertake the welfare, educational and domestic work of the church, but where the religious sisters could be found to undertake it.

This was a pressing question in post-Emancipation England. The development of the active or apostolic religious life for women had taken place on the continent after the Reformation and, with the altogether exceptional instance of Mary Ward's Institute of Mary, there was no indigenous tradition of soeurs de charite upon which to build.(15) However, by 1850 a number of women had begun the process of founding new congregations, so there were indications that new and purely native English apostolic congregations were developing, some of which were modelled on the French centralized congregations.(16) In addition, the English church could turn to Ireland, where women in the emancipated church had speedily generated active congregations such as the Sisters of Mercy, the Loreto Sisters and the Irish Sisters of Charity.(17) Both the indigenous and the Irish developments were to be of increasing importance in due course, but in the middle decades of the century many priests and bishops felt a great sense of urgency and, as their actions show, they did not believe that the church's needs could be met by the newer and relatively untried Irish and English initiatives. Rather, they looked to France for a ready-made supply of properly formed and trained religious sisters who came from a culture which, despite their fears of the French Revolution, educated English people admired and was certainly preferred to that of Ireland.(18) It was almost predictable that Catholic leaders in England would approach French Superiors to furnish the worker-nuns they wanted. The Faithful Companions of Jesus, for example, became the first Roman Catholic sisters of any nationality to open a convent in Liverpool following a letter in 1844 from Father Parker, priest of St Patrick's parish, to Madeleine de Bonnault d'Houet. Parker was so insistent and pressing that d'Houet advised Mere Julie, her most senior nun to `tell [him] that God alone can do everything at once: human beings have to take time'.(19) We have some sense of what drove Parker, and what he and other priests hoped for, from his subsequent correspondence with Mere Madeleine: `In our many heavy parish duties', he told her, `it is a relief for us to be able to hand over these poor women to your sisters and to feel that we can rely on their ready and willing co-operation'.(20) The `pull' factors for the movement of sisters are readily apparent in the correspondence from English clergy to French Mother Generals, but their agreement came from their own sense of mission.

The new model of religious congregation in France was ideally suited to respond to requests from England. The structure of the congregations and the vision of their leaders combined forces powerfully in the first half of the nineteenth century to take them overseas. In the period 1830-60, when English Catholicism was open to many changes, charismatic founding mothers such as Madeleine Marie d'Houet (Faithful Companions of Jesus), Madeleine Sophie Barat (Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), Francoise Thin de Bourdon (Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur) and Marie-Eugenie Milleret (Sisters of the Assumption) were still alive and active. They set the future pattern of their congregations and made the international and missionary dimension as much a part of their identity as it had become for the Jesuits, Redemptorists, Passionists and other male religious orders. Within their overall vision, England held a particular attraction. Connections between Catholics in the two countries were especially strong. It was to northern France and Flanders that so many English Catholics had moved, either temporarily or permanently, in the seventeenth century. There, they had established convents, seminaries, schools and colleges which remained until the Revolution and had been a constant source of attraction for better-off English Catholics.(21) Young Catholic men and women had been educated there and priests had been trained for the English mission. From 1791 onwards, these English institutions and their members moved back to England for safety, and with them went around 5,500 French emigre clergy fleeing the Terror. Most remained in England on pensions provided by the British government until 1802. In itself, this ten-year exile was an important experience for Catholicism in both countries. The fact that 1,000 priests stayed on in England as private tutors and chaplains provided ready-made channels of communication and interest in England, including the direction of young English women to French novitiates after the Napoleonic Wars.(22) It led to hopes in France that `Mary's Dower' could still be regained for the Faith. `What a mission the Heart of Jesus might expect if we were settled in England', Sophie Barat wrote as early as 1806 to Phillipine Duchesne, later to be her pioneer sister in the United States.(23) Nothing had come of her interest in England by 1840, yet she still had `a deep and constant conviction that Our Lord wants us in Great Britain'.(24)

The historic links between Britain and Ireland, reinforced and strengthened by the famine migration, added to the importance of each for the work of the missionary congregations. The existence of such links was an increasingly important factor for congregations once it became apparent to them that Ireland was so fruitful for vocations. `The foundation in Ireland attracts me strongly,' Barat noted in 1842, `. . . A ready-made establishment, few persons to give, and postulants to follow. Then, as you say, it will be the road into England'.(25) Ireland could be a route into England (or vice versa) but, taken together, the missions to Ireland and England rapidly and dramatically increased the number of English-speaking members in these congregations. This, in turn, became the route for extension further afield into the British Empire. Even where congregations had already begun to establish themselves in India or Australia, for example, it made matters easier to work from England rather than France, and to send English and Irish sisters to make the foundations. When, in 1882, Mere Josephine Petit, Superior General of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ), received an invitation from Vital Grandin, the new bishop of Prince Albert, to send sisters to Canada, he emphasized the importance of fluency in English: `You have, I believe, some English sisters, a fact which proves to me that you are the congregation I should appeal to. Three or four sisters will be enough to begin with. They must, above all, be able to teach English, it is the language of the area'.(26) By 1880 there were indeed English speakers at all levels in the congregation and Mere Petit responded positively to the request: `Monseigneur, you are asking for sisters for your schools, and your diocese is in urgent need . . . Your poverty does not permit you to pay our travelling expenses. You ask us for . . . sacrifices. Well, we will do it for God'.(27) Between 1883 and 1885 eighteen FCJ sisters, eight English-born, seven Irish-born and three French-born, sailed from Liverpool to Canada.(28) Although Madeleine d'Houet had not, so far as we know, had any idea that her first English mission of 1832 would lead in this direction, other Superior Generals were aware of the possibility and welcomed it. One of the reasons why Mere Marie Therese, Superior General of the Daughters of the Cross from Liege, agreed to go to Cheltenham in 1858 was largely because she saw it as a great advantage to their mission in India. The same motivation gave an added urgency to Sophie Barat's interest in opening a house in England, as she explicitly stated in a letter to Mere d'Avenas in 1842:

I continually undergo assaults of zeal and of regret. I was interrupted in

this letter by a call to see the bishop of New Holland who is asking me for

a colony in Sydney at once. Refusal or indefinite postponement is my usual

answer. How painful! Everywhere so many souls to be brought to the Sacred

Heart! As the language there is English, if in fact we had a house in

Ireland or England, as we would have plenty of subjects [entrants],

they would be able to supply the various missions. So for two reasons

the most pressing foundation is that in the British Isles and we must

make one at whatever cost.(29)

If missionary commitment, and within it the importance of the English-speaking world for mission, accounted for much of the movement to England, the very different considerations of safety and security furnished another powerful `pull' factor. There were constant additions to the number of congregations in Britain, and more particularly in England, in response to political uncertainty and anticlericalism in France. Although the Concordat between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Holy See had guaranteed certain rights to the Catholic church, government policies thereafter varied greatly according to who was in power, with clerical and anticlerical factions using the law to exert power over one another. Anticlerical legislation was constantly augmented throughout the nineteenth century, providing a body of law on the statute books for any legislators who might want to use them. As a consequence, religious congregations had no legal status and, because they were not corporations before the law, they could not claim absolute property rights. The congregations experienced regular anxieties about anticlerical activity, for example, in 1870 and from the early 1880s onwards when the Jesuits were expelled. One response was to establish a safe house in the Channel Islands or in England. Not only sisters and money were moved from France into safety, but in some cases the body of the foundress was disinterred and re-buried in England, giving England a special place in the life of the congregation.(30) Those who had done so proved to be wise when it became apparent in 1900 that the French legislature was preparing to destroy the religious congregations.(31)

These were, then, the `push' factors behind the agreement of French Superiors to requests from English priests. But it is by tracking the requests that can we understand the geography of initial migration and explain why a congregation's first English house was opened in one particular place rather than another. The Good Shepherd nuns, for example, came from Angers to London in 1840 through Father Jauch, a priest of the German Catholic church, and the Sisters of Notre Dame settled first in Penryhn in 1845 at the request of the Redemptorist fathers who had a mission in Falmouth.(32) Cardinal Wiseman brought the first group of Little Sisters of the Poor from Paris to London in 1851 and English Vincentians persuaded the Superior of the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul to send some sisters to Sheffield in 1858, while Father Scarisbrick, the Benedictine parish priest of St Gregory's in Cheltenham, went to Liege in 1863 and successfully pleaded his cause with the Superior General of the Daughters of the Cross.(33) The fact that many of these initial locations proved to be uneconomic for the sisters, requiring them eventually to move elsewhere, reveals the importance of personal response and ecclesiastical networking rather than research and strategic decision-making by congregations. In theory more rational decisions could have been made about locations, but in practice it mattered very little to the English church. The outcome was exactly what many clergy prayed for: a rapid growth in the number of convents and sisters in England.


Between 1840 and 1900 Roman Catholic convents were built all over England. Fewer than 20 in 1840, the number rose to more than 500 by 1900. Nearly all those of 1840 were contemplative houses, but by 1900 the vast majority belonged to apostolic sisters. The pace of growth--51 in 1850, 118 in 1860, 216 in 1870, 334 in 1882 and 417 in 1890--mirrored the changing status of Catholicism, the expansion of the Catholic community through natural increase and immigration from Ireland, and the ability of the congregations to attract members.(34) French congregations were part of this growth from the outset, but only a more detailed analysis can demonstrate the extent and significance of their involvement.

Each decade after 1840 saw a fresh wave of French congregations undertaking the mission to England. By 1887 (a representative year for counting congregations and convents in the late nineteenth century), of the total 62 apostolic congregations working in England, 32 were French in origin and 5 were Belgian.(35) A further congregation, the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle, had been founded as a separate English branch of a French congregation by a French Superior. Yet another, the Sisters (or Poor Sisters) of Nazareth, was a breakaway from their French congregation by the members originally sent over to England.(36) Of the remaining 23 congregations, 10 were native English foundations, 3 were Irish, 3 Italian, 1 Dutch, 1 German, 1 Austrian, and the origins of 3 very small congregations are uncertain, but most likely French.(37) Put another way, almost two-thirds of the congregations in England by 1887 were French or Belgian in origin. Furthermore, at least three of the native English congregations were founded by women whose own formation in the religious life had taken place in French or Belgian congregations.(38)

All of this is impressive evidence for the importance of French-speaking congregations to the development of the religious life in England. But when judging scale one must distinguish between the number of congregations and the number of convents, for some congregations had only a small number of convents while others had many. The Irish Sisters of Mercy, for example, opened a large number of new houses very rapidly and over a large geographical area, as did the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle. By contrast, several of the French congregations had only one or two houses in England. Some calculation of the number of convents is therefore necessary. In 1887, the 62 apostolic congregations had between them 318 convents, distributed in terms of their country of origin.(39) (See Table.)

                                             No. of
Origin of Congregation                     in England

French and French-speaking Belgian             139
English branch of French                        54
French breakaway                                 8
Irish                                           57
English                                         45
Italian                                          6
German/Austrian                                  5
Dutch                                            1
Unknown                                          3
Total                                          318

(*) Source: See n. 39.

If all the houses with roots in France are included, their proportion is almost two-thirds of the total, the same as for the proportion of congregations. If the prolific Sisters of St Paul and the smaller Poor Sisters of Nazareth, both of whom had English mother-houses and separate canonical status, are excluded from the calculations, the proportion of French houses falls to 43 per cent of the total. Measured in a purely quantitative way, the contribution remains impressive on either count and establishes the numerical importance of women's congregations from France in the history the religious life and of the Catholic community in England.

Beyond numbers, the French congregations had a profound impact on the nature and experience of English convent life. Further examination of the figures reveals that only a handful of the French congregations had more than ten convents in England, and most had fewer than five. Although unplanned, the pattern which came about added considerably to the variety and range of English convents. An alternative pattern in which a half a dozen congregations, such as the Irish Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of St Paul the Apostle came to dominate the provision of sisters, could just as easily have established itself To outsiders of the Catholic subculture, including those contemporaries who mounted the campaign for parliamentary legislation to regulate and inspect convents, the difference between the two patterns would seem insignificant. The facts of overall numbers and their distribution were the important factors for them. It was even difficult for outsiders to distinguish the congregations by name, so apparently similar were their particular variants on the many titles of Mary, the multiplicity of dedications to Jesus and combinations of Sacred Hearts. But clergy, other religious and leading lay persons understood the difference this diversity made not only to the practical working of the church but to its very feel.

Diversity and specialism, as well as apparent overlap and duplication, were strong features of the renaissance in the religious life for women, emphasized by the role of individual women as foundresses.(40) From its foundress and founding experience each congregation developed its own particular spiritual character (known as its `charism'), which was expressed through its constitution, devotional life and the visual emblems used in all the buildings run by the congregation. Each had its own field of labour (known as its `apostolate') and, from its foundress's approach and chosen work, it developed its own social profile. These three elements--spiritual charism, sociology of membership and nature of work--operated together to create the family characteristics of the congregation into which each novice was inducted during the lengthy noviciate. The success of this process was vital to the identity of congregations and to the maintenance of difference between them. Of these three, the congregations themselves would have emphasized spiritual charism as the core of their identity as a community. For the Faithful Companions of Jesus, for example, spiritual identity was formed by meditation on, and identification with, the women at the foot of the cross. `My name is Magdalen' wrote Madame d'Houet:

I wish to be like my patron saint who loved Jesus her Master so truly that

she ministered to his wants, and followed him in his travels and his

undertakings to the very foot of the Cross. She and the holy women did not,

like the Apostles, leave him in his hour of need, and throughout his public

life they proved themselves his "faithful companions". I want a group of

women who, with me, will bear the name: Faithful Companions.(41)

Companionship--of Jesus, of one another and of the marginalized--structured the spiritual life of the congregation and made it different from that of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, or the Sisters of the Assumption.(42) In a parallel and more readily recognizable way, French congregations had a considerable degree of specialization in the work they undertook. Care of the destitute elderly, for example, was the particular work of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who ran non-denominational homes for men and women supported by their own begging for alms and food. The Good Shepherd nuns concentrated exclusively on working with prostitutes and those considered at risk of becoming prostitutes. These two were among the best-known congregations in the nineteenth century, but there were also many others, such as the Little Sisters of the Assumption, who gave free home-nursing and family support in working-class communities, and the Augustinian Sisters of Bruges, who nursed mentally ill women.(43) It was, moreover, the French and Belgian congregations, such as the Religious of the Sacred Heart, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, La Sainte Union des Sacres Coeurs and, above all, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, which had the experience and education to run government-approved, teacher-training colleges. By 1900 these congregations were the providers of female Catholic further and higher education in England.(44)

French and Belgian congregations were, then, crucial to the development of the religious life in England whether measured quantitatively or qualitatively. They transferred something of the diversity and expertise which had developed out of a more confident, elaborate and larger Catholic culture to the relatively small English Catholic subculture. The sheer range of welfare services, devotional life and social characteristics represented by the different congregations and the choice of vocations they offered women was, therefore, part of their contribution to English Catholicism.(45) Recognizing the importance of each congregation's family identity, however, raises a further set of questions which also bears upon the culture of convent life in nineteenth-century England. If family identity mattered so much, and the original ethnicity of the congregation was French, with the birthplace being France, what did this mean for life in the convent and beyond? Some founders were committed to the evolution of an international character which would transcend their own French origins. One of them, Euphrasia Pelletier, founder and Mother General of the Good Shepherd nuns, spoke openly of the need to overcome nationalism:

Now that we have been privileged to see the Generalate erected in our

order you will go forth and pitch your tents from one end of the earth

to the other ... As for me, I do not wish any longer to be called French:

I am Italian, English, German, Spanish; I am American, African, Indian.(46)

Similarly, Janet Erskine Stuart, the third Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, ruled `that no feeling of nationality should be allowed to take hold, to divide or to leave anyone outside the family circle'.(47) But these strong statements in support of integration and multi-nationalism proved difficult to achieve in reality. Many congregations remained culturally French while becoming multi-national in membership and location, a situation which was a source of both tension and creativity, in England as elsewhere.

In the first generation of mission to England, convents were led and dominated by women educated and religiously formed in France. Although it was usual to send at least one English-speaking sister in the foundation group, the English-speakers would be in a minority. In the first French convent, that of the Faithful Companions in London in 1830, the Superior, Mere Julie Guillemet had just two months' study of English behind her. None of her companions spoke English even though their main work in England was teaching.(48) Lack of English increased the difficulties of the Little Sisters of the Poor on their begging and collecting rounds, as it did for the Daughters of the Cross in Cheltenham who had charge of the parish elementary school.(49) Sisters were sent to England with little preparation apart from prayers and blessings, and certainly with no advance discussion about desirable and alternative models of acculturation. As a result, they set about re-creating the convent life to which they were accustomed, transferring in full their ideas and practices. Margaret Williams, historian of the Society of the Sacred Heart, comments that in the Society's boarding-schools `a distinctive way of life had formed from unwritten customs . . . Its terminology, an intriguing code-language, spread from the Berceau into every country where the Society went: gouter, cache-cache, conge, ribbons, five-minutes, little-words, ranks, and the triple judgement passed on the week just lived: tres bien, bien, assez bien. These held the spirit of the school.(50) It was this, in part, which Antonia White brought to life in her memorable novel, Frost in May, inspired by her experience at the Sacred Heart school at Roehampton.(51) More than half a century earlier, Caroline Ryder, a pupil with the Sacred Heart nuns at Berrymead between 1854 and 1857 had been in no doubt that the socialization she received was French:

Madame de Wall was Reverend Mother . . . She was very un-English.

She did not think it proper to see the big girls' backs outlined in front

of her in the chapel, so she ordered our uniforms to be made with a

cape at the back. Her idea was that all jeunes filles bien elevees should

hide their figures. Their idea of how to wash were very foreign in

those days. The rule was while washing or undressing in your alcove

to wear a `fichu' pinned around your neck, and it puzzled me how to

wash. I applied to Madame Therese who was in charge of our

dormitory, asking whether I might not take it off while I washed. I can

still see her distressed face now, looking between the curtains: `Mon

enfant, il faut demander permission a la Maitresse Generale'. It puzzled


The puzzlement was clearly mutual. Caroline Ryder was quite sure that it arose from differing `ethnic' cultures, rather than from a clash between convent and secular norms. Her perceptions were shared by Sophie Barat, whose Society ran the school. Despite her commitment to the prospect of an English mission, Mere Barat found `English people difficult to please ... they hardly know what self-denial means and mortification; how can one live in this world without the practice of these two virtues?'(53) Cultural difference in the area of spirituality would have been particularly taxing for members at all levels in the congregation.

Similar tensions have been detected by sister-historians of several congregations, drawing on oral tradition as well as the written archives. Throughout the century, English sisters tended to be interpreted by French Superiors as lacking in religious generosity and as spiritually `cold'.(54) When the Society of the Sacred Heart elected an Englishwoman, Mabel Digby, as Superior General in 1895, the sense of crisis and cultural dislocation among senior French members was striking. They wrote to their confessor that Mother Digby `wants to infuse into it [the Society] an Anglo-Saxon spirit which she judges to be superior to all others'.(55) Digby's `spirit' was not perceived as `French' by senior French members, despite her twenty-three year residency in France, including her formation in the French mother-house and her bilingualism. Unfortunately, no evidence has been found for the perceptions of English sisters about French mores, although it would be surprising if they had not also experienced tensions.

It seems reasonable to assume that ethno-cultural distances would have reduced in time, either because of adaptation on the part of sisters or, more likely, because the membership of the convent changed as native women entered. Overall this was the case, but the movement from `French' to `English' is complicated in four distinct ways. First, the congregations were international organizations whose Superior Generals looked at staffing in an international context and moved members around according to need. Secondly, the recruitment to the convents of England included Irish and second-generation Irish women. Thirdly, control continued to be centralized to a high degree in France. Finally, there were periodic fresh `infusions' of French sisters, due in part to new congregations opening houses in England, and in part to the politico-religious conflicts in France which have already been discussed.

When a woman entered a congregation in England it was for the Superior General to decide where to place her. No sister could expect to live her entire life in her native country as a right, and international congregations moved members about to promote unity and cohesion as well as to meet local needs. More than one-third of the 141 Frenchwomen who entered with the Faithful Companions between 1820 and 1855 died outside their native country, an indication (and underestimation) of the total proportion who spent some time abroad.(56) Celina d'Abbadie, the Dublin-born daughter of a French father and Irish mother, became a Sacred Heart nun in Paris in 1837 and was a linguist, organist and respected administrator for congregations in Rome, Padua, Milan, Lyons, Marseilles, Orleans, London, Bordeaux and Toulouse. Even d'Abbadie's travels were outstripped by those of another Sacred Heart sister, Edith Blandford from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who began her postulancy in Melbourne, Australia and then lived for periods in Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, Buenos Aires and Uruguay, before taking up a post at Roehampton in England as a teacher and mistress of health.(57)

Thus the ethnic (and class) membership of any particular convent in England would depend on a number of factors: the length of time it had been established, the policy of the congregation about moving its members, the work of the congregation, the particular skills it needed at any one time and the success of the convent in recruiting its own postulants. Two examples illustrate this point. During their first ten years of home nursing in Bow and Notting Hill (1880-1890), the Little Sisters of the Assumption convent comprised 7 English, 9 French, 1 Irish, 1 Russian and 2 German sisters. Three of the French sisters spoke German and the other sisters spoke Italian. The particular mix was chosen to help them in their work with the German and Italian, as well as the English and Irish communities in these parts of London.(58) By contrast, the convents and boarding-schools of the Society of the Sacred Heart at Berrymead, Cannington and then Roehampton were sustained for almost thirty years after 1842 by French and German sisters because of the shortage of English novices. However, by the middle of the 1870s the situation had changed sufficiently for postulants from English houses to be sent to the Continent and the United States, Latin America and Australia. By 1890, the houses in England were dominated by English-born sisters.(59)

Not all `English' postulants were, however, English--just as not all those who entered in France were French. As international organizations, congregations attracted and accepted women from any part of the world who, like d'Abbadie and Blandford, might enter via any route and be posted to several countries. In the case of English convents there was the additional factor that a high proportion of postulants would be either Irish-born or second-generation Irish. Superior Generals in France and Belgium recognized the importance of the Irish dimension to their work in England and English-speaking countries. They saw their houses on both sides of the Irish Sea as closely linked. England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland might make up a single Province (regional administrative group) within the congregation, thus increasing the movement of sisters between Ireland and the mainland. The traffic in sisters, like that of the population at large, was away from Ireland to England, and the Irish sisters were the most frequent international migrants of all. Writing of the recruitment of Irish sisters to the United States, Suellen Hoy tells of one Sister, Mary Eustace Eaton, a Sister of Charity at Harold's Cross in Dublin, who single-handedly placed 700 young Irishwomen in convents in the English-speaking world between 1868 and 1906.(60) Equally striking instances of the Irish religious diaspora can be multiplied. The willingness of so many young women to migrate, for whatever reasons, could have a dramatic pact on the ethnic profile of a religious congregation. One native English foundation, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, founded in Manchester in 1852 and based there, had a membership evenly divided between English-born (mostly Lancashire) and Irish-born women in the 1850s. During the 1860s, the balance shifted to 75 per cent Irish-born and in the 1870s it reached 80 per cent. In 1878, the congregation, which was still working primarily in Lancashire, opened its first Irish foundation in Kilcullen.(61) Of the 57 Irish-born women who became Faithful Companions between 1820 and 1855, for example, 49 died outside Ireland, most of them in England. In contrast, of the 50 Englishwomen who entered in the same period, only 15 died outside England.(62) The `Englishness' of convents in England, as with parishes and any other Catholic organization, was fundamentally affected by this Irish dimension, and the extent to which Irishwomen held positions of authority or not, their structural relationships with English and French sisters, and their impact on the culture of convents are all matters which can only be indicated here as worthy of further investigation.(63)

An ethnic head count does not, however, necessarily provide the only or the most significant insight into the cultural norms of the convent. Even when the ethnic balance moved in favour of English and Irish sisters, the culture of the convent could continue to be strongly influenced by the French or Belgian mother-house. Each congregation made considerable efforts to ensure that all members received an identical formation in its values and spiritual vision. One of the main ways this goal was achieved was through the repeated telling of the congregation's foundation history. Each congregation was experienced by members as unique, historically particular and God-given, and each had its own story, its own history of birth and birth-pains, usually interwoven with the life of the foundress. It was this history, with its specifically French and often post-Revolutionary context, that was narrated to all novices as part of their formation.

Places and individuals were central to the identity of congregations as religious families and much was done to preserve the artefacts surrounding foundation. The Sacred Heart nuns, for example, bought the small house in Joigny where Sophie Barat had been born and turned it into a chapel which was, in effect, a shrine.(64) The Rue de Bac in Paris, where the Virgin Mary appeared to Sr Catherine Laboure in 1830, inevitably had a special place in the physical and spiritual topography of all Sisters of Charity and was the site of pilgrimage.(65) Examples of this kind can be given for most congregations. While there were also stories to celebrate the foundation of houses in England, these could never match the intensity of the congregations' founding narratives, with their stories of difficulties surmounted by the foundress and early sisters.

Running alongside these bonding narratives were more concrete forms of centralization. Madeleine d'Houet, for instance, persistently advised Mere Julie, the senior Faithful Companion in England, to guard against too much flexibility:

When you begin this foundation [Manchester] place it on the footing on

which it is to continue. Speak frequently of God at your recreation; show a

great love and an entire confidence in your Superior General and in the

whole Society. Show that you possess the spirit of the Society; that you

form one heart and one soul with all its members and all its houses; speak

always with special consideration of the house at Paris, where all the

superiors of the Society now reside; give the sisters, as well as the

children, the wish to go to it; it is, believe me, the only means of drawing

down the blessing of God on us and on our entire community.(66)

D'Houet believed firmly that all parts of the congregation belonged to one body, all limbs were equal--but the heart was in France where the spirit was formed. Sophie Barat expressed exactly the same views, as did the Superior Generals of Notre Dame de Namur.(67) Until the French government ordered the expulsion of congregations in 1904-5, most of them continued to have a central mother-house with a Generalate and noviciate located in France. Barat described its purpose in a letter to all members in 1835:

To consolidate the work of the Society we have decided to have our own

residence, which will be the Mother House and the centre of the government

of the Society. All relations with the other houses will begin and

end there. In this house we will place the central noviceship, the

juniorate, the probation for the whole of France, also the general treasure,

the secretariat and the archives of the Society.(68)

Because the language of this circular letter, as all communication for administration, government and communication was French, only a fluent French speaker could become Superior General or hold the office of novice mistress. Nor was it the case that English convents were left to their own devices for day-to-day matters. Communications between England and France were good and many Superior Generals seem to have been prodigious letterwriters, well able to stay on top of details about their houses.(69) Others relied more on the regular circulation of printed Lettres Circulaires or annual reports to keep all sisters informed and to sustain the charism.(70) Gradually, as the congregations extended throughout the world, they created administrative substructures called Provinces. The Generalate continued to hold authority in matters of strategy and policy, but the Provincialate had a great deal of decision-making delegated to it, and as a result, there was a change in the relationship between the French centre and houses in other countries. Provincialates led to provincial noviciates for the local formation of novices, and brought the possibility that a sister who was not French might become a senior Counsellor (a central post) and even a Superior General, as in the case of Mabel Digby cited earlier.

Insights into the feelings of French sisters about such appointments point up the tension between the principle and ideal of internationalism in Pelletier's model on the one hand, and, on the other, the fact that nearly all the major congregations of the period were French in origin and continued to be led from France, shaped by institutions and customs formed there. Their dirigisme can be contrasted with the approach of the Irish Sisters of Mercy who adopted a model of government in which each house was self-determining. My inclination at present is to be sceptical about the extent to which French congregations adapted to English cultural norms, but at the same time to recognize the variety of structures and the difference in the pace of change across the congregations. Congregations responded in different way to expansion and emigration. All members of Notre Dame de Namur undertook their formation in Namur, but the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, which had a commitment to adaptation and a more flexible Rule, decided to create an English and Irish Province in 1883 and at once established a noviciate at Mill Hill near London. Adopting yet another model, the Society of the Sacred Heart, whose growth rate globally was very rapid, decided that a central noviciate was impractical, but was determined to find an alternative way to sustain its philosophy of unity. Its solution was the production of detailed documentation for the conduct of major aspects of the life of the Society. This included the plan for the formation of novices written by Juliette Desoudin, who had been mistress of probation between 1865 and 1895, printed by the Society's own presses and carefully followed throughout the world.(71) Whichever approach was taken by any particular congregation, it seems fair to conclude that France remained the centre for administration for many, and the heartland of spiritual life for most, throughout the nineteenth century.


Since many English convents were strongly rooted in France, it would seem logical to assume that French piety and spiritual life played a direct role in the development of English devotional life during the nineteenth century. After all, the sisters guided the lives of the children they taught in school and catechism classes, touched the lives of the adults they taught in basic literacy classes and those they prepared for reception into the church, and influenced the many women belonging to their pious societies and sodalities. But the attempt to gauge their influence is complicated by the difficulty of establishing the nature of the spirituality of the English Catholic community in this period, about which there is a still slender but growing historical literature.

Emmet Larkin, in a seminal essay in 1972, argued that a devotional revolution characterized by `the Rosary, forty hours, perpetual adoration, novenas, blessed altars, the Way of the Cross, benediction, devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Conception, jubilees, triduums, pilgrimages, shrines, processions and retreats ... beads scapulars, medals, missals, prayer books, catechisms, holy pictures and Agnus Dei' took place in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland under the influence of ultramontanists.(72) A parallel revolution has been seen as taking place among English Catholics around the time of the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, directed by an ebullient and Romanized clergy.(73) According to Bill McSweeney `Catholic piety in the nineteenth century was a strategy carefully managed by Rome'.(74) If Larkin, Holmes and are right, Irish immigration into England would simply have reinforced a revolution which was already taking place. Mary Heimann, on the other hand, has recently argued that there was considerable continuity in English devotional life from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century.(75) Just as eighteenth-century English Catholics favoured benediction, so Victorian Catholics preferred this to all other collective devotions, such as the forty hours. The rosary, likewise, was not a new ultramontane practice but, as Heimann points out, had persisted in England throughout penal times and remained the most favoured collective English devotion after benediction. Thus these devotions were thus not recent and Roman, but had been common to English Catholics of the recusancy period. They gave a particular cast to English Catholicism throughout and provided a `strong point of affinity' for Catholics of all social classes.(76)

Although her primary, revisionist argument is for the Englishness of English Catholicism, Heimann does note that `the devotional tastes of nineteenth and twentieth century English Catholics continued to be influenced, although not dictated, by continental, and especially French habits, practices and perceptions, as they had been in recusant times'.(77) The case for French influence has been made by some historians, but has had less impact on overall interpretations than that made for Roman influence.(78) Study of French female congregations in England supports the argument that English Catholicism drew upon French devotional culture, much of it from as far back as the seventeenth century and much of it specifically French rather than Roman. It will never be possible to isolate completely and quantify scientifically such influences as the regular diet of the parish church, the rare but intense experience of a teaching mission conducted by Redemptorists or Passionists, the reading of particular devotional texts, attendance at a particular school, or membership of a sodality or confraternity. That can only be done for the material artefacts of piety--books, pictures, medals and statues--and, as Heimann does, the public services held in parish churches. Within these limits, however, it is possible to use the perceptions of French congregations about England to shed new light on English devotional life and to indicate something of what French nuns brought to English Catholicism in the nineteenth century. The argument being made here accords with Heimann's in so far as it supports the view that English Catholic devotional life cannot be seen as simply `Romanized'. But it suggests a modification of the case made for the Englishness of English Catholicism by strengthening the point that she makes about the influence of French piety, itself of course often an amalgam of influences. If we were to borrow models from American immigration assimilation theories, perhaps the one which would best help us to understand Victorian English Catholic piety would be more that of the `salad bowl' than the Romanized `melting pot' or notions of Anglo-Saxon dominance.(79)

From the 1840s onwards religious sisters remarked upon the physically impoverished surroundings within which, in their view, English Catholics worshipped, and they placed considerable emphasis on changing the material culture of Catholicism so that it reflected the doctrine of the Real Presence and the liturgical calendar.(80) Sisters were highly conscious of the impact that physical environment might have on people of all ages, and they saw the creation of the right setting as an integral part of their missionary work. Any woman, French or not, who had trained in a French congregation brought a level of sophistication and confidence about such matters which was missing from English Catholicism in the middle of the nineteenth century. Margaret Hallahan, who had lived in Bruges for twenty years, working as a servant before she became a nun, could say on arriving in Stoke in 1842 with her Dominican sisters: `I cannot tell you what I have felt since! A total want of all things! Our Lord and God in a pewter ciborium and not one decent thing in the place. How can we expect the people to be converted? They have nothing to attract them. And how can they believe us when we instruct them in the Real Presence?'(81) Contrast this with Janet Erskine Stuart's experience of the sacred environment by the 1890s:

One day in the month shines with particular brightness in all the houses of

the Sacred Heart, and stands out as a most dear landmark in the memory of

the children who have left. This is the First Friday. It is not that much

ceremonial is added, but that the day glows. In all the convents the

Blessed Sacrament is exposed, in many, the tall candle for the children

burns all day before It; everywhere there is an atmosphere of stillness and

light that is unlike anything else; work is not stopped, but it seems

transfigured, and Heaven very near indeed'.(82)

Skilled with the needle and in decorative arts, religious sisters had many inexpensive means at their disposal to change the material culture of Catholicism and thereby influence spiritual life and Catholic identity. The Sacred Heart nuns who arrived in Cannington in 1843 set about making a difference immediately:

As the flowers we found in the sacristy were exceedingly shabby, Madame

Bazire and Sr Mary made new lilies for the Feast of the Immaculate

Conception. We also employed ourselves through Advent in making little

surplices for the 6 boys who served Mass on Festivals. We could not afford

anything very expensive but some common book muslin served our purpose

very well with lace trimmings . . . At Christmas the Midnight Mass was

solemn and quiet, the little Chapel filled beyond our expectation. There

were many Protestants drawn by curiosity.(83)

These nuns brought the Feast of the Immaculate Conception to a small English village over ten years before the doctrine was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX. On its proclamation in 1854, the Faithful Companions began the practice of classroom vigils in all their schools on 8 December in a visually elaborate form: `Our Lady's altar was adorned with silver foliage from floor to ceiling so that the statue of our heavenly Queen seemed as in the midst of a grove of dazzling whiteness lightened by a great number of lamps and candles'.(84) Other physical displays included the `traditional' Christmas crib which was first seen in many English towns at the local convent chapel or in a school run by sisters. The first crib on public display in Bristol was the work of Mother Hallahan, that in Middlesbrough was introduced by the Faithful Companions, and that in Plymouth by the Notre Dame sisters, who `became an object of much curiosity to the inhabitants of Plymouth, especially at Christmas time, when a crib which they arranged in one of the classrooms drew great numbers.'(85) The claim made by one congregation that `Practices of piety and devotion, hitherto unknown to them, were taken up with enthusiasm', is echoed many times in convent records.(86) In Middlesbrough in the 1870s, for example, the Faithful Companions organized `processions in honour of Our Lady [which] brought crowds to church to witness a sight unknown in the town up to that time'.(87)

Patronage of the Virgin Mary in her many manifestations was common to all classes and both sexes, and it crossed all ethnic boundaries, but French Catholics can with some justification, as Philippe Boutry has claimed, describe Mary as `la grande consolatrice de la France au xix siecle'.(88) Heimann suggests that Marian devotion was relatively slow to take root in England and may never have been as popular as in other parts of Catholic Europe. Such questions are beyond the scope of this essay, but there is ample evidence that women's congregations, starting with the French and Belgian congregations, added significantly to the sum total of Marian devotion in England -- as the sample from the Faithful Companions of Jesus has already indicated. A number of the French congregations in England -- including Notre Dame de Namur, Marie Reparatrice, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and the Ladies of Mary -- were dedicated to Mary (a pattern less pronounced amongst the native English foundations) and therefore placed a particular emphasis on Marian imagery and prayers. Others were drawn into Marian devotions following the apparitions in Paris (Rue de Bac), La Salette and Lourdes. The Society of the Sacred Heart, for example, promoted a cult called Mater Admirabilis after a Sacred Heart artist-sister was inspired in 1844 to paint a mural of Mary as a very young woman, rapt in contemplation of God as she sat with her spindle. Copies of this mural, `jewel of the Society, treasure of calm and serenity', were made in all their schools and houses throughout the world, and small prayer cards bearing the same image were given to pupils, members of their Sodality of Our Lady and Children of Mary, and to relatives and friends of the Society.(89) It is not difficult to imagine the appeal of such imagery, which was both universally Catholic and contemporary in its aesthetic and ideology. Nor does it seem misplaced to emphasize its importance given the number of boarding schools run by sisters (95 by 1887) and the number of children in their day-schools (350,000 by 1870).(90)

A similar case, with the same range of evidence, can be made for the importance of the French congregations in disseminating popular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which went back to French Jesuits and Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century. Again, we can find a number of congregations dedicated to the Sacred Heart -- the Society of the Sacred Heart and the Institute of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (both of which ran teacher-training colleges), and the Sisters of the Retreat of the Sacred Heart -- while others incorporated the devotion into their own spiritual lives and became agents for its widespread popularity in Victorian Catholicism. `As promoters of the devotion to the Sacred Heart', wrote the house annalist of the Faithful Companions in Paisley during the 1880s, `[we] had the convent affiliated to the Apostleship of the Sacred Heart. From the convent it spread to the parish: the people displayed singular devotion to the Badge'.(91) Such devotion, though widespread and general in the church by the end of the century, owed its dynamism to French spirituality and was regarded with caution for some time by the Vatican in both the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.(92)

French congregations enjoyed considerable autonomy and opportunity to develop the devotional life of English Catholics and to influence the material culture of the faith. As I have argued elsewhere, three factors can be identified as promoting such opportunities.(93) First and most obviously, the congregations built and lived in their own physical world. They sponsored and owned large amounts of Catholic spaces and exercised a significant degree of control over what went on in their buildings so far as devotions and decor were concerned. These spaces were used and visited by many other Catholics who were thus influenced by their appearance and the devotional life which took place in them. Secondly, there were unusually good opportunities for women to take the initiative in these spheres because of the poverty, inexperience and changing nature of the English Catholic church. For a period French sisters were, relatively speaking, financially independent and religiously confident and they had more room for manoeuvre than they would experience after 1900. Thirdly, many aspects of devotional life were in harmony with contemporary ideas about what was proper for women to undertake -- praying, purchasing, sewing, decorating, arranging and cleaning. If French women were thought by contemporaries to have more sense of what was properly Catholic and properly feminine, then this could only add to their authority within the devotional life of the Catholic community.


The foregoing arguments about the significance of religious congregations to the communities beyond their walls and the emphasis I have placed on French spirituality and organization inevitably leads one to wonder how, as immigrants, the sisters were received and perceived by their host communities. This question is inevitable because the existing literature on nineteenth-century Catholicism would lead us to expect only hostility and rejection from English society at large. The plentiful anti-Catholic literature generated by contemporaries and analysed extensively by historians leaves no room to doubt the strong dislike expressed by many Victorians at any sign of Catholic resurgence. Much of this dislike centred on the perceived for eignness of Catholicism, its supposedly innate hostility to social and political progress (also part of its continentalism), its unnatural practices of celibacy, confession and conventual obedience, and its inadequate attention to scripture.(94) John Wolffe, in a penetrating study of anti-Catholic organizations and of the motivations of their members, concluded that while `Victorian "No Popery" never approached the savage intensity of the Gordon riots . . . there is strong support for the view that, on the whole, the half-century succeeding 1828 saw much more antagonism to Catholics than that which had preceded Emancipation'.(95) The same phenomenon is explored in a volume of essays, The Irish in the Victorian City edited by Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley, which concluded that there was a serious new upsurge in anti-Catholicism in the 1850s and suggested, drawing on the work of Walter Arnstein, that nuns might have `at least as good a claim as prostitutes to be considered Victorian "outcasts"'.(96) While Dennis Paz notes subconscious anxieties about nuns' implicit challenge to Victorian patriarchal authority, a theme also explored at length by Susan Mumm, Wolffe focuses on what he calls the more rational causes of anti-Catholicism: the conflicts between Protestants within and outside the established church, the impact of evangelical theology and culture, the religious situation in Ireland and the changes which made English Catholicism more clerical and combative.(97) If such was the prevailing climate, the missionary French congregations could hardly expect to find acceptance in England beyond the world of their co-religionists.

Convent annals and subsequent congregational histories provide ample evidence of the rejection experienced by sisters. Many were vilified and jeered as they walked the streets of English cities. The mendicant Little Sisters of the Poor, for example, attracted hostile crowds whenever they went out collecting in London during the early 1850s. `One day', their convent journal recounts, `the collecting Sister found herself surrounded by a crowd of boys and girls who called her, "madwoman", "daughter of the pope". As she remained silent and unmoved, they began to pull her by the cloak and insult her. At last she managed to escape'.(98) Some of her sisters were stoned and the house regularly had its windows broken. Similarly, the attempt made to establish a convent of the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul in Salford in 1847 was marked by abuse, at least one physical attack on a sister in the streets and by arson to their house. Fearing further attack they withdrew from Salford and from England altogether in 1849.(99) Hostile local communities undoubtedly made life difficult for some sisters, added to which the national campaign of the 1850s and 1860s to introduce legislation to control convents was a continual source of anxiety. For reasons of personal safety many sisters chose not to wear the habit during the 1840s and 1850s, continuing without it for longer in public following Lord Derby's Proclamation of 1852 which forbade public display of Catholic symbols.(100)

But the same convent sources which recount stories of conflict and celebrate the heroism of the sisters also provide frequently overlooked evidence of tolerance, changing attitudes and even warm support on the part of local communities. Within one year of their arrival in London, the Little Sisters of the Poor's chronicler recorded that they had sufficient support among local shopkeepers, restaurateurs and servants of large households to be assured of feeding themselves and the elderly men and women in their care. When two Little Sisters were arrested for begging, the press coverage of the case brought them a good deal of financial and moral support from Anglicans and Nonconformists as well as Roman Catholics.(101) The Daughters of the Cross were visited within weeks of their arrival in Cheltenham by the wife of one of the `Protestant ministers . . . and a lady and three girls from different Protestant families who came to make enquiries about taking French lessons'.(102) When the Sisters of Charity withdrew from Manchester, the Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Region, William Turner, tried to dissuade them as he was convinced that they were already making headway against the hostility of the people and would soon have no more trouble. Despite the Stockport riots of 1852 there is a more than even chance that he was right.(103) By 1862, when Manchester's economy was badly affected by the American Civil War, the Faithful Companions of Jesus were given flour by `non-Catholic' mill-owners to distribute to the poor.(104) While it is true that the sisters were seen by the mill-owners as agents of social order and that this made them more acceptable to the local employing classes, such a factor does not by itself do justice to the complex responses involved in a shift from hostility to tolerance, and even to affection. The Manchester sisters reaped the reward they would have coveted, when in 1869 `numbers in the elementary schools increased by 100 owing to the good will of two important mill-owners who agreed to transfer the Catholic children of their employees from Protestant to Catholic schools'. (105) In Skipton, `which seems to be the centre of Methodism', the Faithful Companions noted `we can make our processions as peacefully as in a Catholic place. Our protestant neighbours seem to admire and encourage us as much as they can.'(106) Equally to the point is the reaction of the local community to the death of Mere Josephine, Superior of the Faithful Companions at Chester. `The respect shown by Protestants was extraordinary', the annalist noted:

Hundreds asked to see her body . . . Crowds lined the street, shops closed,

silence in the crowd. The procession consisted of the priests, acolytes,

cross-bearers and laysisters. Unusually, the cortege was allowed into the

cemetery and the police were there to guard the gates. But the crowds rushed

and tore them from their hinges. There was a crowd therefore at the grave

-- but it was very silent, and consisted of poor people who had loved her.


Given the underlying antipathy to Catholicism in England and an Initial hostility to the very idea of convents, perhaps our current understanding of nineteenth-century religious history is overly focussed on the rivalries and hostilities between denominations. It is not my intention to deny what Gerald Parsons has called `the combativeness, aggression, and militancy of much of Victorian religious life'.(108) His characterization enables us to see just how similar were the denominations in their behaviour. Nevertheless, the fact remains that religious sisters aroused a wider range of reactions and emotions than has been represented in the historical literature. For reasons as yet unclear, convents wove themselves into the fabric of towns and cities all over England more easily and rapidly than we have realized. Our concentration on the literature of anti-Catholicism has led us to overlook experience at the local level where there was often a marked change in the public's attitude from initial antipathy to respect, and occasionally, to protectiveness.

In attempting to explain this range of attitudes, account should be taken of a number of contributory factors: the respect accorded in Victorian society, particularly in middle England, to anyone engaged in useful or improving activities; similarly, the respect earned by sisters such the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Little Sisters of the Assumption because they worked without fees among the poorest members of the community regardless of religious affiliation; the openness of many convents in the pioneering years of the mid-nineteenth century (greater then than was the case in the first half of the twentieth century); and the contrast between people's lived experience of the nuns and the hyperbole and exaggerations of the literature. Those who lived near convents found nothing to match the hostile accusations. All of this is important in helping to explain why, even when national anti-convent campaigns continued to attract media coverage and parliamentary time, at the local level any violence was both small-scale and short-lived.

But, in an essay about the impact of French congregations, it also seems worthwhile to return to the question of `Frenchness' and the argument that convents were attacked in part because they were `un-English'. Although Popery, unnaturalness and foreignness often merged as categories in the attacks on Catholicism, it has generally been argued that the continentalism of Roman Catholicism was intrinsic to the hostility it aroused.(109) This perspective can be challenged on two counts, both of which provide some evidence that French origins were not a major cause of hostility and could actually have worked in the nuns' favour rather than against them. The first of these concerns the fear of Anglican sisterhoods as the `enemy within', a far more sinister threat than the `enemy without', as manifested by Roman Catholic congregations. Susan Mumm, the most recent historian of Anglican religious life for women, has shown that the number of sisterhoods rose sharply from none in 1844 to an establishment of 80 communities by the end of the century, thus revising upwards the figures which have long been accepted.(110) In a lengthy discussion of `Sisterhoods and the Public' in which she provides detailed evidence of the virulent attacks on Anglican sisters, Mumm draws the conclusion that `anti-Romish literature although ostensibly exposing errors in Catholicism, often discusses Anglican communities at greater length than Roman Catholic'.(111) Fears about middle-class daughters `taking the veil' were reflected in the differing media of Anthony Trollope's novels, the magazine Punch and the genre paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy.(112) Nor were these fears unfounded. Mumm notes that `approximately 10,000 women in all had passed through more than 80 communities between 1845 and 1900, staying anything from a few months to a lifetime'.(113) Since the great majority (unlike their Roman Catholic counterparts) were from middle-class families, and given the largely middle-class membership of anti-Catholic campaigns, it seems quite possible that the hostility to convents voiced by some elements of middle England was sharpened less by the arrival of French (or even Irish) Roman Catholic sisters than by the growing numbers of Anglican sisterhoods.(114) The French origins of many Roman Catholic congregations and the sheer difference from mainstream English culture which this indicated are usually seen as part of the cause of animosity. In view of the increasing opportunities for an Anglican religious life, the clear difference was just as likely to act as a relief instead of an insidious threat.

For some respectable Anglican parents, the `otherness' of Catholic convents, including their French connections, was a positive source of attraction--and in this lies a second challenge to the orthodox view about `foreignness'. How else can we explain the increasing numbers of bourgeois Anglican families who sent their daughters to convent schools?(115) Congregations with private day and boarding-schools regularly noted the presence of `non-Catholic' or `Protestant' pupils, most but not all of whom would have been members of the Church of England. The Chester school run by the Faithful Companions noted in the 1870s `many non-Catholic pupils attending', who contributed to the decoration of the altar and gave money for masses for souls. By 1906 the pupils were described as `mostly Protestants', who continued, we are told, to be as enthusiastic in making articles for the church bazaar as Catholics.(116) Roman Catholic sisters might have been seen by some evangelicals as unwomanly and unnatural, but they were clearly seen by other `non-Catholics' as the ideal model for feminine formation, particularly when they could offer a French ambience in their schools and parlours. The gender of the child is significant here, since there is no evidence that these same families would have considered sending their sons to the male equivalent of convent schools. Any consideration of responses to Catholic convents in general and French congregations in particular needs to take account of the fact that `non-Catholics' became consumers of this aspect of Catholic subculture without feeling their English identity was undermined. This is not the place to explore more fully the meaning and character of convent schooling, but rather to note that this under-explored dimension of the history of Victorian education is capable of throwing fresh light on a number of questions about identity and gender formation.

This paper has taken one geographical strand in the movement of religious women from France and Belgium in the nineteenth century and explored its meaning on a number of different levels. Taking England as an example, it has attempted to show that French nuns were missionaries and cultural agents on quite a grand scale. Their adoption of England as a missionary territory had a significance for Catholic women in England and for the whole English Catholic community which has not been recognized. Nineteenth-century nuns have so consistently been perceived as simply providing what others wanted--elementary schools, domestic help in seminaries, support of the church's welfare organizations--that they have less often been described as agents in their own right: as the missionaries, property owners, liturgists, educational policy makers and spiritual directors that many of them undoubtedly were. In the longer term, the mission to England, like that to the United States, proved to be a momentous one for the development of many French congregations themselves, leading them still further afield geographically and exposing them to other political and cultural mentalities. By the middle of the twentieth century these other cultures had come to dominate the congregations. But in the nineteenth century they proved to be both an ends and a means for the international French congregations, enhancing their status and place within the world-wide church and providing a significant avenue for the commitment of individual Catholic women.

(*) An earlier version of this article was presented to the annual conference of the Society of French Historians held at Cheltenham in 1992. I am grateful to participants of this conference and to Mary Heimann, the late Ralph Gibson and Peter O'Brien for comments on this paper. Much of the research was undertaken during a sabbatical year funded by the Nuffield Foundation for which I am indebted. The archivists of the religious congregations discussed in this article gave me generous help and access to materials.

(1) Strictly speaking, the noun `nun' should be used only to describe a woman who has taken solemn vows and lives in an enclosed order. `Sisters' is the correct noun for women who have taken simple vows within apostolic congregations. In common usage these terms have long been employed interchangeably and this practice will be followed here. `Congregation' or `institute' is the name given to a community of people living a consecrated life and following a particular set of customs and a rule without taking solemn vows.

(2) Claude Langlois, La Catholicisme au feminin: les congregations francaises d superieure generale au XIX siecle (Paris, 1984). For Belgium, see A. Tihon, `Les Religieuses en Belgique du XVIII au XX siecle: approche statistique', Revue beige d'histoire contemporaine, vii (1976). `By 1880, seven out of every thousand women were religieuses--compared with about four in a thousand on the eve of the revolution': Ralph Gibson, A Social History of French Catholicism, 1789-1914 (London, 1989), 105.

(3) In her old age, Sophie Barat recalled her first vision in the following words: `The first idea we had of the form to be given to our Society was to gather the greatest number possible of true adorers of the eucharistic Heart of Jesus. As we emerged from the Terror and from the abominations which the revolution had committed against the Blessed Sacrament, all hearts that had remained faithful to God--and they arose on all sides once the churches were open--beat as one': Margaret Williams, The Society of the Sacred Heart: History of a Spirit, 1800-1975 (London, 1978), 41.

(4) Elizabeth Rapley, The Devotes: Women and Church in Seventeenth-Century France (London, 1990), on the innovations in the religious life for women. For a refreshing discussion of the advent of the active life, and one which refines Rapley's argument for the seventeenth century, see Craig Harline, `Actives and Contemplatives: The Female Religious of the Low Countries before and after Trent', Catholic Hist. Rev., lxxxi (Oct. 1995). See also O. Hufton and F. Tallett, `Communities of Women, the Religious Life and Public Service in Eighteenth-Century France', in M. J. Boxer and J. H. Quartaert (eds.), Connecting Spheres: Women in the Western World (Oxford, 1987).

(5) See Gibson, Social History of French Catholicism, 105-7, 111-27, 180-90; Ralph Gibson, `Le Catholicisme et les femmes en France aux XIX siecle', Revue d'histoire de l'Eglise de France, lxxxix (1993); O. Hufton, `The Reconstruction of a Church, 1796-1801', in C. Lucas and G. Lewis (eds.), Beyond the Terror (Oxford, 1985); Hazel Mills, `"Saintes Soeurs" and "femmes fortes": Alternative Accounts of the Route to Womanly Civic Virtue, and the History of French Feminism', in Clarissa Campbell Orr (ed.), Wollstonecraft's Daughters: Womanhood in England and France, 1780-1920 (Manchester, 1996); Clarissa Campbell Orr, `Negotiating the Divide: Women, Philanthropy and the "Public Sphere" in Nineteenth-Century France', in Frank Tallett and Nicholas Atkin (eds.), Religion, Society and Politics in France since 1789 (London, 1991).

(6) See, for example, Ruth P. Liebowitz, `Virgins in the Service of Christ: The Dispute over an Active Apostolate for Women during the Counter-Reformation', in R. Ruether and E. McLaughlin (eds.), Women of Spirit (New York, 1979); Henriette Peters, Mary Ward, trans. Helen Butterworth (Melksham, 1994); Pilar Foz y Foz Odn, Primary' Sources for the History of the Education of Women in Europe and America: Historical Archives Company of Mary Our Lady, 1607-1921 (Rome, 1989), 9-10.

(7) The histories of several congregations include very serious conflict with particular bishops and clergy (as well as evidence of support from others). In some cases this conflict almost prevented the congregation from coming into existence. See, for example, the history of the Faithful Companions of Jesus in Patricia Grogan, God's Faithful Instrument: Marie Madeleine Victoire de Bengy, Viscountess de Bonnault d'Houet, 1781-1858 (Ramsgate, 1986), and of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Paul Milcent, Jeanne Jugan: Humble so as to Love More, trans. Alan Neame (London, 1980).

(8) `My first enthusiasm for the missionary life was roused by the tales of a good Jesuit Father who had been on the missions in Louisiana . . . I was just eight or ten years old, but already I considered it a great privilege to be a missionary. I envied their labours without being frightened by the dangers to which they were exposed': Phillipine Duchesne, first Sacred Heart missionary to America, as quoted in Margaret Williams Saint Madeleine Sophie: Her Life and Letters (New York, 1965), 76.

(9) Williams, Society of the Sacred Heart, 59.

(10) Letter from Sophie Barat to Mother Duchesne, Feb. 1806, as quoted in Barbara Hogg, `Society of the Sacred Heart in England, 1842-1870': Religious of the Society of the Sacred Heart (hereafter RSCJ) Archives, Roehampton, London, undated typescript; also printed in S. Barat, Lettres choisies de notre bienheureuse mere, 5 vols. (Roehampton and Rome, 1920-57), i, 15. The same sentiment is to be found in letters quoted in Williams, Saint Madeleine Sophie, 356.

(11) The French and Belgian congregations are Notre Dame de Namur, the Religious of the Society of the Sacred Heart, the Faithful Companions of Jesus (hereafter FCJ), the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Little Sisters of the Assumption, the Daughters of the Cross, the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle, the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, and La Sainte Union des Sacres Coeurs. English congregations whose history and archives form the basis for comparison and argument are the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph, Poor Servants of the Mother of God, and Sisters of the Cross and Passion.

(12) Derek Holmes, More Roman than Rome: English Catholicism in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1978); Mary Heimann, `English Catholic Devotion, 1850-1914' (Univ. of Oxford D. Phil. thesis, 1992); Mary Heimann, `Devotional Stereotypes in English Catholicism, 1850-1914', in Frank Tallett and Nicholas Atkin (eds.), Catholicism in Britain and France since 1789 (London, 1995); Mary Heimann, Catholic Devotion in Victorian England (Oxford, 1995); James Crichton, `Popular Devotion in Victorian England', Month, 2nd new ser., xxix (1996).

(13) The fullest account incorporated into a standard Catholic history is W. J. Battersby, `The Educational Work of the Religious Orders of Women', in A. Beck (ed.), The English Catholics, 1850-1950 (London, 1950). But this is a collection of essays and not an interpretative history of English Catholicism. More recently, E. R. Norman, The English Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1984), 222-3, has only a few lines on women's congregations. Two historians of nineteenth-century Catholicism, V. A. McClelland and Sheridan Gilley have drawn attention in various places to the importance of integrating Catholic women, particularly the nuns, into the narrative. On the particular topic dealt with in this paper, see Aidan Bellenger, `France and England: The English Female Religious from Reformation to World War', in Tallett and Atkin (eds.), Catholicism in Britain and France.

(14) John Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850 (London, 1975).

(15) There was a native English apostolic tradition as a result of the pioneering efforts of Yorkshire-born Mary Ward (1585-1645), who founded the Institute of Mary, often known as the `English Ladies' and now called the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Institute had houses on the Continent in the seventeenth century and many of its sisters were English. It also had two convents with schools in England from the late seventeenth century onwards, one in York and the other in west London. Both were illegal and necessarily covert. By 1780 only the Bar Convent in York was still in existence and it continued to grow in the nineteenth century. For reasons of its own complicated history it proved unable to give rise to daughter houses in England, although it did provide religious formation for two Irish foundresses. See Henry J. Coleridge (ed.), St Mary's Convent: Mickelgate Bar, York, 1686-1887 (London, 1887); Susan O'Brien, `Women of the "English Catholic Community": Nuns and Pupils at the Bar Convent York, 1680-1790', Monastic Studies, i (1990).

(16) See Susan O'Brien, `Terra Incognita: The Nun in Nineteenth-Century England', Past and Present, no. 121 (Nov. 1988).

(17) The Irish Sisters of Charity were founded in 1815, the Loreto Sisters in 1820 and the Sisters of Mercy in 1831: Catriona Clear, Nuns in Nineteenth-Century Ireland (Dublin, 1987); Catriona Clear, `The Limits of Female Autonomy: Nuns in Nineteenth-Century Ireland', in Maria Luddy and Cliona Murphy (eds.), Women Surviving: Studies in Irish Women's History in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Dublin, 1989).

(18) Evidence for the welcome given by English clergy to the French congregations and their doubts about the newer English and Irish members are found in the records of several congregations, but have not, until recently, been included in congregational histories or biographies of foundresses written by sisters. For more recent narratives which reveal the tensions, see Edna Hamer, Elizabeth Prout: A Religious Life for Industrial England (Bath, 1994), esp. 74-82, 84-7, 92-3, 141. Prout's struggling new congregation was taken out of St Chad's school in Manchester by the Manchester clergy who brought in the Sisters of Notre Dame. On the other hand, Vincent McClelland has suggested that the considerable increase in the presence of French sisters, encouraged by Cardinal Manning after 1865, gave rise to some complaints: Vincent McClelland, Cardinal Manning: His Public Life and Influence, 1865-92 (London, 1962), 41.

(19) Mary Clare Holland, `Faithful Companions of Jesus in England, 1830-1858', Signum, ix (1981), 17.

(20) Grogan, God's Faithful Instrument, 191.

(21) Peter Guilday, The English Catholic Refugees on the Continent, 1558-1795 (London 1914); M. D. R. Leys, Catholics in England, 1559-1829: A Social History (London, 1961).

(22) The work of Aidan Bellenger is particularly important on this subject. See D. T. J. (Aidan) Bellenger, `The French Ecclesiastical Exiles in England, 1789-1815' (Univ. of Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, 1978); D. T. J. Bellenger, The French Exiled Clergy in the British Isles after 1789 (Bath, 1986). For reference to the French influence, see E. R. Norman, The English Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1985), 22-3; see also the editors' introduction in Tallett and Atkin (eds.), Catholicism in Britain and France.

(23) Letter from Sophie Barat to Mother Duchesne, Feb. 1806. See n. 10.

(24) Williams, Saint Madeleine Sophie, 356.

(25) Ibid.

(26) Journeying through a Century: Sister Pioneers, 1383-1933 (FCJ, Edmonton, Alberta, 1983), 11.

(27) Ibid., 12.

(28) Ibid., unnumbered list at front.

(29) Hogg, `Sacred Heart in England', 3.

(30) For example, Marie Madeleine d'Houet is buried at Broadstairs, Kent.

(31) For example, three hundred Sacred Heart nuns were moved to England in 1904: Mary Quinlan, Mabel Digby: Janet Erskine Stuart--Superiors General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, 1895-1910 (privately printed, Boston, 1984).

(32) Alice M. Clarke, Life of Reverend Mother Mary of St. Euphrasia Pelletier: First Superior General Of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd of Angers (London, 1895); Battersby, `Educational Work of the Religious Orders of Women', 340.

(33) Maria Winowska, Pioneer of Unity: The Life of Caroline Sheppard, First English Little Sister of the Poor (London, 1969), 128; Lillian O'Neill, Heritage, 1782-1982 (Daughters of the Cross, privately printed, 1982), 39.

(34) Figures are taken from relevant volumes of The Catholic Directory. The Directory was not always completely up-to-date, but it provides an excellent guide to the changes in numbers and locations of convents. Figures for the number of convents as counted by the campaigners for government control and inspection of convents, are given in W. L. Arnstein, Protestant versus Catholic in Mid-Victorian England: Mr Newdegate and the Nuns (New York and London, 1982), 67, 174, 200, 215.

(35) 1887 has been selected because it comes sufficiently late in the century to provide a clear indication of the patterns which had established themselves by the end of the century, while allowing us to take account of the influx of new congregations and sisters following anticlerical legislation in the 1880s.

(36) George V. Hudson, Mother Genevieve Dupuis: Foundress of the English Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle (London, 1929). On the Sisters, or Poor Sisters of Nazareth, see The Sisters of Nazareth (Catholic Truth Society, London, 1977), 6-8; John Bennett, `The Care of the Poor', in Beck (ed.), English Catholics, 578; Francesca Steele, The Convents of Great Britain (London, 1902), 262-5.

(37) For dates and names of the English congregations, see O'Brien, `Terra Incognita', 119, n. 26.

(38) Margaret Hallahan, founder of the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena who became a Dominican tertiary while living in Bruges; Cornelia Connelly, founder of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus who worked and lived with the Society of the Sacred Heart; and Elizabeth Prout, founder of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion who was a novice with the Sisters of the Infant Jesus from Nivelles.

(39) Figures calculated from the Catholic Directory, 1887.

(40) O'Brien, `Terra Incognita', 115.

(41) Mary Campion McCarren, Faithful Companion of Jesus (Catholic Truth Society, London, 1981), 21.

(42) O'Brien, `Terra Incognita', 137, for a brief discussion of charism and iconography. The Histoire des constitutions de la Societe du Sacre Coeur, as quoted in Williams, Society of the Sacred Heart, 57, expresses the relationship between charism and the form of the congregation as follows: `It is not possible to separate the canonical aspects from the spiritual. These Constitutions realize, in fact and to a high degree, the union between the juridical and charismatic elements. Law here appears as the concrete expression of a spirituality and a way of living it'. For the Society, the charism was to the `Heart of Jesus' and `the wound in the Heart'.

(43) Further information about these and other congregations working in England can be found in Steele, Convents of Great Britain; The Religious Houses of the United Kingdom Containing a Short History of Every Order and House (London, 1887), H. Hohn, `Vocations': Conditions of Admission etc., into the Convents, Congregations, Societies, Religious Institutes etc., According to Authentical Information and the Latest Regulations (London, 1912).

(44) See Battersby, `Educational Work of the Religious Orders of Women'; M. O'Leary, Education with a Tradition (London, 1936); Mary Linscott, Quiet Revolution: The Educational Experience of Blessed Julie Billiart and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (Glasgow, 1966); Mildred Cullen, `The Growth of the Roman Catholic Training Colleges for Women in England during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries' (Univ. of Durham M. Ed. thesis, 1964).

(45) The number of men's orders and congregations also increased in the nineteenth century, but on nothing like the same scale as women's congregations. There was a strong tendency for women with leadership qualities to create new congregations rather than join with existing ones, as Langlois' work testifies. For a comprehensive listing, see Guerrino Pelliccia and Giancarlo Rocca (eds.), Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione, 10 vols. (Rome, 1974).

(46) Clarke, Life of Reverend Mother Mary of St Euphrasia Pelletier, 145.

(47) Janet Erskine Stuart, The Society of the Sacred Heart (first pubd 1914; 4th edn, Chicago, n.d.), 41.

(48) Mary Campion McCarren, `Marguerite Julie Guillemet': FCJ Archives, Broadstairs, FCJ typescript, 1981, 15.

(49) Lillian O'Neill, With All My Heart: A Continuation of the Story of the Daughters of the Cross in the Life and Letters of Sr. Aloysia (Daughters of the Cross, privately printed, 1977), 114. The same point is made in histories of the Society of the Sacred Heart in England to explain their relatively slow expansion.

(50) Williams, Saint Madeleine Sophie, 472.

(51) Antonia White, Frost in May (London, 1933). White was born in 1899 and went to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton.

(52) Hogg, `Sacred Heart in England', 37.

(53) Ibid., 26.

(54) I am grateful to Sr Margaret Lonergan LSA for drawing my attention to comments in the Necrologies of the Little Sisters of the Assumption and the oral tradition in her congregation. Mother Charlotte Goold, Superior of the Sacred Heart house at Berrymead, wrote to Barat in 1847: `In this country there are so few vocations suitable for our Society. They are looking for a comfortable and devout life . . . This country is cold. There is so much of Self, such a determined avoidance of mortification': as quoted in Hogg, `Sacred Heart in England', 44.

(55) Quinlan, Mabel Digby, Janet Erskine Stuart, 72. Quinlan provides a detailed analysis of the sentiment of the Society and its causes.

(56) Figures calculated from MS. registers held in the FCJ Archives.

(57) Information taken from the MS. card index of members in the RSCJ Archives.

(58) Archives of the Little Sisters of the Assumption. See M. Lonergan, `The Archives of the Anglo-Scottish Province of the Little Sisters of the Assumption', Catholic Archives, xi (1991).

(59) MS. card index of members and MS. house histories in the RSCJ Archives.

(60) Suellen Hoy, `The Journey Out: The Recruitment and Emigration of Irish Religious Women to the United States, 1812- 1914', in Joan Hoff and Moureen Coulter (eds.), Irish Women's Voices: Past and Present, (special issue, Jl Women's Hist., vi-vii, 1995), 65. See also Sheridan Gilley, `The Roman Catholic Church and the Nineteenth-Century Irish Diaspora', 71 Eccles. Hist., xxxv (1984).

(61) calculated from the MS. registers of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.

(62) Figures calculated from the MS. registers in the FCJ Archives. The noviciate registers and obituaries of most congregations working in England would tell a similar story, although the proportions varied from one to another.

(63) For an initial consideration of the impact of class in convents, see Susan O'Brien, `Lay-Sisters and Good Mothers: Working-Class Women in English Convents, 1840-1910', in W. J. Sheils and Diana Wood (eds.), Women in the Church (Studies in Church History, xxvii, Oxford, 1990). Ethnicity, class and authority have yet to be studied.

(64) Williams, Saint Madeleine Sophie, 599.

(65) Rene Laurentin, The Life of Catherine Laboure, 1806-1876, trans. Paul Inwood (London, 1983).

(66) Letter, Oct. 1852, as quoted in Revd Stanislaus, Life of the Viscountess de Bonnault d'Houet: Foundress of the Society of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, 1781-1858 (London, 1916), 250-1; McCarren, `Marguerite Julie Guillemet', 34. Translations vary slightly.

(67) See Linscott, Quiet Revolution, 57-8.

(68) Williams, Society of the Sacred Heart, 52.

(69) See, for example, the correspondence of Madeleine d'Houet, who also visited the English houses almost every year, and the correspondence of Sophie Barat.

(70) The Society of the Sacred Heart, which had its own printing-presses--including one in Roehampton--circulated annual reports and letters. Others, such as the Faithful Companions, circulated hand-written annual reports among houses.

(71) Williams, Society of the Sacred Heart, ch. 4.

(72) Emmet Larkin, `The Devotional Revolution in Ireland, 1850-75', Amer. Hist. Rev., lxxvii (1972), 645.

(73) See Holmes, More Roman than Rome; S. Gilley, `Vulgar Piety and the Brompton Oratory, 1850-1860', in Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley (eds.), The Irish in the Victorian City (London, 1985).

(74) Bill McSweeney, Roman Catholicism: The Search for Relevance (Oxford, 1980), 38; quoted in Heimann, Catholic Devotion, 1.

(75) Heimann, Catholic Devotion, passim.

(76) Heimann, `English Catholic Devotion', 276.

(77) Ibid., 279; Heimann, Catholic Devotion, 138.

(78) See D. T. J. Bellenger, `The Emigre Clergy and the English Church, 1789-1815', 71 Eccles. Hist., xxxiv (1983); Bellenger, `France and England: The English Female Religious', Crichton `Popular Devotion in Victorian England'.

(79) See, for example, Milton Gordon, Assimilation in American Immigration (New York, 1964).

(80) See Susan O'Brien, `Making Catholic Spaces: Women, Decor, and Devotion in the English Catholic Church, 1840-1900', in D. Wood (ed.), The Church and the Arts (Studies in Church History, xxviii, Oxford, 1992).

(81) [Augusta Theodosia Drane, Mother Francis Raphael OSD], Life of Mother Margaret Hallahan (London, 1869), 200.

(82) Erskine Stuart, Society of the Sacred Heart, 51.

(83) Hogg, `Sacred Heart in England', 20.

(84) FCJ Archives, MS. annals for Salford, 1886, box 27, 34.

(85) Alice M. Clarke, Life of the Hon. Mrs Edward Petre (London, 1899), 186.

(86) FCJ Archives, annals for Paisley, 1889.

(87) FCJ Archives, typescript history of the Middlesbrough House, 26.

(88) P. Boutry, `Marie, la grande consolatrice de la France au XIX siecle', L'Histoire 1 (Nov. 1982).

(89) Williams, Saint Madeleine Sophie, 361-2.

(90) Figures for number of day pupils from Arnstein, Protestant versus Catholic, 153.

(91) FCJ Archives, annals for Paisley, 1881.

(92) Crichton, `Popular Devotion in Victorian England', 323.

(93) O'Brien, `Making Catholic Spaces', 463.

(94) Arnstein, Protestant versus Catholic; G. Best, "Popular Protestantism in Victorian Britain', in Robert Robson (ed.), Ideas and Institutions of Victorian Britain (London, 1967); E. R. Norman, Anti-Catholicism in Victorian England (London, 1968); John Wolffe, The Protestant Crusade in Great Britain, 1829-1860 (Oxford, 1991); Frank H. Wallis, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian Britain (Texts and Studies in Religion, 1x, New York, 1993).

(95) Wolffe, Protestant Crusade, 2.

(96) Swift and Gilley (eds.), Irish in the Victorian City, 8.

(97) Wolffe, Protestant Crusade, 6-27; Dennis Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian Britain (Stanford, 1992); Susan Mumm, `"Lady Guerrillas of Philanthropy": Anglican Sisterhoods in Victorian England' (Univ. of Sussex Ph.D. thesis, 1992).

(98) Winowska, Pioneer of Unity, 151.

(99) Pioneer Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in Great Britain and Ireland (Sisters of Charity, privately printed, London, 1955), 14.

(100) O'Neill, With All My Heart, 90.

(101) Winowska, Pioneer of Unity, 188.

(102) O'Neill, With All My, Heart, 91.

(103) Pioneer Sisters of Charity, 14.

(104) FCJ Archives, MS. annual report of the whole society, 1863, box 13.

(105) FCJ Archives, MS. annals for Manchester, 1869.

(106) FCJ Archives, MS. annals for Skipton, 1883.

(107) FCJ Archives, MS. annals, 1878, 246-53.

(108) Gerald Parsons (ed.), Religion in Victorian England, 4 vols. (Manchester, 1988), i, Traditions, editor's introduction, 6.

(109) See Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism, 276-7; Mumm, `Lady Guerrillas of Philanthropy', 61, John Shelton Reed, ` "A Female Movement": The Feminization of Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Catholicism', Anglican and Episcopal Hist., lvii (1988); David Hilliard, "`UnEnglish and Unmanly": Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality', Victorian Studies, xxv (1982).

(110) Mumm, `Lady Guerrillas of Philanthropy', 16.

(111) Ibid., 159.

(112) Susan Casteras, `Virgin Vows: The Early Victorian Portrayal of Nuns and Novices', Victorian Studies, xxiv (1981).

(113) Mumm, `Lady Guerrillas of Philanthropy', 16.

(114) Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism.

(115) There was a small number of `non-Catholic' pupils in most convent schools and my impression is that the trend was upwards. O'Neill, With All My Heart, 132, quoting Sr Aloysia in 1867: `In London the Protestants envy the good schools the Catholics have but without being uneasy about them'. See also Penny Summerfield, `Cultural Reproduction in the Education of Girls: A Study of Girls' Secondary Schooling in Two Lancashire Towns, 1900-1950', in Felicity Hunt (ed.), Lessons for Life: The Schooling of Girls and Women, 1850-1950 (Oxford, 1987), 162.

(116) FCJ Archives, annals for Chester, 1870, 1906.
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