New book focuses on U.S. history and mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph

By Megan Marley

How did two religious sisters sent from France to teach the deaf in St. Louis extend and grow their order in the U.S. to over 20 congregations and well over 10,000 sisters at one point?

“We ended up getting to a place and doing what needed to be done! And certainly in ways that were more providential than planned, is the way I see it,” says Sister Mary M. McGlone, CSJ.

Her new book, “Anything of Which a Woman is Capable”, covers the history of all the congregations of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States from the order’s arrival from post-revolution France in 1836 to pre-World War I 1912.

Sister Mary McGlone has a historical theology doctorate from Saint Louis University, and has worked in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the United States. In Kansas City, she taught at Avila University for six years, and was involved in Peace and Justice work. She has written for a number of publications and is also author to “Sharing Faith Across the Hemisphere” and “Comunidad Para El Mundo: The History of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the Vice Province of Peru”. She currently resides in St. Louis.

The book’s title hearkens back to the Sisters of St. Joseph’s directives in early constitutions.

“Instead of saying that we had a particular specialty kind of work, we were to do anything of which a woman was capable to serve the dear neighbor. So in the early years of U.S. Church growth, most communities had restrictions on what they could do or whether they could go beyond the convent walls and so on, and we didn’t have any of those limitations. We could go do anything of which a woman was capable,” McGlone said.

Sometimes that meant taking initiative in situations they weren’t necessarily trained for.

Sister Mary McGlone, CSJ

“We responded to requests more than making plans that we were going to go do something, and I’d say that our sisters responded with more zeal than preparation. They’d get into situations where they were needed, and nobody was professionally prepared,” said McGlone. She also said that from the beginning the sisters did not wear religious dress but dressed like the widows of the day, as widows could go out on the street without a husband and not be seen as of ill repute.

So how did she research for this book?

“I’ve done a lot on the internet in terms of general history,” McGlone said. “I was also able to visit every motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States, so that was a big piece. Using their archives, I had the great fun of reading original letters from the mid-1800s.”
The author came across many interesting tidbits during her research, ranging from the challenges of being untrained nurses during the Civil War to encountering rascally cowboys in the Wild West during the “trek of the seven sisters” from St. Louis to Tucson, AZ. There were also examples of the sisters working against the anti-Catholic prejudice of the time.

“One of them was trying to buy some property for the community, and the Protestant bank would not lend her anything,” she recalled. “So she went back home, changed into her regular clothes, used her legal birth name, got the loan, and they never knew they’d given a loan to start the convent!”
“Anything of which a Woman is capable” is the first of a two-volume set. The second volume will be on the unsung contributions of women religious in the United States from 1912 onward, with a particular focus on the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“If you look at the history of what happened as the Catholic Church in the United States grew up as an institution, it was the labor of the sisters that made it happen,” McGlone said. “There couldn’t have been the hospital system, the school system, the social services system without the Catholic nuns, so this second volume will tell that story.”

McGlone hopes that her book not only appeals to Sisters of St. Joseph, but also to anybody interested in the history of the Church and how Catholicism was growing in the United States. Personally, she finds her research has helped her further understand Church dynamics, particularly how the French Revolution and resulting persecution of the Church affected European views of politics and freedom of religion in the United States.

“Even though there was prejudice against the Catholics, we had the right to be who we were as every other faith tradition did in the United States, and Europe didn’t understand this,” McGlone said. “It’s a unique history that we’ve got.”


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

November 27, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph