Sister Mary McGlone writes book on CSJ history

Sister  Mary McGlone, CSJ, is an historical theologian who since 2013 has been writing the history of the Sisters of St Joseph in the United States.  Through her travels and conversations she has learned much about our history.  S. Patty Johnson, US Federation Executive Director interviewed Mary so as to be able to share some insights regarding this upcoming book, All of Which a Woman is Capable.

Sr. Mary McGlone

S. Patty Johnson: Tell us about the title of the book and why it appeals to you.

S. Mary McGlone: When trying to think of what would be an adequate title to talk about the thousands of women who have given and found life as Sisters of St. Joseph in the U.S. since 1836, the only idea that seemed to sum it all up was the idea from our primitive constitutions which said that we are to carry out all the works of mercy of which a woman is capable.  That seems to be what we have done. 

PJ: You have learned about some interesting influences that have shaped us- such as our French roots, the European sisters who joined us, the connections among sisters in the first 100 years.  What would you like to say about that?

MM: First of all, we were far more connected than I had ever imagined.  The cousins, Sisters Celestine Pommerel and St. John Fournier who were prepared to teach the deaf because the major superiors of the Sisters of St. Joseph in the US, founding congregations together, helping one another out and, I guess, teaching some of the sisters what they had learned about deaf education.  (They got too busy to be in charge of that side of things!)

In 1860 hundreds of Sisters of St. Joseph were serving in St. Louis to Natchez, to St. Paul, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Erie, Albany, Rochester, Wheeling, Toronto and Hamilton, Canada.  In spite of the distances and lack of easy communications, I am pretty sure that they were all within two or degrees of knowing one another, meaning that if I didn’t know a particular sister, I knew someone who did, or someone who knew someone who did.  That made the community close and meant that the sisters’ reputations were pretty well publicized. 

That was the result of a good amount of mobility, a few novitiates that prepared founders and some peripatetic sisters who were ready to go anywhere they were needed. 

PJ: How have your travels around the congregations been?  What happens when you meet with sisters to tell them how the book is going?

MM: Everywhere I have been the sisters have been enthusiastic about hearing our story and seeing it come into print.  In the past few decades we’ve studied a lot about our primitive history and we’ve met each other through the Federation, but we haven’t known very much about each other’s congregational experiences, our folklore, and uniqueness.

The archivists of each congregation have been an immense help and support to me.  They are great collaborators and we have had a good time exploring and discovering new facts about who we are and how we got here.  

PJ: You decided that the book will be longer than originally predicted and will be producing two volumes.  Tell us about that.

MM: I had planned to do a section of a history on our founding stories followed by a general overview of our story in the USA and particularly in how we have been part of building up the Catholic Church in this country.  It’s interesting to read the Catholic Directories from ages past.  They make a big deal about how many priests there were in any given diocese, but either can’t count or think it’s not important to mention how many sisters there were.  But the sisters were the ones who had ongoing contact with the people – 40 hours every week in school, how many bedside hours in hospitals, 24/7 in child care institutions – while priests saw people at Mass and confession.  It would be a real stretch to call that 8 hours a week!  Who made this community what it is?

PJ: When do you think volume one will be ready?

MM: I am planning to have the foundation volume ready at the end of the summer.  That doesn’t include the printing time, but I would say that it should be in our hands in the fall. 

PJ: What will be different in volume two?

MM: Volume II will be sort of like a history of women religious in the USA, starring the CSSJs.  Although every congregation is getting its unique foundation story, there’s no way to continue with that depth in the rest of the story.  So we’ll talk about the Catholic education system and see the unique contributions some CSSJ congregations have made to that.  We’ll do the same with health care and social services.   We’ll look at how we’ve been part of dioceses and missions – both home and foreign.  We’ll also look at some of the unique contributions CSSJs have made in “outlying” services from advocacy for people on death row, work with the United Farm Workers, physicians, theologians, leadership in LCWR, NCEA, etc.  That’s sort of “the expected and the unexpected” in terms of our service.

PJ: Are there important messages for us in the patterns of our history?  What have we maintained and what has evolved in ways one could not have predicted as we have adapted to US culture?

MM: That’s a huge question.  The first thing I would say is that early on we were in real collaborating contact with one another and we began to lose that as local identities solidified and our focus became more particularized.  I think we’re getting back there with what we’re doing in the Federation and even more so in the growing contacts and collaboration among Sisters of St. Joseph throughout the world. 

In the latter part of the 19th century, the sisters’ problems with the French government led them to send missionaries throughout the world.  Today globalization has made communication throughout the entire world easier than it was between Lyon and Le Puy in 1836.  We could use a little of our early sisters’ spirit of adventure and mission – the city we have to divide today is global – and we have the resources if only we can tap the connectivity and creativity that can help us respond. 

Original article posted by the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph here.

June 2017

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