Women write: Comparing experiences across the Irish religious diaspora

'If she decides upon sending us more Sisters, tell them...'

Within the nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish diaspora, female Irish religious orders like the Sisters of Mercy established autonomous missions across the globe. While some bemoaned the lack of one Mother House and consistent training for all Sisters across the world, this lack of a central power base was designed with flexibility in mind, allowing women religious to adapt their practices to new contexts. Using international networks of letter writing and student newspapers, Irish nuns learned from each other, swapping tips on dress, fundraising, and religious training, to ensure a continuing relevancy within immigrant communities. These informal networks operated between autonomous branch houses, women sailing across the world, and convent school student bodies. These women were engaged in constant comparisons, of lives across the diaspora and with life in Ireland. Focusing on women religious in American, Australian, British and Irish contexts, but united by membership of a particular religious order, this paper considers how nineteenth-century women learned from one another's experiences abroad and applied them to distinct contexts. In doing so, it considers the opportunities and restrictions posed by carrying out comparative histories into diasporic communities, and the knowledge exchanges that, at times, bound these women together in a transnational congregation, and at others, encouraged the development of autonomous congregations.

Poor migrants with bags seen from the back fleeing the country

Image: 'Belgians fleeing' by Leo Gestel 

Presenter: Sophie Cooper

Wednesday, 16 November 2022 at 5pm