For many American Catholics in the twentieth-century the face of the Church was a woman’s face. After the Second World War, as increasing numbers of baby boomers flooded Catholic classrooms, the Church actively recruited tens of thousands of young women as teaching sisters. In Into Silence and Servitude Brian Titley delves into the experiences of young women who entered Catholic religious sisterhoods at this time.
The Church favoured nuns as teachers because their wageless labour made education more affordable in what was the world’s largest private school system. Focusing on the Church’s recruitment methods Titley examines the idea of a religious vocation, the school settings in which nuns were recruited, and the tactics of persuasion directed at both suitable girls and their parents. The author describes how young women entered religious life and how they negotiated the sequence of convent “formation stages,” each with unique challenges respecting decorum, autonomy, personal relations, work, and study. Although expulsions and withdrawals punctuated each formation stage, the number of nuns nationwide continued to grow until it reached a pinnacle in 1965, the same year that Catholic schools achieved their highest enrolment.
Based on extensive archival research, memoirs, oral history, and rare Church publications, Into Silence and Servitude presents a compelling narrative that opens a window on little-known aspects of America’s convent system.