Good Hearts makes up for the lack of written history about Catholic sisters in Chicago. Most Church history on Chicago concerns cardinals, bishops and priests of Chicago, according to the author, while the sisters have been ignored for their great contributions to the Church and to the society of Chicago.
Author Suellen Hoy intensely researched the history of some of the religious sisters orders in Chicago, searching for primary source material on these sisters; many of these orders and sisters originated in Ireland. Hoy traveled to Ireland to visit where these sisters originated to get a firsthand glimpse into their beginnings. She had access to various archives of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and to those of various orders in the U.S. and Ireland that were - or are - involved in Chicago.
As Ireland had more priests than were needed there, so were there many sisters needing to be taken care of and needing work to do. Like the priests, they opted to go to America and elsewhere as missionaries. In Chicago, as in many other American cities, many clergy were from Ireland or of Irish heritage, and they naturally thought of Ireland as a source for vocations and missionaries. While the clergy may have expected docile and obedient sisters, they quickly found that these Irish women were not cut from that mold - especially in Chicago. As much as possible, the superiors of these orders in Chicago controlled their own business and made sure their order owned the land and property they were on instead of the bishop. They did not allow the bishop or others to interfere in their internal affairs. The bishops also discovered that the sisters were pretty good about running their own external affairs, too.
The sisters were oftentimes ahead of their Protestant counterparts in the area of social work, working with African Americans and other minority groups long before the Protestants did. The Catholic sistersí efforts in these areas was eventually forgotten, due in part to anti-Catholicism and to the sistersí humility and desire to work for Godís glory, not their own. Sisters and their orders were open to ending segregation long before it was mandated by the government; some also were involved in civil rights marches.
Many Irish women as well of women of other nationalities or from the U.S. joined these orders in the early days because they wanted a greater degree of freedom with what they did with their lives. If they married, their husbands would, to a degree, control their lives. Being a sister was an option for women wanting to be freer than they normally would be in society. They could become leaders and do work that they most likely would not be allowed to do if they were married.
All but the seventh chapter of this book have been published previously in journals and have been revised, expanded and updated for this book. Hoy provides several black and white photographs, extensive endnotes, and an index. The academic style of writing is expected in a book published by a university press, but it is very readable for the general reader, too. Hoy has done a great service preserving and telling the history of some of the sisters who gave their lives for the Catholic Church in Chicago. This book is highly recommended to those interested in American Catholic Church history, the Catholic Church especially in Chicago, and history of religious orders of women. This book is also available in hardback
Suellen Hoy is a guest professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (2001) and other books, and co-authored From Dublin to New Orleans (1995).