In the wake of the Counter Reformation and more intensely after the French Revolution, religious communities of women sprang up with astonishing rapidity in France. Today their form of life is coming to an end, at least in Europe, and it is the culmination of more than three hundred years of religious life, which provided companionship for women and enabled them contribute effective social activity in society. Such a phenomenon invites analysis, both of the origins and the motivations for such an upsurge of women's communities.
The aim of this book is to bring together aspects of the private and public life of members of the Society of the Sacred Heart in 19th century France by using the extensive community and personal archives of the Society, as well as the collection of 14,000 letters of Madeleine Sophie Barat. By combining rigorous research and writing within the perspective of women's history, the lives and achievements, the successes and failures, of these French women are shifted out of hagiography into history. This book is unique. It breaks with the tradition of religious hagiography so prevalent when writing the history of religious women in the Catholic Church. It addresses the complexity of their personal/ community lives along with their public contribution to society.
Phil Kilroy lives in Dublin, and is the author of Madeleine Sophie Barat. A Life (Cork University Press, 2000)