At the age of nineteen, Catherine Spalding (1793–1858) ventured into what would become a lifetime of leadership with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCN)—one of the most significant American religious communities for women. As a cofounder and first superior of the order, she dedicated her life to developing and improving health care, services for orphans, and education on the early frontier. Her contributions had a lasting impact on Catholicism, the state of Kentucky, and the many people whose lives she touched.
Sister Mary Ellen Doyle supplements her definitive biography of the influential educator and humanitarian, Pioneer Spirit, with this meticulously edited and annotated volume. The collected correspondence illustrates Spalding’s exemplary character and the scope of her day-to-day life as an administrator. Together, the letters reveal a new picture of Spalding’s personality and drive, her insights, her trials, and her world as mother superior. The collection also gives readers a valuable glimpse of antebellum life in Kentucky and the wider south.
Doyle presents the correspondence chronologically, following Spalding through key stages in her career from the founding of the SCN to her final years, as she turned to quieter cares. She provides essential historical context and information about Spalding’s various correspondents, and she also analyzes the significance of letters missing from the collection. Catherine Spalding, SCN brings the SCN founder’s words to a broader audience and offers readers new perspectives on both the world in which she lived and frontier faith.
“It is a relief and a thrill to see the book actually DONE, handsomely bound and ready for all those who have contributed so much to its research and production and all who claim a relation to Catherine as SCN/As or simply have interest in the early history of Catholic Kentucky and its growth. “Pioneer Spirit” told a lot about Mother Catherine as a loving, intelligent, and zealous woman, eager for the expansion of the Church and for the education and social role of other women. Her correspondence, however, significantly enlarges our knowledge of her character and her role in the state. Though her surviving letters are not numerous, they reveal her relations to a variety of people,, from her good friends in the SCN to the parents of students, to the clergy and civic leaders. Letters to her reveal what others thought and expected of her in her mission as headmistress of the school, director of the orphanage and infirmary, and Mother of the community. The collection cannot but give fresh insight on this early Kentucky woman and leader in social and spiritual development. It must encourage the efforts of those who follow her.”
—Mary Ellen Doyle, SCN
Mary Ellen Doyle, SCN, is formerly a professor at several colleges, primarily Spalding University. She is the author of numerous books, including Pioneer Spirit: Catherine Spalding, Sister of Charity of Nazareth.
These letters, in combination with Doyle’s biography Pioneer Spirit, allow the most comprehensive view of Spalding’s life possible at this time. This book is obviously the product of meticulous scholarship. — Judith Metz, SC, archivist and historian, Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, and instructor, College of Mount St. Joseph