Sisters of the Cross and Passion

About our Foundress, Elizabeth Prout:
'revolutionary ideas'

In staying in Manchester, Mother Mary Joseph and her little band exemplified a different kind of thinking about religious life. They might have used words like these to describe it:

"No one who loves God and wants to give her whole life to loving him and caring for his children will be turned away from our community because she brings no money or has no education. If God calls her to him, we will welcome her. We will earn our own living; there will be no difference in dignity between sisters who work with their hands and those who teach school. God loves all people. We will share God's love with those in greatest need by serving them with our minds and our hands."

Manchester and its riverToday we are accustomed to hearing such ideals. The Manchester folk of Elizabeth's day were probably less sanguine in their response. Indeed, many of Manchester's priests and nuns criticized the new Institute for its 'revolutionary ideas'. According to this new idea, the sisters would support themselves and also find time for a strong prayer life. In practice, it was difficult for the sisters to survive the hardships of the period and, for a time, it looked as if the nay-sayers would be proved right.

But Manchester (right) needed nuns. In 1853 Mother Mary Joseph responded to the wish of a new parish, St Joseph's, for a school. Two little rooms, located a painful distance from the convent (Mother Mary Joseph's knee problems continued), soon overflowed with children of poor Irish Catholics. Mother Mary Joseph saw clearly that education offered the only means of improving the futures of these children. Besides, who else would tell these children of God's love for them -- even the wild ones! The sisters' efforts succeeded, despite the agony of the long walks (often on an empty stomach) for Mother Mary Joseph.

Then, disaster struck. One of the sisters at the school caught typhoid fever. It spread throughout the community. They could not work; no money came in. Early records report that:

Alone, Mother Mary Joseph cooked, did the cleaning, nursed the Sisters and rose during the night to attend to them.

Except for the help given by some religious orders and good friends, the little Institute's life would have ended. One such friend was a physician who donated his services and also arranged for the Sisters to go for a rest at the house of a priest-friend's; it was vacant at the time.

In addition to Mother Mary Joseph's responsibilities for the temporal concerns of the beleaguered community, she shouldered the burden of responsibility for the spiritual well-being and formation of the sisters. At the same time, she dealt with instructions from Fr Gaudentius to do things for which the Institute simply had no money. He seemed unaware of what it was like to live among the poor in Manchester and he probably lacked experience in working with formation of a women's religious institute. In 1855 his superiors sent him to work in the United States.

a decade of challenge and reward

passion flower

Sign of the Passion

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Text for the story of Mother Mary Joseph follows and uses language from A Woman Who Said Yes: the Story of Elizabeth Prout by Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P. All rights reserved.