“The Appearance of a Schism”: The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Consolidation Politics

Thursday, January 6, 2022: 1:50 PM
Grand Ballroom E (Sheraton New Orleans)
Elisabeth C. Davis, State University of New York at Fredonia

In 1845, Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin, a woman of mixed raced origins, left the first religious congregation for women of African descent and formed a new religious congregation for white women: the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the IHMs) in Monroe, MI. Within ten years, the IHMs created new missions in the diocese of Philadelphia. Despite the group’s successful expansion in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the IHMs soon experienced a schism that tore the community in half. Key to understanding this division was the rise of the local diocesan bishops, who were working to consolidate their control over the women’s religious communities within their own domains. Yet, rather than solely focusing on consolidation politics, the bishops weaponized Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin’s racial identity in order to gain control over the religious community. This presentation will examine the interwoven themes of race, gender, and consolidation in order to understand the larger meaning of the IHMs’ rupture.