A Foreign and Wicked Institution?: The Campaign Against Convents in Victorian England

By Rene Kollar

An examination of the development of Roman Catholic and Anglican female religious orders in 19th-century Britain, and the prejudices that they encountered.

ISBN: 9780227679920


Many in Victorian England harboured deep suspicion of convent life. In addition to looking at anti-Catholicism and the fear of both Anglican and Catholic sisterhoods that were established during the nineteenth-century, this work explores the prejudice that existed against women in VIctorian England who joined sisterhoods and who were committed to, and engaged in, social work among the urban poor.

Women, according to some of these critics, should remain passive in matters of religion. Nuns, however, did play an important role in many areas of life in nineteenth-century England, and faced hostility from many who felt threatened or challenged by members of female religious orders. The accomplishments of these nuns and the opposition they overcame should serve as both an example and encouragement to all men and women committed to the Gospel.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 318

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Fr Rene Kollar is a Benedictine monk and a Professor of History at Saint Vincent College, Pennsylvania. A graduate of the former Saint Vincent Preparatory School, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Vincent College, a Master of Divinity Degree from Saint Vincent Seminary, and a Master of Arts Degree and PhD from the University of Maryland. He has written extensively on nineteenth- and twentieth-century English Ecclesiastical History.



1. Bishop William Ullathorne and His Defense of Convents:
     The 1851 Bill for Parliamentary Inspection of Convents
2. They Walled Up Nuns, Didn’t They? H. Rider Haggard’s Montezuma’s Daughter
     and Anti-Catholicism in Victorian England
3. Two Lectures at Bath: The Rev. M. Hobart Seymour and
     Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman and the Nunnery Question
4. The Myth and Reality of Sr. Barbara Ubryk, the Imprisoned Nun of Cracow:
     English Interpretations of a Victorian Religious Controversy
5. An American “Escaped Nun” on Tour in England:
     Edith O’Gorman’s Critique of Convent Life
6. Those Horrible Iron Cages: The Sisters of the Church and
     the Care of Orphans in Late Victorian England
7. Flowers, Pictures, and Crosses: Criticisms of Priscilla Lydia Sellon’s
     Care of Young Girls
8. Magdalenes and Nuns: Convent Laundries in Late Victorian England
9. Foreign and Catholic: A Plea to Protestant Parents on the Dangers of
     Convent Education in Victorian England
10. A Death in the Family: Bishop Archibald Campbell Tait, the Rights of Parents,
     and Anglican Sisterhoods in the Diocese of London
11. The Priest, the Nun, and Confession: An Anti-Catholic Stereotype
     and Anglican Sisterhoods in Victorian England
12. Power and Control over Women in Victorian England:
     Male Opposition to Sacramental Confession in the Anglican Church
13. An Anglican Sisterhood and Auricular Confession:
     A Popish Practice in a Devonport Sisterhood
14. Giacinto Achilli versus the Roman Catholic Church:
     Morality, Religion, and the Court of Public Opinion in Victorian England


Endorsements and Reviews

The essays deal with particular episodes and contribute colour and depth to our understanding of religious prejudice in Victorian England and the sheer persistence and resilience of these women of faith.  Richly textured, thoroughly researched and elegantly written.
The Revd Dr Bruce Kaye, Editor, The Journal of Anglican Studies

Rene Kollar focuses on congregations of religious women in this clear, concise examination of popular anti-Catholicism. He deftly interweaves their confessions with Catholic attempts to explain the true nature of religious life, and to discredit their opponents. In separate but interrelated chapters, Kollar considers the legends, the stories, the lies, and the works of Roman and Anglican sisterhoods. Neither blind to faults nor ignorant of abuses, Kollar writes with an eye on the present in which a way of life is again judged by the faults of the few.
T.M. McCoog SJ, Fordham University

This book presents a facet of Victorian life which, like the convents themselves, is often terra incognita; it opens a window on a commonly overlooked aspect of the social and religious life of the Victorian era.
Mary C. Treacy, in Women’s History Magazine, Issue 70, Summer 2012

… a helpful contribution to learning, and discloses some fine scholarly judgements …
Edward Norman, in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol 64.1

… There are some nuggets of information which interest or amuse or both.
Michael Tait, in Reviews in Religion & Theology, Vol 20, Issue 2

Readers will benefit from Kollar’s wide reading and his wealth of knowledge of printed archival sources as well as nineteenth-century literature. There is much in these essays that is important for those who are interested in understanding the Victorians, the depths of anti-Catholicism and anti-Tractarianism and how women religious were seen as threatening the status quo. This volume is a welcome addition to the history of women religious.
Carmen M. Mangion, in Recusant History, Vol 31(3)