New Library Holdings Record Nun's Activism

August 30, 2010

New_Library The writings of an extraordinary figure in Irish and American Catholic history, Margaret Anna Cusack, are now in a special collection permanently housed at the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library. Librarians want students and professional historians to know that research on this intriguing woman, an early advocate of human rights and peaceful conflict resolution, is possible because of this collection at Saint Leo University.

Cusack was a convert to Catholicism who became a nun, as well as a 19th century social activist and prolific author.

Writings by and about Cusack were donated to the library by Sisters Janet Davis Richardson and Rosalie McQuaide, both members of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, an order originally established by Cusack in the 1880s. Sisters Richardson and McQuaide have been using the library for six years as a home base for their research into Cusack’s life, often consulting with Carol Ann Moon, associate professor and reference librarian. The sisters want to make Cusack’s writings, along with scholarly articles written about Cusack and videos, more widely available to researchers and to the general public. They decided that the Daniel A.Cannon Memorial Library would be an appropriate home for the resources.

The donation was welcomed by Sister M. Dorothy Neuhofer, OSB, Saint Leo University archivist and special collections librarian. In learning about Cusack’s life, from 1829 to 1899, Sister Dorothy became impressed with Cusack’s wide range of accomplishments. In Ireland, Cusack was known as Sister Francis Clare. She wrote devotional materials for many years and a history of the country. She also worked on behalf of famine relief in Ireland, and advocated for the poor and the under-educated, becoming an advocate of peace and justice initiatives. She later came to America to work with young Irish women who emigrated to escape poverty. She did much of her work in New Jersey, but corresponded far and wide with many influential individuals of the era on many topics. “She was one amazing woman,” Sister Dorothy said of Cusack. “I just couldn’t believe everything she did.”

More than once, however, Cusack had difficult relationships with authorities in her adopted Church. Ultimately, she left the religious life and returned to England, where she had been raised in the Anglican Church. She died in England and was buried in an Anglican cemetery.

The special collection reflects Cusack’s life in great detail, and so will be of use to a variety of people, Sister Dorothy said. Saint Leo undergraduates who need to satisfy a research assignment using some original sources would find rich material in the collection, she suggested.

Catholic scholars and historians will be informed of the collection’s depth through articles to be submitted to professional journals, Sister Dorothy noted. “This is important in the history of women religious, and the history of the Church in general,” she said.

For help accessing the materials in the collection, call or e-mail Sister Dorothy at (352) 588-8496 or dorothy.neuhofer@saintleo.edu, or Carol Ann Moon at (352) 588-8261 or carol.moon@saintleo.edu.