Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd

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Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
Congregationis Sororum a Bono Pastore
Coat of Arms of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.jpg
Abbreviation Religious of the Good Shepherd (R.G.S.)
Formation 1835
Founder Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
Type Roman Catholic religious order
Headquarters Via Raffaello Sardiello, 20
00165 Rome, Italy
Congregational Leader
Sister Brigid Lawlor

The Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (also known as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd) was founded in 1835 by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, at Angers, France. The Sisters belong to a Catholic international congregation of religious women dedicated to promoting the welfare of women and girls. The Congregation has a representative at the United Nations, and has spoken out against human trafficking.[1]


The Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd began as a branch of the Order of Our Lady of Charity (Ordo Dominae Nostrae de Caritate), founded in 1641 by Saint John Eudes, at Caen, France, and dedicated to the care, rehabilitation, and education of girls and young women in difficulty. Some of the girls were abandoned by their families or orphaned, some had turned to prostitution in order to survive. The Sisters provided shelter, food, vocational training and an opportunity for these girls and women to turn their lives around.[2]

Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

The Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd was founded by Rose Virginie Pelletier in Angers, France, in 1835. Rose was the daughter of a medical doctor and his wife, known for their generosity to the poor. At the age of eighteen, she joined the sisters of Our Lady of Charity in Tours and was given the name Sister Mary of St. Euphrasia. At the age of twenty-nine, she became superior of the convent.[2]

Contemplative community[edit]

While superior at Tours, Sr. Mary Euphrasia formed a contemplative group, the Sisters Magdalen, (now known as the Contemplative Communities of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd), for penitent women who wished to live a cloistered life, but were ineligible to become Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.[3] On November 11, 1825, four young women began their novitiate with a short rule given to them by Archbishop de Montblanc of Tours,[4] which followed the Rule of the Third Order of Mount Carmel,[5] and earned their own way with intricate embroidery and production of altar bread.

Angers, France[edit]

In 1829, the Bishop of Angers, in France, requested a home be established in his diocese. Soon requests arrived from other cities. Each convent of the Order of Our Lady of Charity was independent and autonomous, with neither shared resources nor provisions for transferring personnel as needed. Sister Mary Euphrasia Pelletier envisioned a new governing structure that would free the sisters to respond more readily to requests for assistance. She appealed to Rome for approval to establish a new religious congregation, and the congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd was founded in 1835, with the motherhouse in Angers.[2]

Sister Mary Euphrasia Pelletier was Mother-General of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for 33 years, and at her death in 1868, she left 2067 professed sisters, 384 novices, 309 Touriere sisters (outdoor sisters who were not cloistered), 962 Sisters Magdalen, caring for 6372 "penitents", and 8483 children. In her lifetime 110 Good Shepherd convents were established in places as various as Rome, Italy (1838), Munich, Germany (1839) and Mons, Belgium (1839).[3]


The first convent of the Good Shepherd in Great Britain was founded in London in 1841 and then in Dalbeth , Glasgow in 1851, moving to Bishopton, Renfrewshire in 1953.[1] They arrived in Montreal, Canada in 1844, and in Toronto in 1944.[6] The sisters arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1862.[3]

Additional convents were founded in El-Biar, Algeria (1843), Cairo, Egypt (1846), Limerick, Ireland (1848), Vienna, Austria (1853), Bangladore, India (1854), San Felipe, Chile (1855), Malta (1858), Leiderdorp, Holland (1860), and Rangoon, Burma (1866). Under her successor, Mother Mary Saint Peter Coudenhove, in twenty-four years, eighty-five houses were founded, and thirteen new provinces established: eleven in Europe, two in Africa, nine in North America, five in South America and one in Oceania.[5] The Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Mission was founded in 1869. From Ceylon, the Good Shepherd Sisters came to Singapore in 1939 and reached out into Malaysia in 1956.[7]

Starting around 1938, over time eleven monasteries of Our Lady of Charity in four countries joined the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.[8]

Since 1939, the Sisters have operated a convent in Singapore [9] They have since diversified into other ministries ranging from education to social welfare. In 1958 they opened Marymount Convent School, a girls' primary school.[10]

Thirteen Irish nuns who had been interned in the Rangoon City Jail by the Japanese, Burma, May 28, 1945.


In 1842, Mary Euphrasia sent the first five Sisters to Louisville, Kentucky, to establish houses in the United States. From Louisville new foundations spread across the U.S. From 1893 to 1910 authorities in Davenport, Iowa placed 260 underage girls in Good Shepherd Homes in Omaha, Peoria, Dubuque and elsewhere. Some of these girls were taken from brothels or dangerous home environments. This was seen as an alternative to sending them to the Iowa Industrial School for Girls in Mitchellville. According to Sharon E. Wood, "Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, reformers increasingly promoted private institutions as the best way to deal with problem girls."[11]

When the Sisters of the Good Shepherd arrived in St. Paul in 1868, their mission was to serve the needs of the homeless, wayward, and criminal girls and women. The Sisters developed two distinct programs: the first, was the care of girls who came from failing homes. The second served former prostitutes or delinquent girls, a majority of which were sent by the court. At the conclusion of their court-ordered stay, most women returned to their communities. However, they had the option to remain with the sisters in a semi-religious status, living at the House, praying, assisting with chores, and easily able to leave the House, or to become a cloistered “Magdalen” nun, who led a contemplative life within the convent at the House of the Good Shepherd.[12] Lovina Benedict opened a home in Des Moines under the auspices of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. It was based on the Good Shepherd Home she had visited in St. Paul, Minnesota. In Wood's view the Davenport use of the Good Shepherd Homes "anticipated the juvenile court system created by Progressive reformers a few years later".[11]

New York City Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (1895) was a firm supporter of the work of the Sister of the Good Shepherd. From 1928 to 1975, the sisters operated Villa Loretto in Peekskill, New York.[13] On February 14, 2000 the four Provinces of Cincinnati, St. Louis, Washington and St. Paul merged to become the Province of Mid-North America.[8]

The Good Shepherd Sisters in Seattle ran a home for young women, most of whom were runaways, referred to the nuns by juvenile court, which labeled them "incorrigible." "The perception was that unwed mothers were sent there, but they weren't," said Sister Vera Gallagher. "In order to protect the girls, we really didn't tell the community much about what we were doing; and, because nobody knew, that was what they imagined. But they were just high-energy girls who had no place to go.".[14] Deborah Mullins, the youngest of twelve from a divorced family said, the Good Shepherd nuns "were the best thing that ever happened to me. ...They never screamed at you when you did something wrong. They'd be just totally disappointed in you, and that would make you know what you needed to do."[14] They ran a laundry, washing the sheets and tablecloths used by the railroad. The nuns gave the girls money to buy new outfits. "We weren't all rosaries and stations of the cross," said Sheilah Nichols Castor. "You had to be able to type, you had to be able to take shorthand, and you had to be able to cook something. When I came out, of course, I could only cook in batches of 30."[14]


From the early 1890s to the 1960s, most Australian state capitals had a Magdalene asylum, also known as Magdalene laundry, a large convent where teenage girls were placed. According to James Franklin, the girls came from a variety of very disturbed and deprived backgrounds and were individually hard to deal with in many cases.[15] The asylums were initially established as refuges, with the residents free to leave. In the early 1900s, they reluctantly began to accept court referrals.[16] "They took in girls whom no-one else wanted and who were forcibly confined, contrary to the wishes of both the girls and the nuns."[15]

Like orphanages, they received almost no government funds. Laundry work was regarded as suitable as it did not require much training nor substantial capital expense. The nuns shared the conditions of the inmates, such as bland food, hard work, the confinement and the long periods of silence. Education for residents was either of poor quality or lacking altogether.[17] The state-run Parramatta Girls Home, which also had a laundry, had similar harsh conditions but a worse record for assaults.[18] The Good Shepherds were among the organisations running these institutions and laundries,[19] for example at Abbotsford Convent.

In 2004 the Australian Parliament released a report that included Good Shepherd laundries in Australia for criticism. "We acknowledge" [writes the Australian Province Leader Sister Anne Manning] "that for numbers of women, memories of their time with Good Shepherd are painful. We are deeply sorry for acts of verbal or physical cruelty that occurred: such things should never have taken place in a Good Shepherd facility. The understanding that we have been the cause of suffering is our deep regret as we look back over our history."[20]

Northern Ireland[edit]

The Congregation ran institutions which provided residential accommodation for children in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and Newry in Northern Ireland. These institutions were the subject of the two-week Module 12 of the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry into sexual and physical abuse of children, starting on 7 March 2016.[21]


The Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd was a cloistered order in the past, but is now mostly apostolic. Members follow the Rule of Saint Augustine. The contemplative and apostolic branches were once separate but have since merged . There are now two lifestyles in one institute.[6]

The sisters work in the areas of: community outreach, special education, social work, youth development, nurses, and post abortion counseling. They serve as administrator, psychologists, hospital chaplains, and prison ministers. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd are active in fighting against prostitution and human trafficking in poor countries of Asia. They also work in an international fair trade partnership with women and those in social and economic distress through Handcrafting Justice.

  • The sisters in Canada initiated the "Sharing Fair" Program which markets goods produced by women in developing countries.[6]
  • In 1976 the sisters in Ethiopia started the Bethlehem Training Center. A group of women was selected to learn rug and carpet weaving in the traditional Ethiopian style; teenagers started needlework, basket-making and cotton-spinning classes. Literacy classes were also added.[22]
  • since 1987 sisters in the Philadelphia are have run CORA (Counseling and Referral Assistance) Services. Programs include a job-placement program for youths, a counseling service for pregnant adolescents and an assistance program for both employers and employees to help workers with drug, alcohol or other problems.[23]

The contemplative sisters continue to be devoted to prayer and they support themselves by: making vestments, supplying altar breads to parishes, artistic works, creative computer work – designing graphics, cards and composing music.

As of 2010, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, is an international order of religious women in the Roman Catholic Church with its some 4,000 nuns work in 70 countries across the world.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chris Herlinger (29 July 2016). "Catholic sisters among those embracing international efforts against human trafficking". Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c "St. Mary Euphrasia", Good Shepherd of North America
  3. ^ a b c "Rose Virginie Pelletier (St. Mary Euphrasia)", Catholic Information Network
  4. ^ Sisters of the Good Shepherd Contemplatives
  5. ^ a b Le Brun, Charles. "Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 22 Feb. 2015
  6. ^ a b c Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Toronto
  7. ^ Good Shepherd Mission, Singapore
  8. ^ a b "Our History", Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Province of Mid-North America
  9. ^ Province of Singapore-Malaysia
  10. ^ Marymount Convent School
  11. ^ a b Wood, Sharon E., The Freedom of the Streets: Work, Citizenship, and Sexuality in a Gilded Age City, Univ of North Carolina Press, 2006, ISBN 9780807876534
  12. ^ [Butler, Anne M., Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90, p. 66
  13. ^ Neil Larson (December 1987). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Villa Loretto". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  14. ^ a b c MacDonald, Sally. "Good Shepherd Nuns Retire -- `Wayward' Girls Got Help, Hope At Home Run By Convent", The Seattle Times, July 31, 1997
  15. ^ a b Franklin, James. "Convent Slave Lauderies? Magdalen Asylums in Australia", Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society 34 (2013), 70-90]
  16. ^ Kovesi, C., Pitch Your Tents on Distant Shores: A History of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Tahiti, Playwright Publishing, Caringbah, 2006, 2nd ed, 2010
  17. ^ Taylor, H., "The Magdalen refuge at Tempe", Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 1890
  18. ^ Williamson, N. "Laundry maids or ladies? Life in the Industrial and Reformatory School for Girls in NSW", Part II, 1887 to 1910, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 68 (1983), pp.312-324
  19. ^ Joanna Penglase (19 October 2010). Orphans of the Living: Growing Up in 'Care' in Twentieth-Century Australia. pp. 123, 386, 404. ISBN 978-1-4587-1742-9. 
  20. ^ Archived from the original on July 8, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "Module 12 - Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (the 'Good Shepherd Sisters')". Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2016. 
  22. ^ "Good Shepherdesses in Addis Ababa", CNEWA
  23. ^ Byrd, Jerry W., "A Service Agency Close To The Heart", Philadelphia Inquirer, March 26, 1987


  • Smith, James M (2008). Ireland's Magdalen Laundries and the Nation's architecture of containment. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-7888-0.

Further reading[edit]

  • Regensburg, Margaret, “The Religious Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Professionalization of Social Work” (PhD dissertation State University of New York, Stony Brook, 2007). Dissertation Abstracts International No. DA3337604.

External links[edit]