Wohltätigkeit zum Zwecke der Mission. St. Josephschwestern in Skandinavien 1856-1960

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


My article deals with the work of the St Joseph Sisters in the Nordic countries, particularly in Denmark and Sweden, from the sisters’ arrival in 1856 to the 1920:ies. These Catholic sisters belonged to a French congregation called "La Congregation des Sœurs de Saint-Joseph de Chambéry", which was founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century and whose motherhouse was in Chambéry in Savoy. The Chambéry congregation was the second female religious order to be established in the Nordic countries since the Reformation and the most successful. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were around 800 St Joseph Sisters living in communities spread throughout the Nordic countries.

Until the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church strongly emphasised its claim to be the only true Church, and as a consequence, all nonCatholic regions were regarded as missionary fields. Hence the Catholic missionary offensive started in the midnineteenth century was also aimed at the Nordic countries where, protected by the liberal religious laws passed in this period, they could build up a network of parishes and missions with schools, hospitals, and other social institutions. The Chambéry congregation developed a broad range of activi-ties in the fields of health care and school education, which were all part of the Catholic Church’s effort to bring the Nordic people back to the Catholic Church. Most of the converts belonged to the lover strata of the population, and the Catholic sister’s, not least the sisters of St. Joseph, played an important role within Scandinavian social services.

Current research on welfare systems has shown the importance of the health care and school sectors in establishing the modern welfare state. Through its contribution in the social sector, the state has fostered, indoctrinated, and controlled its population, but also acquired legitimacy and an assurance of loyalty from its citizenry. In the same way, the Catholic Church tried to obtain legitimacy and public support in its missionary activities, while simultaneously using its social and charitable work as instruments to carry forward the Catholic faith. Catholic sisters played a central role in this missionary work. They were also carriers of a distinctively female religious culture that contrasted with middleclass liberal feminist movements, as well as with the Lutheran doctrine of vocation with its emphasis on marriage, biological motherhood, and domestic duties.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History


  • Female apostolate, Catholic sisters, social work, Catholic mission, counter culture
Original languageGerman
Title of host publicationArmenfürsorge und Wohltätigkeit. Ländliche Gesellschaften in Europa 1850-1930
Subtitle of host publicationInklusion/Exklusion, Band 11
EditorsInga Brandes, Katrin Marx-Jaskulski
PublisherPeter Lang Publishing Group
ISBN (Print)978-3-631-55846-1
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Publication categoryResearch