IRELAND’S MAGDALEN LAUNDRIES
AND THE NATION’S ARCHITECTURE
OF CONTAINMENT, by James
M. Smith. University of Notre Dame
Press. 260 pp. $28.
Reviewed by NORM LANGENBRUNNER,
a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati
and pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Church. He has contributed articles to The
Bible Today, Catholic Digest, The Catechist and other magazines, and for The
Catholic Telegraph newspaper.
ANOTHER SCANDAL. ANOTHER
STORY of abuse. Another example of
good intentions paving a
road to hell. Ireland’s Magdalen
Laundries is a historical,
political and cultural account
of how asylums run
for wayward girls turned
into prisons in which human
rights were violated
and bodies and souls abused.
Originally, the Magdalen
Laundries were institutions
run by religious sisters to
care for and rehabilitate
prostitutes, fallen women,
victims of rape and the unwed pregnant.
They were called “Magdalen” to
recall the supposed conversion of Mary
Magdalene. They were called “laundries”
because the residents supported
the institution by doing laundry for
hospitals, prisons, boarding schools,
When Ireland became a free state in
1922, politicians and prelates began to
work collaboratively to make Catholic
morality the criterion for Ireland’s public
image. Among their primary concerns
was sexual immorality. To rid the
streets of prostitutes, to punish unwed
pregnancies, to hide victims of rape,
to conceal infanticide, to remove
women whose behavior or beauty
might be a temptation to men, the
courts, pastors and even families began
the practice of confining these women
in the Magdalen Laundries.
In these settings, although under the
control of religious sisters, the Magdalens
were often verbally and physically
abused, forced to work without
compensation, deprived of outside contact
and indoctrinated into a strict religious
regimen. Some of these women
spent most of their lives locked up in
these institutions, and many were
buried there in unmarked graves.
Author James Smith recounts a brief
history of the Magdalen houses and
strongly links the abuse these women
suffered to what he calls Ireland’s “architecture
of containment,” the
concerted effort to remove
from Irish society any
inkling of sexual misconduct
or its possibility by warehousing
women who were
or seemed a threat to Ireland’s
public image. Church
and State conspired in that
practice. In an incredible display
of hypocrisy, the women
were blamed for all sexual
sins, while the men involved
Over the past 20 years, the story of
the Magdalen Laundries has been told
in books, plays, TV documentaries and
Smith is convinced the whole story
(the real history) of these institutions
will not be told until religious congregations
of sisters agree to open their
archives to researchers. In the meantime,
historians, novelists and screenwriters
piece together fragments from
public records and interviews of survivors
in order to keep alive the memory
of the victims and prevent
anything similar from ever happening
again. The last Magdalen Laundry
closed in 1996.
Not all of the Magdalens were guilty
of sexual sin. Some were judged too
dim-witted to live in society. Others
were brought by their own family “for
the child’s own good.”
There is irony in dubbing all these
women “Magdalens.” Although the
judgment is still heard that Mary
Magdalene was a great sinner, mainline
Scripture scholars today hold that Mary
Magdalene is not to be identified with
the sinful woman who washed Jesus’
feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). She
was not the repentant sinner whose
example the fallen women were to
emulate. Rather, like Mary Magdalene,
these women have been more sinned
against than guilty of sinning.
Smith’s book is academic. It sometimes
reads like a dissertation. But it is
also passionate, insightful, factual and
unnerving. Students of Irish history,
sociologists, critics of Church/State relations
and perhaps the simply curious
may find Ireland’s Magdalen
Laundries a compelling analysis of a
public scandal. To others, the book may
be simply a depressing chapter in the
Catholic Church’s failure to live up to
the gospel it was sent to preach. The
book is not light reading.
You can order IRELAND’S MAGDALEN LAUNDRIES
AND THE NATION’S ARCHITECTURE
OF CONTAINMENT from St.
CAEDMON’S SONG, written by Ruth
Ashby, illustrated by Bill Slavin. Eerdmans
Books for Young Readers. 32
Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an
assistant editor of this magazine and
mother of three.
WHEN I FIRST sat down to read this
book to two of my three kids, the
first question they asked was, “Who’s
Caedmon?” Unfortunately, I had to
admit that I didn’t know. So I was eager
to start reading to find out.
The book tells the tale of Caedmon,
a quiet man who lived in the north of
England on the grounds of a big abbey
and tended his cows. He did not, however,
This was a problem
since on feast
days people would
sit in front of the
hearth, pass around
a harp and sing
they would pass the
harp to Caedmon,
his thoughts would
always dry up.
But one frosty St.
Stephen’s Eve, after
Caedmon once again had failed to
come up with a poem, he had a dream
that changed his whole life. Just how,
I’ll let you read the book to find out.
But I will say it’s a charming story with
a good message for kids.
The book’s illustrations are elegantly
done, some in the style of the Book of
Kells, and very detailed. In fact, on
some pages the illustrations threaten to
upstage the story.
Caedmon’s Song is a perfect package
of story and presentation. The result is
a very entertaining read for both parents
You can order CAEDMON’S SONG from St. Francis Bookshop.
THE SEDONA GARDENS OF SAINT
JOHN VIANNEY, by the Rev. J. C.
Ortiz. Zitro Press (c/o Saint John
Vianney Catholic Church, 180 Soldiers
Pass Rd., Sedona, AZ 86336).
192 pp. $34.95.
Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, a Catholic
journalist and author.
THIS GORGEOUS BOOK is filled with
about 130 dazzling photos of flowers
and scenery around Sedona, Arizona,
considered by many people as the most
beautiful place in America.
This reviewer was in Sedona only a
few months ago. I wish I’d known
about the gardens at St. John Vianney
Parish. I surely would have visited
Father J. C. Ortiz was assigned as
pastor of St. John Vianney a dozen
years ago. When he was ordained four
years previously, his bishop suggested
that he channel some of his energy in
positive directions. He always had been
interested in plants, so it was natural for
him to supervise the building of
gardens at St. John Vianney. The
Keep Sedona Beautiful organization
has nominated the gardens
for a “beautiful public space”
Six people are responsible for
the stunning photos in the book,
all with due credit, of course.
Father Ortiz also acknowledges a
long list of others, undoubtedly
parishioners responsible for
some of the heavy lifting.
But this isn’t just an attractive picture
book. It’s also a book of reflections and
meditations. Each chapter includes two
reflections, each one beginning with a
quotation from Scripture that has some
connection to flowers or gardens. In
both photos and text, Father Ortiz presents
a year in the gardens. From January
through December, he shows how
the gardens change from month to
Not all the photos are of flowers.
One of the most striking, for example,
is a full-page photo of a statue of St.
Joseph and the Holy Child, partially
adorned with snow, in the chapter for
A shrine to St. Joseph and the Holy
Child is only one of several on the
property. Others pictured with flowers
are Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine and
the shrine of Nuestra Señora de
Guadalupe. There are flowers around
the outdoor Stations of the Cross and
a goldfish pond in an area dedicated to
Father Ortiz tells us that he studied
for the priesthood at St. Meinrad Seminary
in Indiana, where he was surrounded
by cornfields and dearly
missed the scenery in Arizona. As a
Hoosier, I can only sympathize with
him and admit that Indiana can’t
match the Red Rocks of Sedona. Nevertheless,
we can have beautiful gardens
in Indiana, too, including those
my wife has planted, and I enjoy,
around our home.
To help himself feel a little more at home while he was at St. Meinrad,
though, the future Father Ortiz took
some cacti and “proudly displayed in
one corner of my cell a piece of my
very own desert.”
I, too, love cacti, and the photos of
the cacti in this book, in the chapter for
August, are certainly among the most
beautiful, especially a full-page photo of
an Engelmann’s prickly pear and
another of a Beavertail prickly pear.
That chapter also has a photo of cacti
in the foreground with the red rocks of
Sail Rock and Steamboat Rock in the
The photos show the amazing variety
of plants and flowers at St. John
Vianney. One two-page spread shows
various tomatoes. It’s followed by a
photo of a loaded-down
peach tree spread across
two pages. Photos of roses
are also spectacular.
Father Ortiz says that
the reflections in the book
sprang from remembrances
as he walked the
grounds and the gardens.
The variety of growing
things, he says, always
brings people to mind.
This is his closing paragraph:
“In the garden we encounter and
face authentically the drama of existence,
the drama that includes the emotional
and electrifying narrative of
birth, the many and varied milestones
of life, the poignant deaths, but, most
importantly, the strength and power
of our love for one another. In the garden
we encounter beauty and mystery.
Most especially, we find there the ever-present
unconditional love of God.
This is the gift of the gardens of St.
You can order THE SEDONA GARDENS OF SAINT
JOHN VIANNEY from St.
LEADING INTERCESSIONS: Creative
Ideas for Public and Private Prayer, by John Pritchard. Liturgical Press.
158 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by JEANNE HUNT, editorial
adviser for catechesis and evangelization
at St. Anthony Messenger Press. She is
the author of Choir Prayers and More
Choir Prayers (both from
Oregon Catholic Press), Holy
Bells and Wonderful Smells and Handing on the Faith:
When You Are a Single Parent (both from St. Anthony
TAPPING HIS OWN creative
well, John Pritchard
offers a wealth of material
for anyone who leads intercessory
advises that prayer should always be
“rich and memorable in language.” He
models his advice. When your pump
needs to be primed, Leading Intercessions will easily serve.
Pritchard offers a resource for many
forms of ritual prayer.
Public worship services,
festivals and feasts, informal
worship and small-group
prayer are just a
few of the formats offered
in this storehouse of
While the prayers are
grounded in Pritchard’s
Anglican tradition, the
style is easily adapted to
Catholic worship. The
sense of deeply felt need
penetrates the intimate manner of
these rituals and provides a wealth of
inspiration, regardless of the denomination
or prayer setting.
There is a need for being clear and
direct in prayer that speaks to the heart.
This clarity and directness can be created
by using simple language and ordinary
subject matter, such as “Praying
the Week’s News.”
The author’s insights into praying
with children and young people are
worth keeping Leading Intercessions on
any youth minister’s resource shelf.
Good prayer with young people starts
by offering fresh, inspiring ideas that
connect them with the abstract ideas of
Pritchard offers many simple objects
(pebbles, playing cards, bubbles, maps
and globes) as springboards into prayer.
He adapts sophisticated ideas about
God into the simplest of examples.
Therein lies the secret of his technique:
He finds the sacred
in the ordinary. Even the
most uninitiated can enter
into the prayer.
John Pritchard teaches
the use of ordinary signs
and symbols in personal
worship, as well. The simple
guidelines he offers at
the beginning of the chapter
on personal prayer give
even the most seasoned
soul a lesson in how to speak to God about our needs.
His eight directives set the scene for
innovative examples of private prayer.
He creates a rhythm in St. Patrick’s
Breastplate Prayer like a gentle waltz
by stating, “It should be said unhurriedly...
heart to heart.”
In another example, Pritchard encourages
the intercessor to use “mind
mapping” (a visual representation of
people and places that fill the mind
and burden the soul). All these techniques
shake up the usual manner of
prayer, changing the way we speak to
God about our needs and wants.
Leading Intercessions should be kept
on the shelf for inspiration. It will
become a dog-eared addition to the
resources necessary to make public and
private prayer innovative. This book is
meant to be the catalyst for the reader’s
own creative energies. John Pritchard
leads by example how to animate all
those silent petitions that rest in our
You can order LEADING INTERCESSIONS: Creative
Ideas for Public and Private Prayer from St. Francis Bookshop.
NEXT TO GODLINESS: Finding the
Sacred in Housekeeping, edited by
Alice Peck. Skylight Paths Publishing.
224 pp. $19.99.
Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, a
retired assistant editor of this publication,
who admits she loves a clean house, but
loves reading about it even more.
HINTS FROM A SPIRITUAL Heloise or
bon mots from the Queen of Clean were
what I feared to find in this book. But
cast out all dread! It truly is, as its title
promises, about the search for the
sacred in the day’s plebian and pedestrian
activities. The editor’s keen eye
has found a wide range of voices to
weigh in on this subject, voices I would
never have expected to hear.
What a crew! Martin Luther King,
Jr., and Allen Ginsberg; Virginia Woolf
and Mother Teresa; Buddhists, novelists,
poets, feminists and Scripture. Anyone
who can discipline that diverse
litany of commentators has a rare gift
for organization. And Alice Peck brings
beautiful order and a sense of peace to
the tasks of keeping house.
The nine categories of tasks she
names include the predictable
sweeping and housework.
She addresses a wider
range of concerns in “The
Natural Order of Things,”
“Making Home,” “Workspace,”
“Guests and Holidays”
and “Big Messes.”
Each part is introduced
with a quiet—and quieting—
pencil sketch by
I was unpredictably moved by the
illustration for “Big Messes” and by
the chapter itself. It reminded me
of my futile attempts to bring order to
situations beyond my control or my
capacity. That’s the cosmic view of
housekeeping Peck brings to bear on
To name favorites could lead to a
long list, but I’ll risk naming Gary
Thorp’s “Integrative Practice,” linking
Zen to laundry. I also delighted in
“The Joy of Housework: Late Have I
Loved It,” by Jeannette Batz. Lastly, I
must mention “First Job,” by
Dorothy Day, a brief but
beautiful passage. I have
other dog-eared pages, but
you’ll have to borrow my
copy to consult them all!
For me, order is close
kin to peacefulness (godliness?).
A book which encourages
into the inevitable tasks
of the day or, surely, the
week is a treasure. If I am to
pray always, as St. Paul urges, a book
such as this one makes it seem more
You can order NEXT TO GODLINESS: Finding the
Sacred in Housekeeping from St. Francis Bookshop.