Spring / printemps 2020

Convent Class Struggle: Lay Sisters and Choir Sisters in America

E. Brian Titley
Education University of Lethbridge
Published April 1, 2020
  • America,
  • Catholic church,
  • choir sisters,
  • convents,
  • lay sisters,
  • social hierarchy
  • ...More
How to Cite
Titley, E. Brian. 2020. “Convent Class Struggle: Lay Sisters and Choir Sisters in America”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 32 (1). https://doi.org/10.32316/hse-rhe.v32i1.4731.


American Catholic sisterhoods of European origin usually featured a subgroup of servant nuns known as lay or coadjutrix sisters. Generally from poor backgrounds and with limited education, the coadjutrices did most of the physical labour in convents and were excluded from many of the privileges of choir sisters. Obliged to wear distinctive clothing that marked their inferior status, they were segregated from choir sisters during meals and recreation, denied opportunities for self-improvement, and excluded from singing the Divine Office and from governance of the community. Choir sisters, on the other hand, monopolized professional work, such as teaching, had access to higher education, and controlled all the leadership positions in the congregation. This paper examines the often difficult relations between lay and choir sisters and agitation by the former for better treatment and greater equality in the United States in the century prior to the Second Vatican Council.