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Katolsk mission och kvinnlig motkultur: Sankt Josefsystrarna i Danmark och Sverige 1856-1936

Werner, Yvonne Maria LU (2002)
Abstract
Female Counter-Culture and Catholic Mission. The St Joseph Sisters in Denmark and Sweden 1856-1936



In May 1856, four Catholic sisters arrived in Denmark and established a community in a small basement of a building close to the Catholic parish church in Copenhagen. These Catholic sisters belonged to a French religious congregation named "La Congregation des Sœurs de Saint-Joseph de Chambéry", which was founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century and whose motherhouse was in the town of Chambéry in Savoy. The Chambéry congregation, which established itself also in the other Scandinavian countries, developed a broad range of activities in the fields of health care and school education. At the end of the 1920ies... (More)
Female Counter-Culture and Catholic Mission. The St Joseph Sisters in Denmark and Sweden 1856-1936



In May 1856, four Catholic sisters arrived in Denmark and established a community in a small basement of a building close to the Catholic parish church in Copenhagen. These Catholic sisters belonged to a French religious congregation named "La Congregation des Sœurs de Saint-Joseph de Chambéry", which was founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century and whose motherhouse was in the town of Chambéry in Savoy. The Chambéry congregation, which established itself also in the other Scandinavian countries, developed a broad range of activities in the fields of health care and school education. At the end of the 1920ies there were around 800 Saint Joseph Sisters living in communities spread throughout the Nordic countries. The majority of the sisters came from Catholic countries, mainly from France and Germany.



Up to the Second Vatican Council, regulated religious life was an integral part of the comprehensive Catholic ideology that appeared in opposition against, and as an alternative to, the liberal social and political order that developed dur-ing the nineteenth century. Catholicism, that is the changing social, political and ideological consequences of Catholic faith, developed into a counter-culture with obvious antimodern traits. The religious were at the forefront of this Catholic system, and regulated religious life was regarded as the consummate expression of Catholic piety. This development emanated from the Ultramontane revivalist movement, which also served as a basis for the successful efforts of the Roman Curia to strengthen ecclesiastical discipline and to promote centralisation, and also stimulated Catholic missionary activity. The Catholic Church strongly emphasised its claim to be the only true Church, and as a consequence, all non-Catholic regions were regarded as missionary areas. The Nordic countries, which until 1953 had the status of apostolic vicariates under the supervision of the Roman Congregation of Mission, were thus subjected to Catholic missionary activity, aimed at bringing the Nordic peoples to convert to the Catholic Church. Catholic sisters played a significant role in this missionary activity, and together with clergy and representative of other Catholic orders and congregations, they served as "parish builders". To disseminate the Catholic faith and prepare the ground for conversions to the Catholic Church was the overall aim of their social and charitable work.



The development of the Chambéry congregation reflects the general trend within charitable female congregations in the nineteenth century. Here, a new era began with Marie-Félicité (Veyrat). During her forty-two years as general prioress, the Chambéry congregation developed from a religious society of pious women to a modern centralised congregation with total female leadership. Marie-Félicité succeeded in revising the constitutions and thus turned the con-gregation into a supra-diocesan religious order, divided into provinces, and di-rectly answerable to the Holy See and thus protected against direct interference in its affairs by local bishops. This development was recognition of the congregation’s missionary efforts, not least in Scandinavia. When the Chambéry con-gregation gained "exempted" status in 1874, the Scandinavian province was definitely the most extensive outside of Savoy.



It was the liberal reforms that opened the way for the return of the Catholic Church in the Nordic countries. Denmark was the first country to introduce total religious freedom, and it was also in Denmark the "re-Catholization" first emerged. Here the numbers of Catholics consequently increased from about 800 at the beginning of the period to about 25 000 at the beginning of the 20th cen-tury. This expansion was to the largest part due to conversions by native Protestants to the Catholic Church. In the period after 1870, the Chambéry congregation progressively expanded their activities in the Nordic countries, particularly in the growing Danish mission. Missionary concern was not the only motivation but also the French developments after the Franco-German War of 1870, which brought about a change of political system. The increasingly anticlerical politics of the new French republic necessitated the securing of possibilities for with-drawal to other countries if the French situation became precarious. The antiCatholic educational laws forced many sisters had to leave the country. This meant that the Chambéry congregation’s Nordic provinces received sizeable numbers of new French sisters, which helped to satisfy the need for a larger staff necessitated by the congregation’s expanding work.



The general prioress Marie-Félicité was the driving force behind this Nor-dic mission. The congregation received material and moral assistance from several aristocratic ladies and also from the Catholic born Queen of Sweden. Dur-ing the initial period, there were many difficulties, and the sisters became enmeshed into all kinds of conflicts, which was partly due to misunderstandings about their work, and partly resulted from national antagonisms with the mostly German Catholic clergy. In these conflicts, the Chambéry congregation received decisive support from the Rome, which contributed to improve the relations between the sisters and the local clergy. Another important factor was the generous subsidies that the Nordic missions received from L’Œuvre de la Propagation de la Foi, which was the largest of all Catholic mission organisations at the time. Bestowed with a variety of papal privileges, L’Œuvre had the official task of supporting missionary work without regard for nationality. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the national and patriotic sentiments of the time, one can as-sume that L’Œuvre would have been less well disposed to give grants to the Germanled Nordic missions, if the French sisters would have been forced to withdraw from Scandinavia.



These conflicts have created a large amount of source material, which re-flects contemporary mentality and relationships. What is particularly striking is that the Catholic sisters behaved as if they were the equals of vicars, members of male orders and – to a certain extent – even of prelates and bishops. They were also treated as such. In the ecclesiastical hierarchy, clergy have precedence over nuns and sisters by virtue of their ordination and jurisdictional authorisation, but at the practical level, including agreements and conditions about work and activities, there was an equality of partnership. Marie-Félicité conducted negotiations in her own name with Rome. When facing opposition, she appealed directly to the Roman Curia and mostly gained the improvements she sought. Her strong position is also shown in the way that she obtained permission from the Holy See to be reelected as general prioress even when she had exceeded the constitutionally prescribed period of twelve years. Her successor similarly employed such successful strategies, which illustrates the centralisation and clericalisation of female religious congregations that was prevalent in the Catholic Church at this time. The formulation of congregational rule and organisational structures followed along corresponding lines.



The Scandinavian work of the St Joseph Sisters was concentrated to two areas: education and health care. During the first twenty years, the sisters pri-marily focused on teaching; later on, they devoted considerable resources to developing their health care work. These activities were not ends in themselves but part of the Catholic Church’s missionary work. The first school that the St Jo-seph Sisters opened soon developed into a so-called French girls’ school, which specialised in languages, particularly French, and the humanities. Much work was also devoted to the children’s moral education and instruction. The majority of the pupils were Protestant whose parents paid fees every term, while many of the Catholic children were accepted without payment. There was a great demand within the middle class for the type of teaching that the French school offered. Apart from the French schools, the St Joseph Sisters also helped with the teach-ing of girls and smaller children at the Catholic parish schools. The founding of Catholic parishes and schools were closely linked, and considerable resources were devoted to developing Catholic elementary education. This was based on the principle that Catholic children should attend Catholic schools. As soon as a parish was created, a Catholic school was founded, but it could also be the contrary so that the opening of school providing the basis for the erection of a par-ish. When the St Joseph Sisters established themselves in a new locality, there was normally already a Catholic parish school. The sisters focused on teaching the girls and little boys, while the priests and lay teachers taught the older boys. These Catholic parish schools played an important role in providing Catholic education for children and for the growth of a separate Catholic society.



Catholic schools were in many ways a successful tool for missionary work. But Catholic health care proved to be an even more effective instrument for missionary activity. The first hospital to be built was the Saint Joseph Hospital in Copenhagen, which was opened in 1875 and after some extensions became one of the largest hospitals in the Danish Capital. The sisters built a large hospital church, which became the parish church for Catholics in the vicinity. The parish that grew up around the hospital was mainly composed of converts. According to a report in 1909, most of these converts had come into contact with the Catholic faith through receiving medical and nursing care at the sisters’ hospital. The foremost means of conversion were the example and witness of good works, but reports by the St Joseph Sisters and internal chronicles show that other less discreet methods were also used. In all the hospital wards, there was a crucifix, and the sister who had responsibility for a department read aloud morning and evening prayers. When a patient was seriously ill, the sister on duty prayed on her knees at the sickbed. Patients were usually asked if they had anything against being prayed for, which in general they had not, and for many prayer became a good habit. The sisters gave particular attention to the incurably sick and dying patients, which today is usually termed palliative care. This was not only to support patients before death but also to help with making Christian preparations for – as it was articulated – a good death.



The hospital of the St Joseph Sisters, like those operated by other Catholic congregations in the Nordic countries, had many distinctive features. Firstly, the sisters themselves owned the hospitals, which meant that the leadership consisted of trained nurses and not of doctors as in the state hospitals and the private hospitals connected to the deaconess institutes. Doctors were thus subordinate to the prioress and her staff, and the prioress decided which doctors to employ and the allocation of disposable resources. Secondly, the spiritual dimension of health care was clearly prominent, which meant the interweaving of prayer and spiritual exercises with medical treatment and nursing care. However, the most notable fact was that the health care was a component of Catholic missionary activity. The vast majority of patients were naturally Protestants, a fact that sometimes lead to strong attacks from the Lutheran clergy as wells as from con-servative and radical politicians.



Recent research into cultural history has underlined the great significance of educational institutions for the shaping of national identities. Religion played an important role in this process of identity construction. Although the modern nation state was officially neutral in religious matters, confessional identity and nationality continued to be connected in public rhetoric and in popular mentalities. In the Nordic countries, the heritage of the Reformation was regarded as an obvious and important part of national identity, while Catholicism appeared as foreign and minatory. The public educational system was of central importance for the maintenance and continuation of this perception, and for the spread of the new ideologies that challenged Christian conviction. This was one of the main reasons why Catholics devoted a great deal of time, effort and money to establishing their own Catholic school system, which was used as an instrument to create a Catholic counter-identity also in the Nordic countries.



The St Joseph Sisters’ communities in the Nordic countries were comprised partly of foreign sisters, and partly of indigenous Scandinavian sisters. One can draw comparisons with the philanthropic work that developed contemporane-ously in the Lutheran Churches. The difference between the philanthropy of Lutheran women and that of Catholic women religious, apart from fact that the latter belonged to a religious order, was the confessionally determined ideology of their engagement. For Lutheran women doing charitable work, the well-organised middle class homes was a given norm and, even if it was not clearly stated, the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and the ideology of domesticity served as an ideological ground. Marriage was the norm, and the endeavour to make use of female philanthropists and deaconesses as a model for a celibate alternative for women met with little success. In the Catholic value system, the celibate religious life was not only an acceptable alternative to marriage but was also considered to have a higher worth.



In comparison with the Lutheran deaconesses, the female Catholic orders and congregations were led from the highest level downwards by the sisters themselves, and this female hierarchy was endorsed and approved by the Catholic Church’s highest authority. It is certainly true that the female congregations were subject to a stricter control than hey were for men. However, the motiva-tion for this, interestingly enough, was not a lack of confidence in the competence of women’s leadership but the apprehension that the prioresses might develop an excessively autocratic style of administration. From a Nordic point of view, Catholicism appeared as a counter-culture in a double sense. It not only represented an alternative worldview but also an unfamiliar belief system that many regarded as a threat to their Protestant-influenced national culture. Catho-lic religious orders were considered as particularly dangerous, not least female ones. They represented an alien form of women’s culture in a society, where the Lutheran doctrine of vocation with its stress on women’s maternal and domestic duties was still an indispensable part of the prevailing social norm system. This may perhaps have attracted young Nordic women to this form of life. By choosing to become a Catholic sister, they entered a female world that in many ways represented an alternative to both the Lutheran domestic ideology and to the liberal women’s movement. The Catholic sisters embodied, in other words, a female counter-culture in modern society, a third way between Protestant gender ideology and the liberal emancipation movement. (Less)
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national antagonisms, Catholic schools and hospitals, health care, spirituality, female counter-culture, Catholic mission, alternative emancipation, charitable work, regulated religious life
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358 pages
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Veritas
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91-89684-00-1
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Swedish
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@book{22d8de9c-5d6d-4bda-b880-517327bcc1cf,
  abstract     = {Female Counter-Culture and Catholic Mission. The St Joseph Sisters in Denmark and Sweden 1856-1936<br/><br>
<br/><br>
In May 1856, four Catholic sisters arrived in Denmark and established a community in a small basement of a building close to the Catholic parish church in Copenhagen. These Catholic sisters belonged to a French religious congregation named "La Congregation des Sœurs de Saint-Joseph de Chambéry", which was founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century and whose motherhouse was in the town of Chambéry in Savoy. The Chambéry congregation, which established itself also in the other Scandinavian countries, developed a broad range of activities in the fields of health care and school education. At the end of the 1920ies there were around 800 Saint Joseph Sisters living in communities spread throughout the Nordic countries. The majority of the sisters came from Catholic countries, mainly from France and Germany. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
Up to the Second Vatican Council, regulated religious life was an integral part of the comprehensive Catholic ideology that appeared in opposition against, and as an alternative to, the liberal social and political order that developed dur-ing the nineteenth century. Catholicism, that is the changing social, political and ideological consequences of Catholic faith, developed into a counter-culture with obvious antimodern traits. The religious were at the forefront of this Catholic system, and regulated religious life was regarded as the consummate expression of Catholic piety. This development emanated from the Ultramontane revivalist movement, which also served as a basis for the successful efforts of the Roman Curia to strengthen ecclesiastical discipline and to promote centralisation, and also stimulated Catholic missionary activity. The Catholic Church strongly emphasised its claim to be the only true Church, and as a consequence, all non-Catholic regions were regarded as missionary areas. The Nordic countries, which until 1953 had the status of apostolic vicariates under the supervision of the Roman Congregation of Mission, were thus subjected to Catholic missionary activity, aimed at bringing the Nordic peoples to convert to the Catholic Church. Catholic sisters played a significant role in this missionary activity, and together with clergy and representative of other Catholic orders and congregations, they served as "parish builders". To disseminate the Catholic faith and prepare the ground for conversions to the Catholic Church was the overall aim of their social and charitable work. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
The development of the Chambéry congregation reflects the general trend within charitable female congregations in the nineteenth century. Here, a new era began with Marie-Félicité (Veyrat). During her forty-two years as general prioress, the Chambéry congregation developed from a religious society of pious women to a modern centralised congregation with total female leadership. Marie-Félicité succeeded in revising the constitutions and thus turned the con-gregation into a supra-diocesan religious order, divided into provinces, and di-rectly answerable to the Holy See and thus protected against direct interference in its affairs by local bishops. This development was recognition of the congregation’s missionary efforts, not least in Scandinavia. When the Chambéry con-gregation gained "exempted" status in 1874, the Scandinavian province was definitely the most extensive outside of Savoy. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
It was the liberal reforms that opened the way for the return of the Catholic Church in the Nordic countries. Denmark was the first country to introduce total religious freedom, and it was also in Denmark the "re-Catholization" first emerged. Here the numbers of Catholics consequently increased from about 800 at the beginning of the period to about 25 000 at the beginning of the 20th cen-tury. This expansion was to the largest part due to conversions by native Protestants to the Catholic Church. In the period after 1870, the Chambéry congregation progressively expanded their activities in the Nordic countries, particularly in the growing Danish mission. Missionary concern was not the only motivation but also the French developments after the Franco-German War of 1870, which brought about a change of political system. The increasingly anticlerical politics of the new French republic necessitated the securing of possibilities for with-drawal to other countries if the French situation became precarious. The antiCatholic educational laws forced many sisters had to leave the country. This meant that the Chambéry congregation’s Nordic provinces received sizeable numbers of new French sisters, which helped to satisfy the need for a larger staff necessitated by the congregation’s expanding work.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
The general prioress Marie-Félicité was the driving force behind this Nor-dic mission. The congregation received material and moral assistance from several aristocratic ladies and also from the Catholic born Queen of Sweden. Dur-ing the initial period, there were many difficulties, and the sisters became enmeshed into all kinds of conflicts, which was partly due to misunderstandings about their work, and partly resulted from national antagonisms with the mostly German Catholic clergy. In these conflicts, the Chambéry congregation received decisive support from the Rome, which contributed to improve the relations between the sisters and the local clergy. Another important factor was the generous subsidies that the Nordic missions received from L’Œuvre de la Propagation de la Foi, which was the largest of all Catholic mission organisations at the time. Bestowed with a variety of papal privileges, L’Œuvre had the official task of supporting missionary work without regard for nationality. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the national and patriotic sentiments of the time, one can as-sume that L’Œuvre would have been less well disposed to give grants to the Germanled Nordic missions, if the French sisters would have been forced to withdraw from Scandinavia. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
These conflicts have created a large amount of source material, which re-flects contemporary mentality and relationships. What is particularly striking is that the Catholic sisters behaved as if they were the equals of vicars, members of male orders and – to a certain extent – even of prelates and bishops. They were also treated as such. In the ecclesiastical hierarchy, clergy have precedence over nuns and sisters by virtue of their ordination and jurisdictional authorisation, but at the practical level, including agreements and conditions about work and activities, there was an equality of partnership. Marie-Félicité conducted negotiations in her own name with Rome. When facing opposition, she appealed directly to the Roman Curia and mostly gained the improvements she sought. Her strong position is also shown in the way that she obtained permission from the Holy See to be reelected as general prioress even when she had exceeded the constitutionally prescribed period of twelve years. Her successor similarly employed such successful strategies, which illustrates the centralisation and clericalisation of female religious congregations that was prevalent in the Catholic Church at this time. The formulation of congregational rule and organisational structures followed along corresponding lines.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
The Scandinavian work of the St Joseph Sisters was concentrated to two areas: education and health care. During the first twenty years, the sisters pri-marily focused on teaching; later on, they devoted considerable resources to developing their health care work. These activities were not ends in themselves but part of the Catholic Church’s missionary work. The first school that the St Jo-seph Sisters opened soon developed into a so-called French girls’ school, which specialised in languages, particularly French, and the humanities. Much work was also devoted to the children’s moral education and instruction. The majority of the pupils were Protestant whose parents paid fees every term, while many of the Catholic children were accepted without payment. There was a great demand within the middle class for the type of teaching that the French school offered. Apart from the French schools, the St Joseph Sisters also helped with the teach-ing of girls and smaller children at the Catholic parish schools. The founding of Catholic parishes and schools were closely linked, and considerable resources were devoted to developing Catholic elementary education. This was based on the principle that Catholic children should attend Catholic schools. As soon as a parish was created, a Catholic school was founded, but it could also be the contrary so that the opening of school providing the basis for the erection of a par-ish. When the St Joseph Sisters established themselves in a new locality, there was normally already a Catholic parish school. The sisters focused on teaching the girls and little boys, while the priests and lay teachers taught the older boys. These Catholic parish schools played an important role in providing Catholic education for children and for the growth of a separate Catholic society. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
Catholic schools were in many ways a successful tool for missionary work. But Catholic health care proved to be an even more effective instrument for missionary activity. The first hospital to be built was the Saint Joseph Hospital in Copenhagen, which was opened in 1875 and after some extensions became one of the largest hospitals in the Danish Capital. The sisters built a large hospital church, which became the parish church for Catholics in the vicinity. The parish that grew up around the hospital was mainly composed of converts. According to a report in 1909, most of these converts had come into contact with the Catholic faith through receiving medical and nursing care at the sisters’ hospital. The foremost means of conversion were the example and witness of good works, but reports by the St Joseph Sisters and internal chronicles show that other less discreet methods were also used. In all the hospital wards, there was a crucifix, and the sister who had responsibility for a department read aloud morning and evening prayers. When a patient was seriously ill, the sister on duty prayed on her knees at the sickbed. Patients were usually asked if they had anything against being prayed for, which in general they had not, and for many prayer became a good habit. The sisters gave particular attention to the incurably sick and dying patients, which today is usually termed palliative care. This was not only to support patients before death but also to help with making Christian preparations for – as it was articulated – a good death.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
The hospital of the St Joseph Sisters, like those operated by other Catholic congregations in the Nordic countries, had many distinctive features. Firstly, the sisters themselves owned the hospitals, which meant that the leadership consisted of trained nurses and not of doctors as in the state hospitals and the private hospitals connected to the deaconess institutes. Doctors were thus subordinate to the prioress and her staff, and the prioress decided which doctors to employ and the allocation of disposable resources. Secondly, the spiritual dimension of health care was clearly prominent, which meant the interweaving of prayer and spiritual exercises with medical treatment and nursing care. However, the most notable fact was that the health care was a component of Catholic missionary activity. The vast majority of patients were naturally Protestants, a fact that sometimes lead to strong attacks from the Lutheran clergy as wells as from con-servative and radical politicians.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
Recent research into cultural history has underlined the great significance of educational institutions for the shaping of national identities. Religion played an important role in this process of identity construction. Although the modern nation state was officially neutral in religious matters, confessional identity and nationality continued to be connected in public rhetoric and in popular mentalities. In the Nordic countries, the heritage of the Reformation was regarded as an obvious and important part of national identity, while Catholicism appeared as foreign and minatory. The public educational system was of central importance for the maintenance and continuation of this perception, and for the spread of the new ideologies that challenged Christian conviction. This was one of the main reasons why Catholics devoted a great deal of time, effort and money to establishing their own Catholic school system, which was used as an instrument to create a Catholic counter-identity also in the Nordic countries. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
The St Joseph Sisters’ communities in the Nordic countries were comprised partly of foreign sisters, and partly of indigenous Scandinavian sisters. One can draw comparisons with the philanthropic work that developed contemporane-ously in the Lutheran Churches. The difference between the philanthropy of Lutheran women and that of Catholic women religious, apart from fact that the latter belonged to a religious order, was the confessionally determined ideology of their engagement. For Lutheran women doing charitable work, the well-organised middle class homes was a given norm and, even if it was not clearly stated, the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and the ideology of domesticity served as an ideological ground. Marriage was the norm, and the endeavour to make use of female philanthropists and deaconesses as a model for a celibate alternative for women met with little success. In the Catholic value system, the celibate religious life was not only an acceptable alternative to marriage but was also considered to have a higher worth. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
In comparison with the Lutheran deaconesses, the female Catholic orders and congregations were led from the highest level downwards by the sisters themselves, and this female hierarchy was endorsed and approved by the Catholic Church’s highest authority. It is certainly true that the female congregations were subject to a stricter control than hey were for men. However, the motiva-tion for this, interestingly enough, was not a lack of confidence in the competence of women’s leadership but the apprehension that the prioresses might develop an excessively autocratic style of administration. From a Nordic point of view, Catholicism appeared as a counter-culture in a double sense. It not only represented an alternative worldview but also an unfamiliar belief system that many regarded as a threat to their Protestant-influenced national culture. Catho-lic religious orders were considered as particularly dangerous, not least female ones. They represented an alien form of women’s culture in a society, where the Lutheran doctrine of vocation with its stress on women’s maternal and domestic duties was still an indispensable part of the prevailing social norm system. This may perhaps have attracted young Nordic women to this form of life. By choosing to become a Catholic sister, they entered a female world that in many ways represented an alternative to both the Lutheran domestic ideology and to the liberal women’s movement. The Catholic sisters embodied, in other words, a female counter-culture in modern society, a third way between Protestant gender ideology and the liberal emancipation movement.},
  author       = {Werner, Yvonne Maria},
  isbn         = {91-89684-00-1},
  keyword      = {national antagonisms,Catholic schools and hospitals,health care,spirituality,female counter-culture,Catholic mission,alternative emancipation,charitable work,regulated religious life},
  language     = {swe},
  pages        = {358},
  publisher    = {Veritas},
  title        = {Katolsk mission och kvinnlig motkultur: Sankt Josefsystrarna i Danmark och Sverige 1856-1936},
  year         = {2002},
}