"Fire & Roses, which includes a wealth of early Catholic history in Boston, at times reads like a mystery novel. The suspense is palpable as the events are relayed to the reader. The riot and fire are not a shock, of course, but the behaviors of the rioters is horrific. What is even more interesting is the story of May Anne Ursula Moffatt. Her predicament at the end keeps the reader guessing even when the book is finally put down. This work is valuable for its history of Boston's Catholic community and the Ursuline order of Quebec and Charlestown. More importantly, this work is simply a good read."
--Timothy Symington, The Institute for Massachusetts Studies, Westfield State College, Historic Journal of Massachusetts, Summer 2006.
"The burning of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1834 is one of the high points of anti-Catholic bigotry in the United States. The story of this terrible deed involves not only the tragedy of the destruction of the convent and its school but also the tragedy of the brave, independent woman who founded it. Mary Anne Moffatt was driven out of Boston by the Bishop and out of the Ursuline Order by hostile colleagues. Then she disappeared from the face of the earth. Boston bigotry hated not only Catholics but also strong women."
-- Andrew Greeley, author of The Catholic Imagination
"In this impeccably researched and lively account, Nancy Lusignan Schultz explores how class resentment, ignorance, and fear led to the destruction of an institution, the first of its kind in New England. Led by a fearless and headstrong Ursuline nun who became a thorn in the side not only of the Protestants, but of her own bishop, the Mount Benedict Academy and convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, became a lightning-rod. It is hard to think of a book that so successfully dramatizes the anti-Catholicism of the 1830s."
-- Joan D. Hedrick, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of
Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Biography
"After reading Fire & Roses, a provocative and riveting book about a revealing period in Boston’s history, I must ask the question, how did Boston’s leaders of the time, these so-called proper Bostonians deserve their title? Why was Boston called the ‘Hub of the Universe’ and the ‘Athens of America’? Terms like ‘bigot’ and ‘virulent anti-Catholic’ seem more like it. As Nancy Schultz rightly makes clear, in many ways this story of the burning of the Charlestown Convent in 1834 remains the story of today’s America."
-- Raymond L. Flynn, Mayor of Boston, 1984-1993 and
U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, 1993-1997
"Professor Schultz skillfully recalls a turbulent and troubling moment in Boston’s history. This is a scholarly and carefully researched work, as gripping and galvanizing as a good detective novel. Fire & Roses offers a vivid depiction of an event that deserves to be remembered."
-- William M. Bulger, President, University of Massachusetts
"Fire & Roses is an extremely well-written, carefully researched, and utterly absorbing account of the nativist attack on the Ursuline convent in 1834. Nancy Schultz has peeled away the layers surrounding the scandalous event to reveal the anti-Catholic bigotry of a Boston community where reaction against an educated and strong-minded group of religious women led to an outbreak of senseless violence."
-- Thomas H. O’Connor, University Historian, Boston College,
and author of Boston Catholics
"While the author...recounts in dramatic fashion the main events of this unfortunate and unsettling narrative, it is the story behind the story that really captures the reader's attention. Why, for example, did the nativist mob decide to vent their anger on a peaceful convent that educated young girls? They could just as easily have burned down the little cathedral on Franklin Street, ravaged St. Augustine's cemetery chapel in South Boston, or trashed St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum in the South End. Schultz...suggests that it was the presence of a group of religious women, well-educated and self-sufficient, that provoked both resentment and fear on the part of many local male residents. She has produced a highly readable and carefully researched work of history that not only makes a valuable contribution to the history of the Boston Archdiocese, but that also adds immeasurably to our knowledge of the significant role that members of female religious orders have played throughout that history."
-- Thomas O'Connor, from The Pilot, March 16, 2001
"Schultz is to commended for her riveting historical study, which is plotted like a novel, with tight pacing and fully realized characters."
"...painstaking scholarship and stylish, vivid description....A scholarly study that is also gripping drama."
From Library Journal:
"The Ursuline Convent at Mt. Benedict in Charlestown, MA, was brutally vandalized and burned in 1834, and this dramatic depiction integrates the details of that harrowing event with the historical context...Themes involving class, gender, and religion are woven into a gripping tale. But this work by Schultz is essentially a scholarly treatment, well researched, with footnotes, and with the welcome bonus of readability and drama."
--Bonnie Collier, Yale Law Library
"...the most amazing thing about the convent burning is that it isn't better known. An anti-Catholic mob attacked and burned several buildings housing a dozen nuns and 50 female boarding students. Schultz revisits the provocative mother superior and other people involved in the conflict."
---Mark Zanger, Boston Magazine
"This gripping narrative retraces the convergent emotional, cultural, and social forces that impelled a group of otherwise ordinary citizens to participate in an unthinkable act of violence and religious persecution...Utilizing court documents, letters, diaries, and newspaper articles, Schultz does a remarkable job of piecing together the startling circumstances surrounding this devastating tragedy."
--Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
"In Fire and Roses, the attack on the Ursuline convent has received a passionate recounting..."
---Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe
"Of particular interest...are those sections of the book dealing with Bishop Benedict Fenwick. In the course of her research, Professor Schultz discovered a rare portrait of Bishop Fenwick that had been stored in an attic
for decades. The portrait is reproduced in the book."
--- Book Notes, Holy Cross Magazine, Fall 2000
"In this vivid account...Schultz describes the tensions in early 19th century Boston, which was a hotbed of cantankerous bigotry...Schultz, who has thoroughly researched the Ursulines and Catholic history during this troubled era, writes an in-depth account of [that bigotry's] high cost...With a sharp eye for detail, she shows how the hard, poor life of the Charlestown bricklayers contrasted with the genteel, religious environment of the school on Mount Benedict...Schultz vividly describes the fears of the nuns, the prejudices of the community and the hysteria that culminated in one of the most awful events in our city's history. The volume succeeds as a well-researched summation of the convent burning and its aftermath."
---John Cronin, Boston Herald
"Fire & Roses is a superbly told cautionary tale reminding us that class, ethnicity and religion sometimes are combustible when mixed indiscriminately."
---Fr. William B. Neenan, SJ Boston College's The Heights
"In Fire & Roses, Nancy L. Schultz seeks to lift the shroud of mystery surrounding the 1834 burning of the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, MA. This new study of the notorious fire re-examines the historic case and brings to light insights that provide the reader with a better understanding of the destruction of the convent. Schultz combines literary and historical methodologies to generate an engaging and informative narrative of the Charlestown convent fire. She rigorously researched all aspects of the catastrophe and places the burning of the convent in the wider context of Catholic-Protestant relations in Massachusetts and the United States. With skillful use of her sources, Schultz engages the reader throughout the book painting vivid pictures of the convent's destruction."
--- Mary Beth Fraser, Archivists for Congregations of Women Religious Newsletter, November 2000, Vol. II, No.
"Schultz has produced a book that's both an accomplished piece of research and a well-done mystery story built around compelling characters and a riveting crime case...In Fire & Roses, Schultz achieves what many of her fellow academics cannot: She has produced a meticulously researched, and therefore persuasive, piece of scholarship, without sacrificing any of the drama and [she] has a particular gift for building tension."
---M.A. Turner, The Hartford Courant
"Nancy Schultz's monograph is a riveting tale of the shocking crime perpetrated against Ursuline nuns who conducted a monastery and academy just outside Boston at Bunker Hill, in the very heart of Yankee New England. Amassing a veritable cornucopia of facts about the lives and experiences of these victims of gross prejudice, she describes the series of intimating actions by laborers that climaxed on the evening of August 11, 1834, when the Ursuline property was desecrated and leveled by fire, and impressive imprint of their lives forever erased from Massachusetts soil...Many fascinating materials strengthen her argument that New England's anti-Catholicism as particularly virulent...Still, one is left to wonder: what was the final catalyst? Had it to do with resentment that the bishop invested women with such authority? Can we ignore the influence of Lyman Beecher who preached just before the fire that Catholic schools were part of a Roman plot to take over the nation? Schultz has provided the reader with rich details to help form our judgment on this matter. She invites us to retrace the same ground. Doing so should make us less complacent about the present state of Roman Catholicism in American society. For this and many other reasons, I strongly recommend reading Fire and Roses."
---Dolores Liptak, RSM. History of Women Religious News and Notes, June 2001, Vol. 14-Number 2, p. 2-4.
In Fire & Roses, Nancy Lusignan Schultz has written a biography of Sister St. George, born Mary Anne Moffatt. Along the way, she has provided a detailed account of the convent's schooling, students and personnel, and addressed "larger historical themes of class warfare, erupting tensions over religion and gender, and the struggle to define a democratic society in the years following the American Revolution."The story is filled with vivid anecdotes, fascinating characters and a good share of mystery.
Mary Anne Moffatt's ordeal in Charlestown was not merely a local, anti-elite and anti-Catholic outburst. The men who led the crowds at the convent burning presented themselves as saving unwilling captive women from the convent as well as protecting American democracy from Catholicism. By doing so, they could reassert their position as manly men, appropriate leaders, guardians of domestic women and of the nation. According to one of the students, in the immediate aftermath of the fire, as the disheveled students made their way home in a stagecoach, they were escorted by rioters who cried, "We've spoiled your prison for you .... You won't never have to go back no more."
The men's "prison" was Moffatt's kingdom. Within it she ruled supreme, and visiting dignitaries greeted her with respect. Elite Protestant men, consumers of the new ideology of domesticity, accepted her authority. Religion, both Catholic and Protestant, provided the foundation of her claims to be "The Superior."
Scholars have long struggled over the relationship between patriarchal religions such as Catholicism and female authority. "In the antebellum United States," Schultz argues, "there would have been no other route outside the convent for a woman to achieve a comparable authority." But that authority was clearly fragile and contingent. Protestant workmen, not consumers of the ideology of domesticity, made the first attempt to topple "The Superior." Then the Catholic church hierarchy completed the task. The Bishop's maneuvers finally succeeded in removing Moffatt to Montreal. In the Montreal convent, she lost her special status. Unable to adjust to the change, she got permission to visit the New Orleans Ursulines, left the Montreal convent, and was never heard from again.
Moffatt was more than a signifier of class tensions. It was indeed a difficult matter for any single man to control her, but it was not impossible for organized manhood the working-class Protestant mob, and the elite Catholic Bishop backed by institutionalized Catholicism--to vanquish her. Their actions showed dramatically the distinct limits to which women in the 1830s would be allowed to deploy new ideologies of gender, religion, ethnicity and class to claim public authority for themselves.
--Sarah Deutsch, Women's Review of Books, January 2001, Vol. 18 Issue 4
Anyone interested in the history of the Church in the Boston area of Massachusetts in the early nineteenth century will find this book fascinating. If it were not for the obviously carefully annotated research by the author, the reader would think that this is an intriguing mystery novel.
Schultz weaves four themes (prejudice against Roman Catholicism on the part of Protestant New Englanders; fear of strong, independent and educated women; suspicion of the "foreign element" of religious women; envy and the distorted anger of brickyard workers gazing daily at school for educating affluent Protestant girls) into an exciting story....This book is a must-read for all who would trace the rise of the Church in Massachusetts.
--Patricia J. Sweeney, SSJ, Catholic Library World, June 2001,Vol. 71 No 4
"Well researched with much supporting documentation, Fire and Roses brings to life this forgotten moment in the American story. To reinforce her arguments, Schultz has drawn on, among other collections, the archives of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Ursuline collection at the Somerville (MA) Public Library, and materials at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. As much as any other aspect of the book, Fire and Roses establishes Mary Anne Moffatt as a strong and independent force against this backdrop of religious and gender prejudice; and it is equally diligent in attempting to solve her disappearance."
--Christopher Hartman, New England Ancestors, Holiday 2001
"...Nancy Lusignan Schultz...presents the fullest treatment of this incident to date. In effect, she has written a biography--about the life and death of the Charlestown convent... Schultz's approach has much in its favor, allowing a more human side of the story than found in any previous study. The main characters in this tragedy, especially the formidable Mary Anne Moffatt, come off not just as spokespersons for different sides but as flesh-and-blood people with strengths and shortcomings. In places the book reads like a detective novel, and Schultz is sleuth-like in unraveling the various mysteries surrounding the ill-fated institution. Schultz' s command of the relevant primary research is particularly impressive...She delivers her extensive findings in a well-written, often graceful, style."
--Joseph G. Mannard, American Catholic Studies, Spring/Winter 2002, Vol. 111, 98-100.
"This is the product of a commendable research effort, including attempts to track the participants through the fragmentary, scattered, and inconclusive evidence. The writing style is lively and engaging...with an emphasis on narrative, the story moves right along."
--James M. O'Toole, The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 87, No. 4, October 2001.
"The North had a strong Cromwellian streak, which caused it to decry Catholicism and non-WASPS in general....And this sentiment was strongest in Northerners who tended toward abolitionism and harsh anti-Southern attitudes...This aspect of Northern society is illuminated in Fire and Roses. Nancy Schultz shows how economic and religious tensions were projected onto Catholic newcomers--leading to the spread of malicious rumors, the sacking and burning of a convent, and the refusal of local authority to punish to perpetrators. (Such things went on in Philadelphia as well as Boston.) Indeed, the destruction of the convent reminds me--in all sorts of ways--of Sherman's progress. Catholic churches and convents in the South went up in flames as readily as any other religious buildings. Probably, Mary Surratt would not have been executed if she had not been a loathsome papist."
--Clyde Wilson, University of South Carolina, "Confederate Rainbow," Chronicles, Vol. 25, October 10, 2001