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Publication of Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery - Timeline Event

Founder

Maria Monk

Time Period

1836

Description

The Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, allegedly written by Maria Monk, a supposed ex-nun from this Montreal convent, caused an immediate firestorm of controversy upon its publication in 1836. One of the recurring motifs of the story is the moral depravity of Catholic priests and nuns. The author describes in vivid detail the sins of the priests and nuns in the Hotel Dieu convent. These included illicit encounters between priests and nuns, rape, infanticide, and murder.

Monk’s account attracted American Protestant readers and reinforced the negative perception of the Catholic Church. Later reports challenged the authenticity of Monk’s story, for in all likelihood she was never a nun and may have worked as a prostitute in Montreal before arriving in the United States. Nonetheless, the belief in her account reinforced the stereotype of the “evil” Catholic Church and continued in some anti-Catholic circles well into the twentieth century.

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Narrative

The Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, published in 1836 and written ostensibly by Maria Monk, a supposed ex-nun from this Montreal convent, caused an immediate firestorm of controversy upon its appearance. The book followed the pattern set by Rebecca Reed’s Six Months in a Convent, or, the Narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, which was published one year before Monk’s memoir and represented another example of convent tales that proliferated during the antebellum era. Monk described in vivid and disturbing detail the sins, both great and small, of the priests and nuns of the Hotel Dieu nunnery.

Monk’s accusations of educational laxity and of the priests’ denigration of Protestantism found a receptive audience in the United States, where Protestant parents often sent their daughters to Catholic schools for instruction. The author's contention that the nuns were forced to lie to young women to entice them to enter the novitiate added fuel to the fire of Protestant assumptions that the Catholic Church had illicit motives in cloistering young women in convents. Indeed, one of the principal recurring motifs of the Awful Disclosures is that of the moral depravity of the Catholic Church’s priests and nuns, which included illicit encounters between priests and nuns, rape, infanticide, and murder.

Monk's account attracted the support of a number of Protestant ministers in New York. However, it was soon revealed that the book's reputed author was in all likelihood never a nun and may have worked as a prostitute in Montreal before arriving in the United States. Through the work of the Protestant lawyer and newspaper editor Colonel William L. Stone as well as the Catholic press and other Protestants suspicious of the Awful Disclosures, Monk's account was proven to be fraudulent. Monk herself wound up serving several terms in prison for unrelated causes and died in New York's almshouse in 1849. Still, belief in her account of the dangers represented by Catholicism continued in some anti-Catholic circles well into the 20th century, the early decades of which witnessed a revival of the convent tale genre and a resurgence in supposed ex-priests and ex-nuns who engaged in speaking tours in opposition to the Catholic Church.

Religious Groups

Catholicism (Western Liturgical Family): Other ARDA Links
Catholicism (Western Liturgical Family): Religious Family Tree

Photographs

Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, cover- Internet Archive
Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, cover- Internet Archive

Maria Monk holding a child- Internet Archive
Maria Monk holding a child- Internet Archive

Taking the Veil- from 'Awful Disclosures'- Hathi Trust
Taking the Veil- from 'Awful Disclosures'- Hathi Trust

Book/Journal Source(s)

Billington, Ray Allen, 1963. The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith. (Notes: 3rd edition (originally published in 1938)).
Franchot, Jenny, 1994. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism Berkeley: University of California Press.
Schultz, Nancy Lusignan, 1999. Veil of Fear: Nineteenth-Century Convent Tales by Rebecca Reed and Maria Monk West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press. (Notes: Edited by Nancy Lusignan Schultz).

Web Source(s)

https://archive.org/details/cihm_38885
Awful Disclosures, by Maria Monk, of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal, rev. ed. (New York: Maria Monk, 1836)

Web Page Contributor

William S. Cossen
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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