In praise of Mary Anne Sadlier, a literary figurehead of Catholic North America

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘she gave voice to the preoccupations of a large section of the Irish-American community’

As a writer Mary Anne Sadlier was emphatically didactic. Her work provides examples of good conduct for Catholic Irish emigrants, to compel them to “retain their home-virtues and follow the teachings of religion in these great Babylons of the west”, as she wrote in a programmatic preface to Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America (1861)

As a writer Mary Anne Sadlier was emphatically didactic. Her work provides examples of good conduct for Catholic Irish emigrants, to compel them to “retain their home-virtues and follow the teachings of religion in these great Babylons of the west”, as she wrote in a programmatic preface to Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America (1861)

In view of the unabashedly didactic purpose of her works and her fervently conservative Catholic morality, it is perhaps not surprising that the nineteenth-century emigrant writer and publisher Mary Anne Sadlier is no longer read. Yet for several decades she was one of the foremost voices of a generation of emigrants who had left Ireland because of the Great Famine.

Sadlier was born Mary Anne Madden in Cootehill, Co Cavan, on December 30th, 1820. Her mother died when she was still young. Despite her abiding interest in the Great Famine and the wave of emigration it catalysed, Sadlier was not a Famine emigrant herself. She left for Canada following the death of her impecunious merchant father in 1844, a year before the crisis in Ireland started.

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