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A group of frontier nuns grapple with church reforms in Hoeynck’s debut historical novel.
The Kentucky frontier, 1821: For the last nine years, the Sisters of Loretto have ministered to Catholics and non-Catholics alike in their wilderness community, led by the steady hand of Mother Superior Mary Rhodes and guided by the rules that the women have set up to govern their sisterhood. That is, until Father Charles Nerinckx returns from his two-year trip to the Vatican, bearing tidings of change. “Rome wanted to take away the Sisters’ sovereignty. Mary tried to remain composed, but her insides were tighter than a skein of yard stretched across a loom. If only God could show the truth to these men. What did the Bishop or any of the priests in Europe know of their daily life?” Though Father Nerinckx makes it clear he is on the Sisters’ side, a new priest, the severe Father Guy Chabrat, seems bent on bringing Loretto to heel. As Mary and her fellow nuns, Isabella Clarke and Helen Morton, attempt to retain their way of life and pass it on to the next generation of novitiates, they must decide whether to bow to the dictates of their patriarchal superiors or risk losing their chosen home. Hoeynck captures the rich interior lives of the women of Loretto and the ways in which their faith is entwined with the world around them, particularly the natural landscape: “Helen slowed her pace as she came to the back gate that separated the entire compound from the outside world. Beyond this barrier, wild things roamed free and the rushing water of Hardin’s Creek invited her to come say hello...Down here was like another world.” Though the book feels a little long at 300 pages . . . the narrative succeeds in immersing the reader into a rarely dramatized corner of religious life in antebellum America.
An intimate and richly drawn exploration of institutional faith.