Meticulously balanced if dry account of the Catholic nun who turned a down-and-out Belfast school for girls into one of the best in Europe.
Sister Genevieve didn’t initially want to be a teacher; she joined the Sisters of Charity so she could work out in the world with the poor. Impressed with her talents for organization and leadership, her superiors sent her in 1956 to the new St. Louise’s Catholic School for Girls, and she soon became its principal. The students were slum kids from large families; fathers were often unemployed, mothers working in the linen mills the sole providers. Sister Genevieve was determined that their daughters should have better lives and jobs. Not every family supported her: during the tense years of the Troubles in the late ’60s and ’70s, some parents accused her of being a sellout to the British and the local Protestant authorities; and even in the 1980s she had to contend with objections from the family of a girl who won a scholarship to Cambridge that attending a university was a waste of time and money. British educator Rae persuasively shows that the headmistress saw her paramount duties as being first to God and then to her girls. She did what she could to help families affected by violence as some students joined the IRA, others had relatives in prison or killed by the British army. The reactionary, controlling, and condescending male diocese was almost as challenging to deal with as the IRA and the British. Born in 1923 in the Irish Republic, Sister Genevieve sympathized with the militants but wanted St. Louise’s to be a haven of peace and normality where the girls could continue to get an education. She constantly exhorted her students not to get caught up in the ghetto mentality that espoused violence and to always stand up for themselves.
Pays thoughtful tribute to a woman who believed in spiritual and educational empowerment.