Conference Agenda

6C: The Role of Religious Institutions in Health Care: English and Belgian cases
Thursday, 09/Sept/2021:
10:45am - 12:00pm

Session Chair: Dr. Joris Vandendriessche, KU Leuven


The Role of Religious Institutions in Health Care: English and Belgian cases

Chair(s): Vandendriessche, Joris (KU Leuven)

Religious institutions were key players in health care. This panel wants to present innovative research about the role of male and female religious in the field of health care from different perspectives: missionary history, gender history and religious history. Two members will mainly pay attention to the Belgian case, while the third one will focus on English Catholic medical missions. The panel shall be moderated by dr. Joris Vandendriessche, post-doctoral researcher at KU Leuven.


Presentations of the Symposium


Educating Catholic Medical Missionaries in England (1920s-1950s)

Mangion, Carmen
Birbeck, University of London

Th!s paper examines the Catholic medical missions. The focus is on the education of medical missionary sisters of three English congregations. It charts the shifts in their medical education from the 1920s to the 1950s, hinging on the influential instructions constans ac sedula issued in 1936 by the Holy See which encouraged women religious to obtain medical and midwifery degrees for their work in the mission field.

This paper asks the following questions: How influential was this decree? How were sisters chosen to train as medical doctors and nurses? How did an extended period of education (as was needed for nursing/medical training) influence the novitiate experience? Where were they trained? How was the identity of a religious sister maintained in sometimes secular educational institutes?


Male and Female Religious Care and Health Care Provision in Belgium (19th-20th Century)

Suenens, Kristien

This paper intends to quantify the role of Belgian religious institutes that are active in health care institutions and organisations (hospitals, sanatoria, psychiatric hospitals, military hospitals, ambulant health care, child health care, …) in relation to the specific research perspective of faith, health care and gender. Although the ‘sister’ in the hospital became a stereotype within Belgian society, the role of religious institutes was much more diverse and a significant part of it was played by religious men, and members of brother congregations in particular. However, within the Belgian context the care apostolate of both religious groups was never examined from a general, comparative gender perspective.

Confronting both groups of religious care-givers, this contribution will focus on the following questions: What was the respective role of female and male religious institutes on the field of Belgian health care? Did their commitment differ in (religious and social) motives, actions and realisations? How did male and female religious translated their religious and gender roles on a field of intensive modernaliisation, professionalisation and (eventually) secularisation? To what extent differed or changed the relationships of both groups with secular authorities, board administrations and lay colleagues?

This research will be based upon an extensive study of existing monographies about male and female congregations active in health care, as well as complementary research in archives of religious institutes.


Sisters and Brothers of Charity and the Development in Health Care in Belgium (1908-1974)*

De Munck, Luc
KU Leuven

This paper shall focus on the activities of two Belgian religious congregations, created in Ghent at the beginning of the 19th century. Both congregations played an important role in the development of health care institutions in Belgium. On the one hand, there are the Sisters of Charity. At the beginning of the 20th century, they were the first congregation to start with a mainly theoretical nursing education of one year. After the First World War, they created different hospitals and nursing schools. On the other hand, the Brothers of Charity focused from the beginning on health care for mentally ill persons and poor people. They started with the first school for psychiatric nursing shortly before the First World War.

The paper investigates how these congregations contributed to the development of health care in Belgium in the first three-quarters of the 20th century. Their policy documents and reviews shall be analysed. This analysis focuses on the following research questions: To what extent did both religious congregations play a significant role in Belgian health care? Which religious practices were dominant in their daily work? What was the discourse on health care in their reviews Caritas and Ziekenverpleging [Nursing Care]? What was the agency of leading members such as sister Jules-Marie Heymans, director of the first school for graduated nurses on the European continent, and brother Virgiel Van Petegem, author of the first manual for nursing brothers.