priests were exploited: study
By Louise Roseingrave
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
A STUDY on priests’
housekeepers’ lives presented for International Women’s Day found
they were exploited, underpaid and worked from as young as 13.
The work, compiled by
UCC graduate Noirin Deady, includes accounts from 14 women on their
lives spent working in priest’s homes as far back as the 1950s.
She undertook the work to counteract "dull and unattractive"
depictions of housekeepers in the media, including the character of Mrs
Doyle in Father Ted.
Ms Deady, who completed an MA in Women’s Studies at UCC, found
exploitation in the form of long working hours, minimal pay and a lack
of provision for old age and retirement.
"One woman told how she lost her best friend, her job and her home
after one priest died," she said. "They had no security at
Her study, A Feminist Perspective on Irish Priests’ Housekeepers,
includes the experiences of a 13-year-old girl sent by her mother to the
neighbouring parish to work for a priest.
The girl went on to spend 40 years as a housekeeper.
In another case, a woman collected a ten-shilling tip for kneeling to
kiss the bishop’s ring, while others received tips following community
events such as missions and confirmations. Most of the young women
handed earnings to their families, as was expected of them.
In 1963, when the average wage was between £5 and £7 per week for a
live-in housekeeper, one woman told how she earned £1 2s 6p per week
and sent the bulk of that to her mother.
"They were poorly paid, the priest decided what to pay them,"
said Ms Deady.
"And while the pay was bad, the lack of job security was worse.
Once the priest died, the woman had to leave the house and lost
The priests neglected to register their stance as employers and those
interviewed by Ms Deady felt the job was a "vocation" and that
housekeepers "‘were as dedicated as any religious sister".
"It was convenient for priests to take that stance, most women did
not choose to become housekeepers," she said.
"They cooked, cleaned and carried out their chores and often looked
after elderly and infirm priests, so there was also an overlap between
domestic work and care work."
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